A Page from North Quabbin History: Inaugural Millers River Rumble

By Carla Charter

Published: 03-03-2023 4:45 PM

Vintage baseball is headed back to Orange with the Inaugural Millers River Rumble to be held on June 24. Teams playing at the Butterfield Park event will be the Orange Peals, the Westfield Wheelman and the Boston Union.

The roster for the Orange Peals is still being put together, but will consist of players who played in the Orange Athol Wood Bat League from 2014-2016, according to Kolby Kilhart, captain of the Orange Peals and commissioner of the Orange Athol Wood Bat League.

“Once the Athol Orange Wood Bat League sent out the flyer (for the Millers River Rumble) my phone went off the hook with calls and texts,” said Kilhart. “There is definitely a lot of interest.”

Kilhart said the last time vintage baseball was played in Orange was in June 2016, when the Wheelman played the Peals, a game organized by the Athol Wood Bat League. The 2016 game, according to Kevin Kennedy, former director of community development in Orange and currently a player for the Boston Union Team, was to celebrate renovations to the bandstand, field and grandstand at Butterfield Park. At that time Kennedy was the director of community development.

That 2016 game, according to Kennedy, was the inspiration for the Miller’s River Rumble.

“This time we brought in a third team to make it more of a tournament,” Kennedy said.

The uniforms the Peals will be wearing—work pants and white shirts with the word ‘Peals’ on them—are based on historic pictures of the team. The Westfield Wheelman and Boston Union uniforms are both based on their historic uniforms from the 1880s.

The June 24 Millers River Rumble lineup will include three games. The 2 p.m. game will be the Westfield Wheelman playing against the Orange Peals. This game will be played by 1886 rules, which will include overhand pitches backwards, the catcher wearing a mask and mitt and fielders wearing old style gloves, almost like gardening gloves. Kennedy said baseballs used at that time were also softer.

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At 4 p.m. the Westfield Wheelman will play against the Boston Union. That game will be played by 1886 rules with underhand pitches, no gloves on the field at all and the catcher also not having a mitt or mask. In the third game the Boston Union will play against the Orange Peals at 6 p.m. That game will be played by 1864 rules, with underhand pitches and no gloves. Under 1864 rules, if a ball caught, it’s considered an out, even if the ball bounces once.

Vintage baseball also comes with its own language, Kilhart explained. Vintage baseball jargon includes words such as “cranks” meaning “fans,” “sky ball” meaning “pop up,” “daisy cutter” meaning “grounder,” “ace” meaning “run,” “striker” meaning “batter,” “hurler” meaning “pitcher” and “muff” meaning “error.”

At the end of the game, the clubs gather on opposite sides of home plate and the winning captain makes a short speech congratulating the losing club on their fine play or effort. The winning club with caps off cheer “Hip Hip Huzzah!” Then the losing captain gives a similar speech and his club cheers “Hip Hip Huzzah!” Then, all the players shake hands.

“If the event is successful and there is a great turnout, we would definitely consider putting together a vintage (baseball) league team,” said Kilhart. “If the guys play the game and enjoy it and are interested in keeping the team and in participating in the vintage league, that’s something I can help out with. I would like to see it every year. I would like to see the Peals come back as a vintage baseball team.”

A monument to the original Orange Peals team can be found at the Butterfield Park Grandstand. A painting of the original Orange Peals team hangs at the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y.

Carla Charter is a freelance writer from Phillipston. Her writing focuses on the history of the North Quabbin area. Contact her at cjfreelancewriter@earthlink.net.