Wanna play ball like your great-great grandfather? Baseball club member Rob Zappaterrini, right, fields the ball during a game (AP photos)
Wanna play ball like your great-great grandfather?
Lexile

From afar, it looks and sounds like a regular recreational baseball game. There's the crack of the bat, the cheering from the bench and the sliding into home.

But a closer glance at this field in Philadelphia's Fairmount Park shows something isn't quite right. They're pitching underhand. No one is using a batting helmet, fielder's glove or catcher's mask. And what's up with those floppy hats and groomed mustaches?

"Striker to the line!" bellows a man wearing a straw hat, suit and bow tie.

Translation: "Batter up!"

This is not your father's baseball. Or even your grandfather's baseball. It's your great-great-grandfather's game.

The Athletic Base Ball Club of Philadelphia plays America's favorite pastime the old-fashioned way. It's one of a growing number of teams nationwide that recreates the 19th century through historically accurate uniforms, period rules and cheeky nicknames. And by spelling "baseball" as two words.

"It brings people back to a simpler time, before million-dollar contracts, TVs, cars, steroids and gloves," said Mid-Atlantic Vintage Base Ball League commissioner Bruce "Early" Leith.

Leith also serves as president of the Eclipse Base Ball Club of Elkton, Maryland. Eight years ago, he said, there were only three teams in that area. Today, there are 14.

"We get calls all the time from people wanting to start a club," said Leith.

Baseball mythology has long held the game was invented in 1839 by Abner Doubleday in Cooperstown, New York. But researchers now say its regulations began to be codified in the 1840s by Alexander Cartwright and the Knickerbocker Base Ball Club of New York City.

Those bylaws were frequently revised, giving today's vintage teams a variety of old rulebooks to choose from. The Mid-Atlantic league includes the Athletic and about 20 other squads from Rhode Island to Virginia. It plays by what are called the 1864 rules.

One of the biggest differences between then and now is that fielders could catch a batted ball on one bounce to make an out. It's an understandable accommodation for players trying to handle a hard ball without gloves. Such equipment didn't become common until later.

The Athletic club, named after the Philadelphia team founded in 1859, formed about five years ago. Co-founder Scott "Big Deal" Alberts researched the sport's deep roots in the city. His teammates, called "ballists," comprise a range of ages, athletic ability and occupations.

The squad sets a high standard for historical accuracy during its weekly games. Their wool uniforms cost about $300. They include mother-of-pearl buttons, a bow tie and newsboy cap. Home plate is a white disc. The bases are sand-filled canvas bags. The beer has been brewed from a 19th century recipe.

"We try to do everything we can as close as possible to the period," Alberts said. "Because if we're not doing that, we might as well just be playing softball in the park."

"They're trying to be authentic by drinking out of canteens and tin cups," said spectator Alice Best of Lancaster, Pennsylvania. "And they have their bats in a barrel, or on an old wooden rack. It's really, really nice."

It gives people another way to hear the game, too. Frequent phrases from the umpire sometimes called the arbiter include "Tally!" as a runner scores and "The striker is dead!" when a batter makes an out.

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COMMENTS (67)
  • MaxM-4
    9/14/2014 - 02:56 p.m.

    In Philadelphia's Fairmount Park, the Athletic Base Ball Club of Philadelphia plays baseball the way it was played in the 1800s. They pitch underhand, don't wear helmets, and don't even use gloves. The phrases the umpire, or arbiter, uses, are different from the ones we use today. Perhaps the most amazing part about the Athletic Base Ball Club of Philadelphia is that they wear authentic wool clothing in the same style as the 1800s, and supply beer at the games based on an 1800s recipe.
    I think the article was very well written and informative. The subject of the article was also very interesting, especially because I enjoy history. I had never heard of the Athletic Base Ball Club of Philadelphia, so I thought this was pretty cool.

  • Aw2000red
    9/15/2014 - 08:41 a.m.

    That's very cool how they can play baseball how it used to be played. Its amazes me how they can play without any helmets and catch baseballs with no gloves.

  • Tysonc15
    9/15/2014 - 01:03 p.m.

    I thought that this article was great! It was mainly about how these group of people tried to recreate old baseball in the 1800's. They were using no helmets or gloves, they were pitching underhand,and using different rules and phrases. This article gives me a little idea of how baseball was played back then and how the people did such a good job doing this!

  • adamp63
    9/15/2014 - 01:09 p.m.

    I think old fashioned baseball in a very interesting prospect. It is not for the game itself, but the similarities between it and war reenactments. Both use wool clothing, drinking canteens, and reenact things that took place around the 1850's. As for the game itself, truth be told, it sounds like a bit of a gamble. The woolen clothing must really sap the players of their fluids. Also, a ball could cause some major injuries without a glove. So, I am interested in old fashion baseball, but I also think its a bit risky.

  • RachelAWC
    9/15/2014 - 01:30 p.m.

    i think that this baseball is really cool. for me it would be really hard, and scary without a helmet or gloves. I also think its cool because people are bringing that generation back...

  • JM2000Blue
    9/16/2014 - 08:40 a.m.

    I think that what they're doing is a interesting way to have fun. It is also cool how they try to replicate how the games went back in the day.

  • maxf-Win
    9/16/2014 - 05:18 p.m.

    I like new time baseball better than old time baseball. now, people now wear the same colored jerseys. in old time baseball, they wore suits and bow ties. now players place there bats in little separate tubes. in old time baseball, they placed there bats in a big barrel or wooden racks. baseball now has improved during the years. I think baseball now has it made.

  • Zachary658
    9/17/2014 - 11:37 a.m.

    I think it would be fun to play ball like they did a long time ago. It looks very fun to play that game and I would love to do it.

  • jordan564
    9/17/2014 - 01:39 p.m.

    I think it's pretty cool. Anyway maybe this is the next big thing. Maybe in the future if someone mentions mlb I bet somebody's going to be like what's the mlb. That's how cool I think it is.

  • Calebe-OBr
    9/17/2014 - 01:58 p.m.

    I think that it would be amazing playing like my great great grandfathers. The only bad thing about playing like that wold be if the ball was it too hard you wouldn't have a glove to stop the ball.

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