Cannonballs, Indians play vintage base ball
July 15, 2010
Soldiers and Indians met in a battle, but instead of fierce fighting it was a friendly rivalry at the Ninth Annual Fort Sill Cannonballs vs. Fort Sill Indians vintage base ball (old spelling) game Saturday afternoon at the Old Post Quadrangle.
The event pitted fort Soldiers against local American Indians in a game reminiscent of base ball played on post during the late 19th century in then-Oklahoma Territory.
Those games featured Frontier Army soldiers playing Troop L, 7th U.S. Cavalry, which consisted of Kiowa, Apache and Comanche soldiers.
In Saturday's match up, the Cannonballs outlasted the Indians 7-6 in the nine-inning vintage game, which was very different from today's baseball.
"It's a re-creation of the history of Fort Sill, where we had all-native teams playing against military teams," said Towana Spivey, Fort Sill National Historic Landmark director and curator, and the game's organizer. "We have researched and have obtained all the correct equipment, clothing, rules and even descendants of the original players."
Indians' coach Lupe Gooday Sr. and ballist (player) Wilson "The Warrior" Ware Jr. performed a traditional Fort Sill Apache celebration song before the game. After the last drum beat, umpire Jim Havens yelled, "Play ball."
But melodrama intervened and got the dozens of spectators in the spirit of the wild west when two drunk cowboys took the field and an outlaw held a schoolmarm at gunpoint. It ended with a shootout and U.S. marshals saving the day.
Once on the field, the Indians took an early 1-0 lead thanks to the handiwork of their hurler (pitcher) Amos Harjo, who kept the Cannonball batsmen defused.
Harjo threw the ball underhand as specified by rules. The oversized brown ball looked like a softball, but had the characteristics of a mushball when hit and thrown.
High humidity and a slippery grass field, didn't dampen the enthusiasm of the players, who were all gloveless and wore period base ball uniforms.
The Cannonballs bounced back after a couple innings and the score was 2-2 after six.
In the spirit of the vintage game, umpire Jim Havens polled the players on rules to see if they wanted to use the one-bounce fly ball, which if caught was considered an out (they did) and whether to allow base stealing then considered ungentlemanly (they didn't).
"So we do have some integrity, but not very good ball players," Havens said jokingly, referring to their rule preferences.
Havens, a volunteer with the Fort Sill Gun Detachment, said his role was not so much to call the game, but to settle disputes when the ballists could not make clear decisions on close plays. And, he was not allowed on the field, but observed from the sidelines.
Cannonballer Remulus Herrien, who enjoys playing baseball, said he couldn't play in last year's game so he made it a point to play this year.
"It was great. The game was a lot of fun," Herrien said.
Herrien added that he learned a lot about American Indian traditions and their historical role in the U.S. Army.
Announcer Clive Siegle, who gave all the players nicknames, also promoted products between innings.
"This inning is brought to you by Dr. J. H. McLean's Volcanic Oil Liniment. Since 1841, it has proven without equal for muscle aches, stiffness ... gunshots and arrow wounds. It is also a useful home liniment for livestock and a fail proof adhesive for repairing horse tack," said Siegle, who is a U.S. history professor in Dallas.
Ware, of Anadarko, said he's played the game every year since its inception to support Troop L, the Soldiers and for fun.
"It was a chance to share basic brotherhood and a chance to show everybody that we can play a little bit of base ball," he said.
Spivey noted that there are other vintage baseball games in the United States, but none have the history with the military and American Indians, have descendants from original ball players and that is played on the original diamond.
Siegle said that history is one of the great reality shows.
"Hollywood producers couldn't invent some of the things that were stock-and-trade of history," he said. "It's immensely interesting and we hoped we brought some of that today."
Following the game, the teams exchanged congratulations, posed for group photos, listened to a tribal dance song and Fires Center of Excellence and Fort Sill Commanding General. Maj. Gen. David "Hellcat" Halverson, who played, presented all the ballists with sportsmanship medals.