FARWELL — Great debates are as much a part of baseball as infield chatter.
So it was no surprise that arguments followed after Mark Gretzky’s leadoff blast flew over the left fielder, over the ditch and the road and into the Farwell cemetery.
That was just the start of a rousing game between the Farwell Fencebusters and the Farwell Athletic Club in a 100-year-old remake of old-time baseball in the Sherman-Howard County League.
The ruling on Gretzky's hit didn’t matter. Zippy, Flash and Ritz Cracker followed with hits and the Fencebusters rolled to a 21-15 victory before an amused crowd sitting in the shade of the pine trees that line the infield.
“Whew, that was fun,” said Randy “The Stick” Lukasiewicz, who has organized the old-time games for 10 years.
He has become the official baseball historian in the central part of Nebraska.
“I don’t know where all those people got the energy to play nine innings in this heat,"Lukasiewicz said. "But they love the game like I do, so I'm not surprised.”
A mix of sons and daughters, nieces and nephews of former Fencebuster players, relatives of other Sherman-Howard baseball veterans and those lassoed by Lukasiewicz over the years made up the two teams dressed in uniforms supplied by Lukasiewicz.
“We didn’t have an opponent because the Ord Tigers, our usual opponent, was busy with their county fair,” Lukasiewicz said. “So we did some calling around and came up with some pretty good competition.”
Not quite like the days when Ashton, Dannebrog, Loup City, Rockville and Boelus played on Wednesday and Saturday nights all summer long.
Old-time baseball requires old-time baseball rules, too.
Of course, the players entered the field from a cornfield across the road.
“That gives me chills,” Lukasiewicz said. “This game has such a great history and to take something from 'Field of Dreams' seems only proper.”
Offense was the name of the game, even though the ball didn’t fly far.
The hand-packed, hand-stitched ball was bouncy and soft. Fielders played without gloves. The pitching was underhanded to batters, who requested where the pitch should go.
A pitch wide of the strike zone brought a warning to the pitcher. A strike that brought no swing caused the umpire to warn the batter.
A batted ball caught on one hop was an out, but batters could advance without tagging up. Runners had to stay on the bag until the ball was hit and the third and first basemen had to hold the bag until the ball was pitched.
Slides were prohibited, but outfielders often slid on the extra-crispy, rock-hard diamond. And players couldn't resist the modern trappings of iphones, sun glasses and Gatorade.
D.J. “Crabby Bill” Danze of Omaha slashed a couple of triples over the road. Ned Ritz “Cracker” found that a ground ball could elude most infielders, even though the gopher holes were carefully filled in during the pregame of “walking the field for holes and issues,” Lukasiewicz said. “For baseball back then, and even now, you need a ball, a bat and a spade to fill in the holes.”
Larry Lukasiewicz, a relative of Randy's, and a former Sherman-Howard player, helped the fans and the players at a water break, singing “Take Me Out to the Ball Game.”
“You know this game is great because of the traditions and the people and I can think of all the great players we had come through here over the years — guys who went on to pro ball — and they had just as much fun as we did here today,” he said.
For Randy Lukasiewicz, the afternoon wasn’t done until he guided some tours of the baseball history museum inside the old Farwell school.
“We found out what led to the FAC (Farwell Athletic Club) and a lot of the names to go with the faces in the old, faded photos,” he said. Then he laughed and added, “We try to bring the spirit back.
“Maybe next year, we’ll have a dome and it’ll be a cool 72 degrees all afternoon.”