As winter turns to spring and sunny skies push away the rain clouds (soon, we hope), the ballists of Bay Area Vintage Base Ball prepare to take the region’s diamonds by storm for the 2019 season.
With opening weekend upon us, we sought to take the pulse of the league by looking back at the completed 2018 campaign — highlighted as it was with a regular-season championship for the San Francisco Pacifics and a Golden Gate Cup title for the San Francisco Pelicans — and ahead to the upcoming effort.
We corresponded with managers and top ballists representing all 10 teams in the loop (one of which submitted an unsigned group reply), asking five questions of each regarding last season, how the incessant drumbeat of change has affected teams and league alike, and where things are headed in the near future for all.
Several consistent themes emerged from the answers submitted: an appreciation of the parity and improving level of play in BAVBB; concern for the safety and well-being of the ballists who grace the fields of their respective cities; high hopes for positive results to come. Several longtime players have left the league for greener pastures, while an influx of new and hungry talent promises to maintain the hard-fought spirit of competition that is on full display on ball fields across the Bay Area every Sunday.
The responses quoted below have been lightly edited for style and length.
— Aloysius Malarkey
1. How would you assess your team's overall results in the 2018 season?
Sarge, San Francisco Eagles: Last season was our first season as an official member of the league. We resurrected the oldest organized base ball team in the state of California. and for the first time in nearly 140 years, the Eagles played ball. The scores may not have been bright, but last season contained a lot of progress for us as a team. There was a lot of individual improvement for guys on the team, not to mention some truly wonderful memories from our first tour of the league.
Pup, San Jose Dukes: The Dukes started the season on a positive note, taking some early games and staying hot through the season's first months. However, the Dukes ran into a tough schedule (both playoffs and vacation) to drop a number of late games, ultimately concluding in a hard-fought loss in the Golden Gate Cup playoffs. The Dukes showed some significant progress from just a year ago and look to continue the momentum in 2019's season.
Barbary Coast: Underachievement. The Coast can take down anyone on any given Sunday. Some Sundays are no bueno; life presents challenges.
Mule, Oakland Colonels: 2018 was a down year for the Colonels. We are going through some shift in team dynamics as a few starters were hurt or had family commitments that took them away from the field. This impacted how much time they could dedicate to games and practice. Additionally, as the most veteran team, we are looking for ways to get new players on the roster to shake up the lineup. Getting new players can be somewhat challenging as we do not have too much turnover on our team. Most Colonels are into double digits in years of service with the team. However, we were able to add three new players last year and saw some positive results. We are counting on these players to challenge the veterans for at bats and playing time.
El Guapo, Dublin Aces: Overall, 2018 was a good season. I felt our team was loaded with strong position players from top to bottom. I can't say enough about the group of guys on this team. I honestly felt we had the best shot at winning it all, but unfortunately we ran out of steam at the end. Tough break …
Nemo, Berkeley Clarions: The Clarions had a record season in 2018, attributed to great pitching and defense.
Buttercup, San Francisco Pacifics: After battling through an up-and-down regular season, the Pacifics held on to narrowly win the West and prevailed in the league championship. Despite a notable increase in runs allowed per game, a championship season should always be measured as a success.
Boxcar, San Francisco Pelicans: Ups and downs during the season, but got hot in the tournament and ultimately our best finish ever wining the Golden Gate Cup.
Einstein, San Francisco Sea Lions: We only won two games total, so we can only improve from here!
Hawk, Haywards Journals: 2018 was a down year for the J's after losing more games than the previous two seasons combined. Injuries were a major factor, having lost our No. 1 hurler and cleanup hitter for half the season.
2. What was the most surprising, interesting or important thing that happened in BAVBB at large in 2018?
Sarge, San Francisco Eagles: We had an incredible unique opportunity to bring vintage ball to San Quentin Prison. Interacting with the prisoners and sharing our version of the game with them spoke to the universality of the game that we love. We established what many of us hope will become an annual tradition, and I know that I'm hoping for a chance to go back!
Pup, San Jose Dukes: The most important and significant thing that happened in 2018 was advancing discussions on player safety and looking to creative ways to keep the league original, unique, but also safe for all.
Barbary Coast: Brew retired and that guy doing tightrope walking on the other field that one day, and that hawk that keeps an eye on us at Big Rec, swooping all around like he paid for the field. The San Quentin game was the most important and coolest thing that happened!
Mule, Oakland Colonels: In my view, the most important thing to happen in BAVBB is the ongoing shift to being an adult baseball league instead of a true vintage league. We see this every year with the use or introduction of modern equipment to prevent injuries. If we would study the habits, structures and format of the 1886 game, velocity would diminish, a more complex and safer game would arise.
El Guapo, Dublin Aces: Last season Tree was hit in the head and ended up with a concussion forcing him to miss quite a bit of time, which ended up with a lot of teams discussing the safety aspect of our game. Prior to this, I don't recall the league having anything significant happen that opened our eyes to injuries of this nature. I believe due to this injury in 2018, it's allowed us to bring in some sort of safety with the use of liners inside our hats and not lose part of the authenticity by having to use helmets.
Nemo, Berkeley Clarions: The most interesting thing was how well matched most of the teams were. Virtually any team could beat any other team on any given day.
Buttercup, San Francisco Pacifics: New clubs rise to success. Dublin winning the East, Berkeley tying for second best record in the league and Pelicans winning the Golden Gate Cup.
Boxcar, San Francisco Pelicans: Overall level of play has continued to improve. Also I believe this was the first season in quite some time where the league had all games played and there were no games forfeited due to poor turnout and inability to get rescheduled.
Einstein, San Francisco Sea Lions: Changes in the board structure.
Hawk, Haywards Journals: 2018 was a great season for the BAVBB because the level of play has increased across the board. Fresh blood infused across the league improved pretenders into contenders in a very short time (Dukes, Aces, and Clarions).
3. Are there any key additions or losses among your team's personnel for 2019?
Sarge, San Francisco Eagles: Our shortstop and leadoff man, Wink, moved back to France. We have quite a few new ballplayers joining the Eagles this year. Although none of them will bring the same international talent that Wink did, they'll be great additions for us!
Pup, San Jose Dukes: The Dukes will lose “Half Pint” coming into the 2019 season due to complications from his early-season finger injury. The Dukes are always on the prowl and will add a number of new faces heading into the season. All nicknames TBD!
Barbary Coast: Toro is questionable and on the indeterminate DL, and morale is suffering as a consequence.
Mule, Oakland Colonels: 2019 was the year we had two vets retire: Ben “Professor” Texara (SS, P, #2 hitter) and Kelly “Brew” Maughan (1B, RF, #7 hitter). Both these guys gave their hearts and souls to the team and will be remembered and revered for as long as the Colonels are in existence. Both gave over 10 years of service, winning two championships, and were part of the team that won the inaugural cup. Those guys were/are gamers and will be sorely missed. However, replacing them will be entrusted Rory “Fancy” Henderson (OF, #1 hitter), Patrick “Rosie” Fitzgerald (2B, #8 hitter), and Sontag “Rez” Woodson (Utility, #9 hitter). We look to increase their roles from their freshman year and make a lasting impact on the team in 2019. Additionally, we've welcomed Joseph “Oak” Khawaja (formerly known as “Tree” of the Sea Lions) to shore up the bench and provide some key innings as the year progresses.
El Guapo, Dublin Aces: We lost Doc this season, unfortunately; he was our behind — a great player with amazing insight, considering how long he's been in the league. We hope to have him back in 2020. Returning is a former manager of the Aces and well-respected player throughout the league, Snakecharmer. I'm definitely excited for him to be back — his knowledge of the game will help our newer players tremendously. We also added a newcomer, Dylan, to the team. We're excited to see what he brings to the team this season.
Nemo, Berkeley Clarions: We lost Blood to the East Coast; he was one of our strongest pitchers. We are working on a new pitching strategy this year with some new recruits.
Buttercup, San Francisco Pacifics: Gent hung up his spikes and will be replaced by another Matt.
Boxcar, San Francisco Pelicans: As is expected in San Francisco, we've had some key departures. Long-tenured sure-handed and fleet-footed outfielder Nate “Bean” Underwood has moved back east, and all-star pitcher/catcher Stephen “Deuce” Nemy has left to pursue his career in NYC. We've added utility man Paul Matthew to the squad.
Einstein, San Francisco Sea Lions: We lost five players — four founding players, including our manager Naji “Skip” Ali. I’ve drafted four new players to try to replace them.
Hawk, Haywards Journals: In 2019, the J's are saddened to see two-year player Adam “Patches” Pallin leave us for business opportunities across the continental US. 2019 will also see the emergence of two rookies that were added late last year: tall LHP “Train” and speedy infielder “Dusty.” With a full year of experience under their belt, they are destined to produce great numbers and improve team defense.
4. What will be the most important factor in your team's success in 2019?
Sarge, San Francisco Eagles: Keeping pace with the game. Innings and games can spin out of control in the blink of an eye in this league. Making sure that errors don't lead into more errors and bad innings don't carry over into the next inning will be huge for us.
Pup, San Jose Dukes: Pitching. Pup's arm injury has left a number of innings for the rest of the Dukes to absorb. How the Dukes can creatively get through seven innings will determine their success this season.
Barbary Coast: Everyone showing up, Towel taking up the behind (though JBW is Johnny Bench-like in his stalwartness; you know what I mean) and a clever combination of hurlers. We really need to show different looks and switch ’em up and make strikers look bad. But basically, pitching, defense, and offense. Also the league coming together to counter the Pacs “always run” statistically sound strategy. Either we all run, all the time, or we change the balk rule to make it easier to pick off pesky Pacs.
Mule, Oakland Colonels: I think we have a very hungry, experienced team that can win the championship and the Cup. We need to continue to channel that hunger into personal and collective improvement. If we can stay focused and on course with what we've established over the last half of last year this could be a banner season for the Oakland Colonels.
El Guapo, Dublin Aces: I'd say the most important factor for the our success this season is to continue to build the continuity of our team. We play loose, gel well together, and all have to same common goal: to play our best, minimize errors, capitalize on errors made by our opponents, and win the Cup!
Nemo, Berkeley Clarions: We will need to increase our hitting to compensate for our loss of pitching.
Buttercup, San Francisco Pacifics: Magically getting younger ;) Getting back to playing Pacifics defense, especially given the increase in talent across the board in the league.
Boxcar, San Francisco Pelicans: Extending offensive innings and scoring more runs. Our defense and pitching should remain solid, we just need to plate some more runs.
Einstein, San Francisco Sea Lions: Our ability to make the plays on “routine” fly balls and ground balls.
Hawk, Haywards Journals: Health will be a major factor in 2019. Once one of the deepest pitching staffs over the years, last year saw the J's mid-pack in terms of ERA and runs allowed.
5. What would you tell cranks to expect from your team's results in 2019?
Sarge, San Francisco Eagles: Expect closer games and our first team win. We've got a full season of vintage ball under our belts, and between the new ballists that we've added and improvements from within, 2019 will be the most successful brand of Eagles base ball in the last 100 years!
Pup, San Jose Dukes: The Dukes are loud and proud, and win or lose, cranks can rest assured they will always see a hard-fought game. You'll laugh, cry, and yell, but the Dukes will hit a little, field a little and hurl a little, and make a run at the East title.
Barbary Coast: That we win games we show up for and lose games we sorta show up for, so we're a .500 team and maybe we'll do better this year. Y’never know, with the talent on our squad. It comes down to attitude and strategery. We need some of the latter nous gained by observing the master, Buttercup (and Toro).
Mule, Oakland Colonels: To quote a favorite movie of mine, "Every newspaper in the country has picked us to finish dead last. But I'm for wasting sportswriters’ time, so let's go out there and give them a nice big shitburger to eat."
El Guapo, Dublin Aces: We have some amazing cranks. The support they've given us truly shows at our games, whether at home or away. Over the past few years we've gained cranks who’ve read about us, passed through the park and stopped to watch, or brought out with a fellow crank. I'd have to tell them to expect us to give our best effort on game days and to mark their calendars in September to watch their beloved Dublin Aces play for the Golden Gate Cup!
Nemo, Berkeley Clarions: Expect the Clarions to be very competitive this year.
Buttercup, San Francisco Pacifics: The 2019 Pacifics should contend for the Western Division pennant, as well as league-wide silverware.
Boxcar, San Francisco Pelicans: Expect to see guys having fun and playing good base ball. Win or lose, we'll be having a great afternoon hanging out with all the great guys in league.
Einstein, San Francisco Sea Lions: Expect an improvement over last year.
Hawk, Haywards Journals: Cranks should expect exciting baseball from the J's this year. We have won many a game in the last inning or extra innings, showing a never-give-up attitude and ability to close things out.