AUBURN, MI — On Thursday, for the first time in the Auburn Cornfest’s history, a baseball game was played the way it way it used to be played — with no mitts, leather baseballs and an emphasis on community bonding.
The Bay City Independents, a vintage baseball team based out of Bay City, brought the game to the Auburn Cornfest Thursday evening and were joined by members of the Auburn-Williams Fire Department to play a friendly game of baseball. It was the Independents’ first appearance at the festival, which will continue with a variety of activities and entertainment until Sunday.
But the baseball played at Cornfest Park Thursday night wasn’t quite like any game seen in modern times. The game played by the Bay City Independents is based off of the rules of 1865, in which players wear no mitts on their hands, throw underhand pitches and always make sure to respect their opponents. The players also wear vintage baseball uniforms reminiscent of the day.
Jeff Rahl, an Auburn resident and Bay City Independents player, helped coordinate the game and brought the Auburn-Williams Fire Department on board to play at the festival. He said he’d hoped to bring an event to the Cornfest that families could enjoy, and the crowd that gathered to watch the game seemed successful to him.
“We usually practice on Thursdays, but we thought we’d come out and play a game to get out into the community even more,” he said. “I’m really pleased with how it turned out.”
Saginaw resident Chad Fisher came to the ball field while he was waiting to see the festival’s cage fights and was impressed by what he saw. He had heard of vintage baseball before, but had never seen it played and learned a lot about it just by watching and listening.
“I think it’s pretty cool — it brings people out to the Cornfest, and it’s something different you don’t see every day,” Fisher said.
Although it was the Auburn-Williams Fire Department’s first experience with vintage baseball, the team played their best and had fun doing it, Auburn-Williams Fire Chief John Martinski said. With their trucks parked nearby, the firefighters played ball with gusto and were involving themselves with the Auburn community in a healthy way, Martinski said.
“I think this is a really good thing, because it brought us out to the Cornfest and it showed the people we’re here,” he said. “I hope this starts something where the fire department is more involved in the community.”
Getting the fire department acquainted with vintage baseball was a fun experience, Rahl said, and he hopes the Cornfest game helped to show the importance of the Auburn-Williams Fire Department to the community in an offbeat way.
“They’re great guys, and any chance for them to be in the spotlight is well-deserved,” Rahl said. “I’d like to see this game continue.”