Call me a baseball iconoclast, a visionary or more accurately, a collector of contusions, scrapes, breaks and every hardball induced injury concocted since Adam. In 1998, I started a barehanded baseball team in the tradition of the Providence Grays of 1884. That team, members of the National League from 1878 to 1885, won the first Base Ball (two words back then) Championship of America by defeating the New York Metropolitans of the American Association. My original goal was to play one tribute game to the old Grays in Bristol, RI, home of the oldest and largest July Fourth parade in the country.
In June of 1998, the new Grays dropped a double header to the Brooklyn Atlantics, one of the best “vintage” teams in the country. We inhaled some beers with the victors after the games and decided to continue playing in itchy, wool uniforms for the rest of that summer and fall. Eighteen years later, we are still a traveling band of 19th Century style players who will spear a line drive at third, take a spike in the face while completing the throw to first base, play with no substitutions, no glove, a “dead” ball, struck with a heavy, old fashioned bat and paying for all of this out of our own pockets. Am I a salesman or what? This trailer for Ben Collier’s “Wooden Bats and Dusty Hands – The Grays” gives a taste of our shared insanity.
Leaving aside the fact that those selling skills desert me when a moderately attractive woman hoves into view, the fact that we have left Walter Mitty behind and crafted an alternate horsehide reality in these days of quarter billion dollar contracts, laughably long pants on current players and steroids, well, lets give the boys a hand. Kevin Costner had a disembodied voice , a cornfield and Amy Madigan. I’ve got the Providence Grays and they have taught me that if you’re passionate, lucky and blessed with impractical dreamers of a like dementia, you too can sustain injuries that you can’t afford to treat.
My Grays have existed well over twice as long as those first Providence Grays of 1878. In those days, only two pitchers carried most of the load and relief pitchers were not used very often. Charles “Old Hoss” Radbourn won a ridiculous 59 games in 1884 after a carousing fire baller from San Francisco, one Charlie Sweeney, refused to relinquish the mound and was thrown out the game, as well as the league, for his trouble. As the team was about to fold for lack of hurlers, Radbourn stepped up and offered to do twice the work but only at double the salary.
Rad’s hard bargain worked and Providence stormed on to the National League pennant. The Grays faced the Metropolitans in the first championship series after the Mets goaded them into it. The two clubs played for a pot of $3000 and each squad had to put up half. The gate receipts were to make up the rest of the money but the weather was rainy and raw. In front of a few cold and wet fans, Providence blew by New York in three straight games to claim the title. If you knew that before reading this, I will buy you dinner. I do enjoy a Fillet O’ Fish!
Thanks to the devoted and talented friends I have met on the new Providence Grays, I have learned that dreams can come in any number of disguises. If you can describe the dream, accomplishing it suddenly makes sense. As to playing baseball without a glove, it is the most gloriously impractical and most fulfilling hobby I could ever have imagined.
See you at the ballgame.