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?
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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)
  • 22103
    9/18/2014 - 01:07 p.m.

    In Maryland an event that plays baseball the old- old fashioned way. One good thing about this is that people can learn a new way to play a very old game, baseball. I'm not sure there is a bad thing about this story. I find it interesting that they actually do something like this. In short, people in Maryland play baseball the original way.

  • Karson1525
    9/18/2014 - 02:00 p.m.

    I play baseball myself, and I like this article is amazing! My great-great grandfather played major league baseball and to me, he's my hero because baseball is my favorite sport and I'm really good at it.

  • Matthewd-4
    9/18/2014 - 08:50 p.m.

    Playing baseball like they did in the late 1800s is very dangerous. They play with no gloves and wear no helmets for safety. Even though they pitch underhand the batter can still hit a hard line drive at the fielder and it could hit him very hard. I would never play like they did because you can get seriously injured.

  • KiraWvA-4
    9/18/2014 - 08:56 p.m.

    The Athletic Base Ball Club of Philadelphia is a fascinating team that has chosen to go back-way back, to the way their great-grandfathers played baseball. The team sports three hundred dollar uniforms, beer from a 1800s recipe, and a lack of any mitts, helmets, or masks. They play with the vernacular and rules of the 1800s, too. A ball can bounce once and still make an out, possibly from the strain of catching a ball with your bare hands. Instead of outs, the umpire, or arbiter, calls, "the striker is dead." I found the article very interesting and thought-provoking. In an age where advancement is the only thing popularly celebrated, it is nice to know that people have taken history to heart and enjoy venturing back to a simpler time.

  • jacobp-Weh
    9/19/2014 - 09:53 a.m.

    I think it is really cool to bring back old baseball. It is not a smart idea though. A lot of people will get hurt. Nobody would want to join because of that. But if it was a tennis ball I would join. Cool idea, but dangerous.

    • jasonman5
      9/22/2014 - 01:04 p.m.

      I wouldn't join either but I would if it was a tennis ball. If I did join by the time I retire I would have broken every bone in my body. :]

    • JustinBear-Ste
      9/23/2014 - 03:16 p.m.

      The team sports three hundred dollar uniforms, beer from a 1800s recipe, and didnt have any mitts, helmets, or masks. They play with the vernacular and rules of the 1800s, too. A ball can bounce once and still make an out, possibly from the strain of catching a ball with your bare hands. Instead of outs, the umpire, or arbiter, calls, "the striker is dead." I found the article very interesting and thought-provoking. In an age where advancement is the only thing popularly celebrated, it is nice to know that people have taken history to heart and enjoy venturing back to a simpler time.

  • paigeb-Koc
    9/21/2014 - 12:39 p.m.

    It's crazy how much baseball has changed through the years. I can't believe they used to play without any protective gear on. Every thing was different, even the lingo was different.

  • sebastianl-Koc
    9/21/2014 - 11:58 p.m.

    It's cool to know how much sports have developed during the years and, I like that the article is informing you about the old school way of baseball because that's how I like sports. I love sports now but, the old school way of playing them seemed to have better sportsmanship.

  • matthewj-Fra
    9/22/2014 - 09:38 a.m.

    I think this is cool because they are playing an old version of baseball without gloves, helmets, or masks. I also think this is cool because instead of saying batter up they would say striker to the line.

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