Palo Alto Weekly

Sports - August 23, 2013

Remembering the good old days

Menlo Park resident turns dream into reality with foundation

by Rick Eymer

Menlo Park resident Dr. John Eliot thinks it was a shame that kids growing up following baseball these days are unaware of the past stars of the game. He wanted today's youth to become reacquainted with the players their fathers and mothers followed.

That's how the Vintage9 foundation was born. Eliot serves as Chairman and Melanie Hellmann is the Executive Director. The foundation, based in Redwood City, encourages interaction between older players and children through "Vintage Base Ball World Series," a series of baseball games played in small venues based on the 1886 rules of the game.

Four teams, each with a pair of former major league players, gathered at Santa Clara's Washington Park to participate in such an event over the weekend, with a total of seven games played. Kids loved it and their parents did too, bringing back memories of their own childhood.

"There's so much to learn from the older players that I wanted to create a forum in which we could reintroduce them to a new generation of fans," said Eliot, who formed the non-profit organization in 2009. "It's gotten popular and helps us raise money to create opportunities for kids who would otherwise not be able to afford to play the game."

A free youth clinic is included in every event and retired players are more than happy to come back, play the games and share their experiences with the younger fans.

One young man quietly approached former San Francisco Giants outfielder Mike "Tiny" Felder and asked a question. Felder patiently and thoughtfully answered, adding a little humor to it as well.

"This is my second one," Felder said. "I love getting involved with clinics. I stay active with the Major League Players Alumni Association through golf tournaments, speaking engagements and clinics. I'm not that good at golf."

Felder was named the Most Valuable Player of a game played between his winning Santa Clara Stogies and the Bay Area Bootleggers. The Stogies scored five runs in the top of the seventh inning and held on to win, 9-6.

"It's a great chance to see guys I haven't seen in a long while," Felder said. "I had no idea what was involved when I was called two years ago. Playing with just a garden glove is tough. The glove splits apart when you catch the ball."

In 1886, though, there were no errors. If you reached base safely it was ruled a hit. Foul balls were called unfair hits and were not called strikes. Of course, it also took seven balls before a batter walked.

The outfield was called the garden and the outfielders were scouts. Base Tenders made up in the infield, with rover (shortstop) being the toughest position.

The hurler threw the ball to the behind, who was catching, and the ballist was trying to hit. You could start your motion anywhere in the hurler's box, which was a foot behind and a foot in front of the rubber and you could try to catch the ballist off guard with a quick pitch. Balks also did not exist, so a hurler could fake to any base, even first.

The umpire, or arbitrator, stood off to one side when making his calls and if there was a close play questioned by a player, the umpire brought the captains (managers) together to discuss the decision in an orderly fashion.

If the umpire could still not make a proper decision, he would enlist the help of the cranks (fans), who yelled loudly their thoughts.

The Talley Keeper (scorekeeper) and announcer also sat on the field and each team was allowed on base coach, though there were no coaches boxes and the coach could wander, in foul territory, between first and third.

In addition to Felder, other former major leaguers included Mike "The Remedy" Remlinger, Fred Breining, Brian "Lightning" Hunter, Kevin Mitchell and Dmitri Young.

"It's great to get together and tell stories," Remlinger said.

Remlinger made his major league debut with the Giants on June 15, 1991, throwing a three-hit shutout against the Pittsburgh Pirates at Candlestick Park. Felder was 2 for 4 with a run scored and stolen base as the Giants leadoff hitter. Matt Williams hit a two-run homer.

"I had a couple of days before I pitched when I got to the Giants," Remlinger said. "I was staying at the Hillsdale Inn those days. The first night I remember sitting in the dugout watching the fog roll over the top of the stadium and onto the field.

"The next day, when I was going to pitch, I left the Hillsdale Inn without my gear," he added. "I went back to get it and then drove to Candlestick Park. I got into the clubhouse and was introduced around. When I went to get ready, I couldn't find my gear. I left it in the car. Of course, it turned out to be a beautiful day."

Remlinger, who regularly hosts clinics during the summer, knew Eliot from Dartmouth, where they were classmates, and things just worked out for him to participate with the organization.

Eliot works closely with several organizations, including the MLB Players Alumni Association. He likes to get players who are involved in the community and charity work.

"It's a great partnership," said Eliot, who also played with the Stogies over the weekend. "I'm getting calls from around the country."

The foundation ran one "Vintage World Series" a weekend the first two years, and it's been two weekends the past three years. The program expands to four weekends next year, including appearances in Fenway Park and Dodger Stadium.

"We create opportunities for kids in any location we go," Eliot said. "We work with local chapters every where. This is all volunteer."

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