Retired St. Louis police officer preserves
baseball traditions through vintage clubs.
By Deborah Reinhardt Palmer
You have to wonder what a recently retired vice cop is doing playing and calling vintage baseball games in St. Louis. Well, Rick Rea is having a ball.
Above: Rick Rea officiates vintage baseball games in the St. Louis area. He’s pictured here with his wife, Janice, during the annual Shepherd Barclay Festival in Lafayette Park.
Photo courtesy of Rick Rea
Below: Rick Rea began playing 19th-century-style baseball with the St. Louis Perfectos that play in Lafayette Park. Deborah Reinhardt Palmer photo
Rea has played for seven seasons, first with the St. Louis Perfectos Base Ball Club and this year with the new Lafayette Square Cyclone Base Ball Club. He places third tender (vintage ball term for third base). When he’s not in a game as Rick “Sting” Rea, he’s calling one as “Righteous” Rea. A fair but firm ump, Rea’s hard to miss on the field as his uniform consists of a top hat, shirt with a banded collar, skinny tie, vest, black gunslinger coat and a walking stick. Interesting garb for a July day in St. Louis.
But vintage ball players strive to make the game as authentic to the 19th century as possible. There are no gloves or called strikes. The ball is pitched underhanded 45 feet away from the plate. Uniforms include long-sleeved white shirts, and before a player rolls up his sleeves, permission from ladies in the crowd must be given.
The St. Louis Perfectos Base Ball Club and the new Lafayette Square Cyclone Base Ball Club play vintage-style ball using rules from 1858-69. Home field for both teams is Lafayette Park (Park and Missouri avenues), a lovely Victorian green space that’s part of the vibrant Lafayette Square neighborhood approximately four miles southwest of downtown St. Louis.
They play on an unmarked field at the northwest corner of the park. Look for the “vintage base ball to-day” sign. Bring a blanket or lawn chair and picnic, or grab a bite at a nearby Lafayette Square neighborhood restaurant, such as Soda Fountain Square on Park and then walk over to the park for a game. And while crowds may be much smaller than those at Busch Stadium, they are no less enthusiastic. But be mindful of the language you use, or Righteous Rea may fine you 25 cents.
“We have a pretty decent following,” Rea said. “We get people coming into the neighborhood for restaurants and they’ll see the game going on and watch it. We’ve got several players that way.”
While working on the police force, Rea’s partner shared with him an article about vintage baseball that appeared in Smithsonian magazine. He was hooked. Rea also has brought his brother-in-law and son-in-law into the vintage game.
There are vintage teams around the country and several in the St. Louis metropolitan region. In addition to a full season played at home and on the road, the Perfectos have appeared at special events, including the St. Louis Cardinals Winter Warm-Up. During Major League Baseball’s All-Star Week, July 10–14, the Perfectos will play an exhibition game downtown on the Arch grounds.
A casual fan munching a hot dog and downing a beer at Busch Stadium might ask Rea and his team mates “why do you do it.” Sure, it’s fun but there’s another reason.
“ Baseball has such a great history and tradition in the U.S. and especially in St. Louis. We try to promote that,” Rea said.
The next home game for the Perfectos will be July 26 when they square off against the Vermilion Voles Vintage Base Ball Club at 1 p.m. The Cyclones will be home Aug. 8 to play the Peoria Base Ball Club at 1 p.m. The full schedule is at www.stlouisperfectos.org. For more information on other vintage teams in Missouri and other states, visit www.vbba.org.
Deborah Reinhardt Palmer is managing editor of AAA Midwest Traveler.