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Vintage Baseball Game Celebrates N.H. Man’s Legacy On The Diamond

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Vintage baseball games are a combination of theatre, education and sport, says vintage baseball player, Collin Miller.
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Collin Miller
A man in the center hits a ball with a baseball cap. Four other men are in the field dressed in old-timey clothing.

Despite “Doc” Adams’ significant contributions to baseball history, he is still not in the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Baseball might be called America’s pastime, but how much do you know about the sport’s history? A vintage baseball game in Mont Vernon is highlighting the contributions of New Hampshire’s “Doc” Adams to baseball history. Adams is considered by some to be the father of modern baseball, but his name is not very well-known, even among baseball enthusiasts.

Collin Miller is an organizer of the weekend’s game and a vintage baseball player. He joined NHPR Morning Edition host Rick Ganley to discuss Adams’ legacy.

TRANSCRIPT:

Rick Ganley: This game is called the Doc Adams Birthplace Classic because Adams was born in Mont Vernon in the early 1800s. What was baseball like when he started playing the game?

Collin Miller: Well, in his early days when he moved to New York City and became a physician after graduating from Harvard, he joined the Knickerbocker Base Ball Club, and they played by the rules of the New York Game. And that had lots of different iterations throughout the mid-1800s. And the rules changed quite significantly throughout the 1800s, but particularly more so in those early days.

Rick Ganley: Is he considered the rule maker for what we would think of as a more modern game?

Collin Miller: Yes, certainly. The modern conventions of nine innings, 90 foot base paths and nine men on either side, all can be attributed to Doc Adams.

Rick Ganley: And what were some other specific contributions that he made to the game?

Collin Miller: Well, most importantly, recently Derek Jeter was inducted in the Hall of Fame, so we took the advent of that to raise awareness that Doc Adams actually invented the shortstop position. And in 1849, the balls that were made, which Doc actually made early baseballs because at the time you couldn't exactly go to a sporting goods store and purchase them, were very lightweight and hand-sewn, and you really needed a person to relay the ball from the outfield and thus the name shortstop.

Rick Ganley: So this is a kind of an old fashioned game that you're playing on Saturday. What will people see? What will spectators get a vision of?

Collin Miller: Well, vintage baseball is as kind of a broad community. There's hundreds of teams throughout the country, but I call it a baseball subculture. We have men and women dressed in period appropriate costume. And we are recreating baseball as it was played during, you know, the formative years of the game. On Saturday we'll be playing by the rules of 1864. And we come together to do this every year in honor of Doc in the town where he was born, really to raise awareness of his rightful enshrinement in Cooperstown. And this year happens to be a special year because at the baseball's Winter Meetings, the Early Baseball Era Committee will be voting to, we hope, put Doc on the ballot for the Hall of Fame. He narrowly missed the last time the elections happened in 2014. He missed it by two votes. But a couple of months later, the 1857 "Laws of Base Ball" were unearthed and sold at a sports auction for $3.26 million, which is still a record for a baseball document.

Rick Ganley: And those are rules that he wrote, correct?

Collin Miller: Correct. Yeah, they were actually verified by his great granddaughter, Marjorie Adams, who's since passed away.

Rick Ganley: I know she was working to try to get him into the Hall of Fame, wasn't she?

Collin Miller: Correct. Yeah, we are certainly carrying the torch of the fire that Marjorie lit for Doc. It is the seminal document that attributes some of these key foundations to baseball to Doc when he presided over the rules committee.

Rick Ganley: I'm curious, you say now, of course, vintage games are played with with men and women, people from all over the states. There are a lot of efforts going on right now to recognize more about baseball's history and particularly the role of the Negro Leagues and Black players in general. Why should we be thinking about Doc Adams in particular and his legacy?

Collin Miller: Well, it's really setting the record straight. What we do in the vintage baseball community is try to bring a little bit theater, a little bit education and a little bit sport. We're really, I would say, fertilizing the roots of baseball's family tree. So I think that, you know, the 19th century baseball community of folks that do this have really wanted folks to understand the origins of the game because a lot of people do not realize how often the rules changed, you know, throughout the formative years. And it's always a great thing when we can educate people about how baseball is looked at through the lens of American history, and a lot of folks have used baseball to sort of teach American history and continue to do that. So it's important to get it right from, you know, it's early days.

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