The batter prepares for the incoming pitch during the 2014 vintage baseball conference in Huntington. (Photo courtesy of the Huntington Hilltoppers)
The batter prepares for the incoming pitch during the 2014 vintage baseball conference in Huntington. Photo provided

The rich history of American baseball is brought to life by the Huntington Hilltoppers, one of the few vintage baseball teams in the state of Indiana. The team plays at Lake Clare in Huntington, Ind.

The team has been around for 10 years, and Gib “Judge” Young has been with them since the beginning. Six men got together in 2005 to propose the team, and it has been around since.

The team plays by the rules set forth in 1862.

“It’s a Civil War reenactment with baseball,” Gary Carlisle, the first basemen, said.

Young interpreted the rules and differences in the game, starting with names. Every player has a nickname that they go by for the league, and the Hilltoppers consist of names such as Weege, Splinter, Slick, Spider and Peewee among many others. There are no gloves, no fences and outs can be made by a throw to the base, a catch or even the catch of a ball on the first bounce.

“Obstacles are just a part of the game,” Young said. “We play at a field in Northern Indiana where there is an outhouse in right field and another where a creek runs through the outfield.”

Young is called Judge because he acts as the team’s umpire and peacekeeper – standing behind the plate, making calls and sporting a gun to keep things calm.

“It was more of a gentleman’s club back then,” he said. “In ten years, we have never had an argument. It is beneath us. You cheer for the other team and have a lot of friendly banter.”

The Hilltoppers outfit themselves in 1860’s attire and all of their equipment is made to match the era as well. Splinter said, all balls are ordered from the Vintage Baseball Factory and most of the bats are handcrafted by Phoenix Bats.

The season is drawing to a close, but Splinter said the team had a full year.

“We’ve had a team travel as far as from Minnesota and Colorado, but the furthest we’ve been is Gettysburg, West Virginia,” he said.

Another member of the team, Spider, comes from a team in Dayton, Ohio that goes by the Clodbusters. The Clodbusters have been around for more than 25 years.

Spider has been playing baseball his entire life.

“The biggest thing is just getting to play baseball,” he said.

The vintage team is still young compared to how old the game of baseball is, but Judge says not much has changed.

“If you had an old timer from 1860 come, he’d recognize the game,” he said. “He’d be able to play it.”