The SoCal Vintage base ball league had been gaining momentum, until the pandemic hit. Now, in its third formal year, with a return-to-play, 10 clubs make up the league: the Crestline Highlanders, Palmdale Blue Stockings, Riverside Smudge Pots, Long Beach Oilers, Redondo Beach Wharf Rats, Perris Prospectors, Arrowhead Loggers, Temecula Dear Bros, Lordsburg Trolleymen, and the Fullerton Fire Knockers.

Imagine baseball in its purest form. A rustic and pristine pastime of sportsmanship, athleticism, and enjoyment. This is how baseball once was, and it can still be enjoyed in this pure form today. The first and only vintage base ball league in Southern California was formed in 2018 and plays by the 1886 Spalding rules that uses replica equipment and uniforms, typically played using rules and uniforms from the 1850s, 1860s and 1880s.

The game’s name is typically written “base ball” rather than “baseball,” as that was the spelling used before the 1880s. The ball of the 1860s was a bit larger, heavier, and softer than the modern baseball. Often, the games are not only competitive, but also a reform of baseball life, like American Civil War reenactments.

A Perris Prospector player catches a fly ball during a recent Southern California Vintage Base Ball game. Valley News/Action Captures Media Group

The styles and speech of the 19th century is also used while playing vintage baseball. Terms like “huzzah” for expressing delight, “striker” for batter and “cranks” for fans, just to name a few, are all used to keep with the era’s theme. Ballists use small, webless gloves and swing 40-ounce lumber. A walk takes seven balls, and the hidden ball trick is legal. All disputes are arbitrated by the team captains and the judge, which is an umpire, although the term “sir” is also used. A judge’s decision is final and is always to be treated in a respectful manner.

“I wanted to play competitive baseball but play baseball in its purest form the way it was in its origin,” Kristopher Hiraoka, who plays for the Perris Prospectors, said. “It’s nice to be able to keep the history of the Inland Empire alive and to teach the younger generations the history of the area and the game.”

Hiraoka’s team was started as a means to recognize the history of baseball in Perris in the past. As you can imagine the organization of leagues was vague with teams forming and disappearing in short order. Frequently a place to play determined the life span of a team. Some of the teams in the past were strictly amateur, others semi-pro where at least one player was paid to play and professional where players were paid and usually had a sponsor to pay the bills.

The California League functioned off and on from 1887 till 1910 and the California State League from 1910 to 1929 that had assorted teams from around the state. The Southern California Trolley League in 1910 and the Southern California League in 1907 till 1913 were short-lived leagues that tried to match up teams from the community teams of the southland. Some of the colorful nicknames that were used during this time frame were Grays, Raisin Growers, Clam-diggers, Dudes, Pioneers, Wasps, Prune Pickers, Sand Crabs, and Hayseeds.

Amongst these teams were the teams from the smallest towns like Perris, that probably lacked the larger sponsorships and easier travel options. These teams were limited to playing the closest towns nearby. Most players probably played for the fun of the game but amongst them were players with more skill that dreamed to play at a higher level and eventually to make it to the major leagues.

Perris Prospectors in back row: Scraps, Answer, Venado, Laser, Samurai, Reno, Smokey, Bub. Front row: Taz, Toro, Miyagi, Omen. Valley News/Action Captures Media Group

From an oral interview with Norman Hughes (a longtime Perris Valley resident) in March 2004, a glimpse was given of some members of these teams. Norman remembered the names of three players. They were Elmer Rieger, Jimmy Kincannon and Albert Trujillo who were all pitchers. Norman reported that Albert was ambidextrous and won both games of a double header. He pitched one game right-handed and the other game left-handed. Norman also recalled Elmer, who was a pitcher, was invited to play for a team from Los Angeles (Morans) in the Southern California League. He later became a member of the Saint Louis Cardinals in 1910 and, so far, is the only player born in Perris (Feb. 25, 1889) to play in the major leagues.

As Perris teams became more organized and competitive, one story about this team is that to show their confidence in their ability to win games, they would tell the other teams that they would walk home if they lost. It is said that they had to walk home from Temecula on one occasion.

Fans are invited out to May Ranch Park Saturday, Oct. 9, where they will get to experience how the national pastime was played in the 19th century. May Ranch Park is at 3033 Poppy Court in Perris. For more information, www.scvbb.com or socalvintagebb@gmail.com.

JP Raineri can be reached by email at sports@reedermedia.com.