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The Muffins vintage “base ball” team pays homage to a traditional pastime

J.R. McMillan

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When Aaron Seddon first stepped up to the plate nearly a decade ago for the Ohio Village Muffins, he was actually stepping back in time. It wasn’t the same game he’d played in his youth. The rules and uniforms were unfamiliar, and pushing 30 as a walk-on wasn’t out of the ordinary. Even the spelling was different. This was 1860 vintage “base ball.”

No that’s not a typo—and no, the whole team didn’t forget their gloves either.

“When we’re talking to spectators about the differences in the game, they’re immediately concerned that we aren’t wearing gloves. That kind of protective gear didn’t enter the game until the 1870s,” explained Seddon. “We get a lot of our recruits from people who come to matches, who are intrigued by what we’re doing. We’re a close-knit group, even o the field. We’re a team, but we’re also a family.”

Photos: Brian Kaiser

Long before the days of hot dogs and dugouts, what we now know as baseball was played in fields and empty lots from Cooperstown to Hoboken. Historians still dispute the exact origin story of the sport, but generally agree that it was the inevitable intermingling of Union and Confederate troops that transformed the game into a national pastime.

But Columbus has its own history, mixed with a little folklore. Before the war, there were exactly zero baseball teams in the capital city, but shortly after its end, there were six. Players learned the sport from fellow soldiers from New York and New Jersey who brought bats and balls with them to pass the time between battles. Even the hand signals still used today for balls, strikes, “safe” and “out” arguably owe credit to the Ohio School for the Deaf in Clintonville, put into play a decade later to help their hearing-impaired athletes compete as equals.

Which brings us back to the matter of the Muffins. When the Ohio History Connection started their vintage baseball program in 1981, there was no prototype, only a rulebook. Recruiting most of that first team from their employees, they couldn’t help having some self-deprecating fun at their future expense. In the early days of baseball, your best players were referred to as the “first nine” followed by the “second nine.” Everyone left on the bench were called the “muffins.” A “mu ” was period vernacular for an error, back before they were counted. The name was so inside baseball, it was perfect.

“The umpire’s role isn’t really to arbitrate the game. He’s there to settle disputes between the players they can’t adjudicate themselves,” Seddon noted. “And the pitcher’s role is to facilitate hitting. In modern baseball, your pitcher is your best defensive player, to prevent the ball from getting into play. The game we play is before it became professional. Everyone was an amateur back then.”

Fans will also notice a suspicious absence of balls and strikes. Newspapers from the era report some batters taking 50 or more pitches waiting for just the right one, because if a hit was caught on the first bounce, it still counted as an out.

“Probably the biggest difference between modern baseball and the game we play is—if an opponent makes a really good play—everyone cheers,” Seddon revealed. “We’re playing a competitive game, we’re obviously both out there to win the match. But there’s much more camaraderie between the teams.”

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Speaking of the other team, the Ohio History Connection has more than one vintage baseball club. Much as the rise of men’s baseball inspired impromptu games among women well before Vassar College started the first formal women’s program in 1866, the Diamonds played their first match in 1994. Despite their parallel history and popularity, many of the early women’s vintage baseball teams have since consolidated or faded away, making matches more challenging.

Like the Muffins, the Diamonds also represent the game as it was played in 1860, which for women of the era was strictly recreational. The rules were the same, but even playing in back fields among themselves, the ladies often caused quite a social stir with their attire.

“We wear period-accurate dresses made from patterns of actual garments considered either a camp dress or a work dress. Someone who first starts out may play in a long skirt and a white blouse,” explained Jackie Forquer, who has played for the Diamonds for more than two decades. “We don’t play as many games as the men, but the time commitment is also less. We play festivals and exhibitions games. Our players who come from a softball background see this as another way to share their love of the game.”

Both the Muffins and Diamonds are technically historical “interpreters” who interact with spectators much as players would have in 1860, sometimes to exacting detail. Forquer, who plays first base, is sometimes the first ambassador for vintage baseball folks may meet, either through school programs or at the beginning of a game, with Diamonds matches often preceding the Muffins. Never breaking character, she’ll politely ask the umpire to seek the approval of the audience before women roll up or remove their sleeves before beginning play. Showing so much skin used to be scandalous.

Every organization has a historian, but vintage baseball happens to have an actual one. Dr. Jim Tootle came to the original version of the game later in life than most, but has still managed to outlast many of his peers. Having retired as assistant dean of the College of the Arts and Sciences at Ohio State, his passion for preservation is as infectious as his laugh.

“I’ve gotten to play in four major league parks from coast to coast. I thought my playing days were winding down when I stumbled upon this, and I’ve probably played 600 to 700 vintage games,” Tootle recalled. “It’s been a wonderful experience to represent the Ohio History Connection on our home field at The Ohio Village, but also to travel the state and the country.”

Tootle actually has written the book on vintage baseball—two in fact, not counting a third still used by prospective vintage baseball teams across the country trying to get their start.

“It’s like Civil War reenacting in a way because we give great attention to accuracy—interpreting the rules, our uniforms, and our equipment. And yet, the moment the first pitch is thrown, it’s not a reenactment anymore. It’s a real game, and we don’t know who is going to win,” Tootle chided. “I have to laugh watching ESPN anytime there’s a barehanded catch. They go nuts and show it three or four times. I feel like saying, ‘Come out to a vintage baseball game, every catch is a barehanded catch. Gloves weren’t even invented yet.’

For a complete schedule of games, including the 2019 Ohio Cup Vintage Base Ball Festival featuring 30 teams from across the country, visit ohiohistory.org

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Things To Do

Hit Your Peak: 3 worth-the-drive ski slopes near Columbus

Asa Herron

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The cursed Ohio Winter Monster has made its presence known to all with its 5pm sunsets, snow storms, and seasonal depression for all. How are you going to fight back against the gloom this year? It may seem like it’s impossible to do fun things with your friends or to stay active in the winter, but I’m here to tell you that not all hope is lost. Finding a new hobby is a great way to kick your winter woes to the curb and start the new decade on a good foot.

Skiing can be a great way to casually exercise with friends and resuscitate your serotonin levels. Here are three high quality places to ski within driving distance of Columbus for you to check out.

MAD RIVER MOUNTAIN

Located in Zanesfield, Mad River Mountain is about an hour's drive northwest of Columbus. They have the most reasonable prices of all the nearby ski resorts. Plus, their on-property bar, The Loft, has 12 taps of craft beers on rotation to add a little more fun to the night. Mad River is open until 1 a.m. on Fridays, too, so you’re getting a full Friday night of flurries.

Mad River is home to over 20 trails (spanning 3.9 miles) and four terrain parks making it the largest ski resort in Ohio. They also bolster ten ski lifts (the most in Ohio) and are tied with Snowtrails for the largest vertical drop in the state with their 300 foot slope. An added perk of Mad River is that they just built a new $6.2 million facility in 2016 to replace the space they lost to a fire in 2015. Plus, most of their trails are designated “easy” difficulty. Mad River has everything you need to have a relaxing, affordable day of skiing.

Details on hours and pricing can be found at www.skimadriver.com.

SNOWTRAILS

Founded in 1961, Snowtrails is Ohio’s oldest ski resort. It is located in Mansfield, so also about an hour drive north. This resort is only slightly more expensive, with lift rates starting at $31 for midweek evenings and $52 for all-day on the weekends, with skis, boots, and pole rentals are $37. If there’s one day this month that you visit Snowtrails, let it be January 25 for their mid-season party. Get ready for an outdoor DJ, a custom built snowbar, and a fireworks show 30 minutes after the slopes close for the night. Not into skiing? No problem! The party is free and open to the public, so let your expert friends hit the slopes while you hit the spirits at the snow bar.

Snowtrails is the second largest resort in the state with six ski lifts and 3.3 miles of trails. The majority of their trails are designated “intermediate” difficulty, so more experienced skiers will enjoy their time here.

More information can be found at www. snowtrails.com.

BOSTON MILLS & BRANDYWINE

Boston Mills & Brandywine is the farthest ski resort from Columbus on this list, but great for a full weekend away. This quaint resort is in Peninsula, OH is a two hour drive from Central Ohio. Their pricing is $40 after 3:30 p.m. and $45 for an all-day pass. Staying another night? Come back on Saturday for $5 Late Nights admission from 8:00 PM to 1:00 AM.

Boston Mill & Brandywine ski resort is known for being especially conducive to beginning skiers. They offer high quality lessons and will walk you through the process. This is the place to go if you have “stupid” questions about skiing, or just want to tube. However, they also appeal to veteran skiers as the majority of their 18 trails are designated “advanced”. Despite the high quantity of trails, this resort is much smaller than the other two, with only 1.2 miles of skiable trails, and their largest vertical drop being 264 feet. But for these prices? Could definitely be worth the trip.

Learn more about Boston Mills & Brandywine at www.bmbw.com.

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Arts & Culture

Watch: “World’s largest mural” in Short North is more than meets the eye

Regina Fox

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At a glance, "The Journey AR Mural" adorning the Graduate Columbus hotel in Short North is stunning. Look a little harder, and it actually comes to life.

Standing at over 107 feet tall and over 11,000 square feet of augmented reality, "The Journey AR Mural," is the world's largest AR mural, offering technology that superimposes a computer-generated image on a user's view of the real world, thus providing a composite view.

The gaily-painted snapdragons, hibiscus, Easter lilies, and hummingbirds bloom and fly when viewed through the Journey AR Mural app (free for iPhone and Android). Watch the murals come to life in the video below.

https://www.instagram.com/p/B7PRvBxpBkI/

Los Angeles-based artists Ryan Sarfati and Eric Skotnes (going by “Yanoe” and “Zoueh," respectively) are the creatives behind the project.

In an interview with Short North Arts District, Skotnes revealed he was inspired to take on the project after learning that Columbus is home to the second largest population of Somali immigrants in the country—he hopes the murals symbolize strength and prosperity for its viewers.

To learn more about The Journey AR Mural, visit shortnorth.org.

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Food & Drink

Worth the Drive: Lima’s Kewpee Hamburgers

Regina Fox

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Lima, OH may not be the first destination that comes to mind when planning a road trip, but you may have to reconsider after learning about a little (AKA one of the oldest burger chain in the world) not-so-hidden gem called Kewpee Hamburgers.

It all started in 1923 when Kewpee Hotel Hamburgs opened in Flint, Michigan. This was home to the "Mity nice Hamburger," which could be purchased for just a nickel. Kewpee was also known for its life-sized naked mascot baby, created to the likeness of the classic comic strip Kewpie dolls.

By 1940, the chain rebranded to simply "Kewpee Hamburgers," and was 400-locations strong. From Ohio to New York City, Kewpee's stole the hearts of Americans with its square patties, hot chili, thick shakes, homey diner atmosphere, and not-to-be-beaten prices.

During its rise to popularity, Kewpee also managed to revolutionize the fast food game by becoming one of the first restaurants to offer a drive-thru.

But much to the dismay of its fans far and wide, most restaurants in the franchise met their demise during WWII meat shortages.

Kewpee's time-honored legacy lives on in Lima, OH where the only three remaining restaurants are located. Despite its novelty across the country, Kewpee continues to offer guests their beloved greasy grub at rock-bottom prices ($2.45 for a cheeseburger? Take that, Five Guys).

It's hard to believe that such a famed piece of America's food history is just 90 minutes from Columbus, but it's true and definitely worth the drive. How could you say no to this innocent, yet slightly ominous face?

To learn more about Kewpee Hamburgers, click here.

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