On September 20th, 2020, the Northeast Vintage Base Ball All Stars gathered at historic Muzzy Field in Bristol, CT for their annual game. The fall day began crisp and sunny, and as the sun crept over the brick grandstand, flashes of green socks and black suspenders milled about the grounds. Through the chest shields bearing the names of venerated institutions and leagues, through the founding fathers and young leaders, ran a palpable energy—a shared love for a communal project. The brisk morning held something special for each, but it would be the leaders like me who would take the most away from the day.
It was the opportunity to be around the captains that struck a harmonious chord. Being a leader is challenging in ways that most don’t see. Balancing egos, budget sheets, schedules, and expectations all while maintaining my own joy for the game is, frankly, work. There’s no other way to put it. There is a great power in making decisions affecting other people, and each captain should take a moment to tip their own cap—first to the office they hold, and second to themselves for holding it. Organizing a group of people to share the trials of athletic combat is no small thing, and we should all respect it as such.
For it can be momentous and trivial, mundane and terrific, all in the same day. Anyone who stands at the head of a congregation and wades first into such emotional examinations deserves a nod. Often, I would like to just show up to a game and play—like I did when I was a child, and the game was just that. A game.
But none of us would have donned the threads of our forebears last Sunday if it had remained no more than a game. The game—equally of our grandfathers and our youth—occupies more space than that. So much more. And for the captains, we take the good with the bad.
A generation after Alexander the Great, a capable, pragmatic Macedonian king whose name is lost to history class described the crown as a “golden slavery”—indicating, I believe, his deep sense of duty and the seriousness with which he took his role. Of course, the term also recognizes the dichotomy of leadership, noting the associated perks. But “slavery” is the noun, making it the focus of the phrase, while “golden” is the adjective that simply modifies. Running a vintage baseball team can sometimes be like that. Often, I focus more on my duties and obligations than on the joy the game brings me. More on the facts than the fellowship. But last Sunday, I remembered why I carry the torch. I love just playing baseball, but it was more than that.
Being around the captains was therapeutic in a way I didn’t expect, but made sense once I realized what was happening. Commiserating over of similar sets of burdens, tasks, and trials there was an ease, a lessening of the leader’s façade. The conversations normally bouncing off a leader’s insides, kept only to himself, ran free over intimate subjects like ego and money. The most aggressive personalities in the group—my own included—laughed and chided and laughed again. Much like the weather itself, the day had an easy yet crisp feel. It was a just baseball day.
Perhaps historic Muzzy Field is a perfect location for this type of communal, guard-down feeling. The imposing brick grandstands behind like a silent, respected elder; the lack of locks and restrictions too often found in major league parks today; the thicket of pine trees ringing the outfield giving the field a secluded, intimate, arena-like feeling—and perhaps giving the players on the dirt a sense of being transported. To where, I cannot know. Away, yet away together. Like seeing a close friend you’ve shared an intense experience with across a chaotic party, and both sharing a knowing smile before moving your separate ways. A warm feeling from a comrade.
Certainly, the ballplayers at the game reflected some of the best from New England to the Mid-Atlantic, but “All Star Game” is a misleading name, or at least, misses the most important feeling for me. I would describe the day more as the “Captain’s Gala” or some such, for it was an opportunity to share a knowing glance—and a cold beer—with others around the game with the same experiences, trials and tribulations, and passions. To share the field with some of the founding fathers and see my own generation pushing the seams. To complain. To learn. To come together.
Thanks for a great day, ladies and gents, and especially to Chuck Ciccarello for doing all the behind-the-scenes work that made it possible for me to just play. Thanks, Chuck.
Nick “Roughcut” Frandsen
Cap’t, Bovina Dairymen Vintage Base Ball Ass’n