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The Old, Old Ball Game

The St. Louis Perfectos play vintage baseball in Lafayette Park

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There are few sounds more recognizable, or satisfying, than those produced by the game of baseball. The crack of the bat, the roar of the fans as the ball goes deep, the meaty thwack of the ball striking the outstretched bare hand of the outfielder... yeah, bare hand. When you're playing vintage baseball, gloves and batting helmets are forbidden. So are terms like "outfielder," "batter" and "fan." Instead, vintage players adhere to the rules and customs of baseball's early days (anywhere from 1858 to 1880s-era rules are used), so the aforementioned terms become "scout," "striker" and "crank" (must be in honor of a Cubs booster), respectively.

Mark "Five Finger" Philip, the man behind the St. Louis Perfectos (named after the 1899 precursor to our modern Cardinals), first became enamored of Vintage Baseball after reading about it in Smithsonian magazine. Philip found a team in Washington, Missouri, and played there long enough to aquire his nickname and to familiarize himself with the subtleties of the game. It takes some time to get used to being called out when a fielder catches a ball on the first hop. But according to Philip, the differences are what makes it fun: "Runners can advance at their own peril on a bound-out. That's the most interesting play, because you do have some interesting base-running situations." Eventually, Philip decided "if Washington can get up a vintage baseball team, then surely St. Louis can get one going." He was correct. Last year Philip and twenty other baseball enthusiasts fielded the modern (sort of) St. Louis Perfectos, playing by the 1860 edition of the rule book and using Lafayette Park as their home field. Philip credits the Lafayette Square Neighborhood Association for the Perfectos success. "From our home opener, there were so many people there who were excited about it," he says. "For us to be there playing baseball historically in one of St. Louis' most historic parks, it's just a good combination."

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