Here are the basics for a great time this Thursday night in Cambridge: grab a lawn chair, get yourself to St. Peter’s Field (a short line drive from Fresh Pond) around 7 p.m., and plunk yourself down at the edge of the ballfield for nine innings of old-timey baseball.
Then let the grand ol’ game lay its hands on you, as if Terence Mann himself ordered the healing.
“Iowa has its cornfields,’’ said Richard Johnson, longtime curator of the Sports Museum, eager to take in the game, “and Cambridge has St. Peter’s Field . . . and Buck.’’
Steve Buckley, longtime sports columnist at the Herald, began the Old Time Baseball Game in 1994 at St. Pete’s, and nearly a quarter-century later, it has grown into our region’s annual best little baseball game this side of Fenway.
Some 50 ballplayers, most who play for local college nines, will be in uniform for OTBG 2016 and it’s the uniforms, vintage and prickly woolen flannels, that have become the game’s haute couture signature. It’s as much a throwback fashion statement as it is a sweet remembrance poured out of Abner Doubleday’s dusty trunk.
One of the lucky dudes this year will get to wear Yogi Berra’s replica No. 8 Yankee threads for the first time. No telling what that’s worth, especially in this day and age when, you know, a nickel ain’t worth a dime anymore.
According to Ben Weiss, keeper of the OTBG unis, Ted Williams’s No. 9 is among the most coveted flannels, along with the No. 9 worn by Roy Hobbs of the fictitious New York Knights (“The Natural”). The toughest sell: the 1901 Baltimore Orioles uniform, all wool and all black, save for the yellow ‘O’ on the chest and thin yellow stirrup socks. Temps hit the low 90s on media day last week, and the mere presence of the O’s uniform pushed the mercury an added five degrees.
Since its inception, the OTBG has been first and foremost about charity. Admission is free, but each year, according to Buckley, upward of $75,000 is generated off the game and presented to a different charitable organization.
“We’ve got raffles and auctions,’’ said Buckley, who also credited the longtime financial support of Abbot Financial Management. “And a lot of it is driven by people who come to the game and just reach into their pockets. I can’t tell you the number of times someone’s walked up with 100 bucks and said, ‘Here, most fun I’ve had at a game in years.’ ’’
This year, the game’s proceeds will go to Boston vs. Bullies, the vital outreach program founded in 2013 by the Sports Museum. The Museum’s business is to preserve our sports memories, but its added mission has become to help stamp out bullying in all its shapes, forms, and fields.
Rusty Sullivan, the Sports Museum’s executive director who directs Boston vs. Bullies, said last week that approximately 35,000 schoolchildren, Grades 5 and 6, have experienced the program’s video-based education program over the last three-plus years. With the OTBG financial booster shot, Sullivan hopes to expand the program beyond Massachusetts schools, and ideally soon will engage public school systems in Providence and Manchester, N.H.
“I don’t think we dare try New Haven,’’ said Sullivan, a Yale grad, “because then you’re getting into Yankee territory.’’
Over the years, the likes of ex-Red Sox Jim Lonborg and Carlos Pena have suited up for the OTBG. Sam Shaughnessy, son of Globe sports columnist (and now Cooperstown honoree) Dan Shaughnessy, played in 11 of them, including his four years at Boston College. In 2007, the intimate and idyllic ballyard (320 feet down both lines) was packed when various members of the Red Sox 1967 Impossible Dream team wheeled in for an autograph session.
“We had guys like Billy Rohr, Gary Waslewski, Dalton Jones, Jose Santiago,’’ recalled Buckley, ticking off Sox names of nearly a half-century ago as he stood at the edge of St. Peter’s Field. “They sat in the garage, drank beer, and signed autographs for a line that stretched from Alewife to Ashmont.’’
For the record, I’m not sure Buck said it went all the way to Ashmont, but what’s an old-timey baseball column without some old-timey hyperbole? And Buck’s a friend. He could use a good line now and then.
We’re not short on historical appreciation around here. Boston wears its Colonial heritage and its, shall we say, awkward 18th-century Brexit, with pride, joy, and a fair amount of 21st-century commercialism.
The Old Time Baseball Game pays homage to a game we’ve loved here for well over a century, through decades cursed by the Bambino, through the flight of the Braves to Milwaukee, through an Impossible Dream, through the negated trade for Fingers and Rudi, through World Series titles of 2004, ’07, and ’13.
For one night every summer, for free, we get the chance to relive the game at its grassroots level, with college kids dressed up in flannels, the game of our great-great-grandfathers brought to life under a set of lights, with mottled shadows on the playing field, with branches of hardwoods that ring the outfield fence swaying in the susurrant, late-summer breeze.
Is this heaven? Is it Iowa? No, it’s Cambridge. Buck built it and you should come, this year to help stop bullies. And for years to come, just to remember the simple joy of being there.