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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  • colbyw-Fra
    9/22/2014 - 10:28 a.m.

    Personally I think it sounds just as fun and exciting as baseball. I would want to try it sometime with my friends. It sounds fun.

  • nicholasd-Fra
    9/22/2014 - 11:12 a.m.

    i think it would be fun but very hard to do. it would hurt your hands if they hit a pop up or a line drive

  • morganb-Fra
    9/22/2014 - 11:14 a.m.

    Its good that we can still play games from the past. I would really like to know more about how it feels to play that way, but i think going through all the trouble to make the same beer the same uniforms for the price of how much it costs i would just go without the extra stuff.

  • AwesomePieMan
    9/22/2014 - 11:37 a.m.

    Yes, because they wanted to make it seem like it was in the old days. It seems fun to play like that. What do you think? #baseball

  • HistoyRocks
    9/22/2014 - 11:41 a.m.

    I would not like to play baseball like this. It is dangerous and I don't like dangerous things. They play baseball like this to bring back that feeling of... well oldness.

  • ThomasDeH
    9/22/2014 - 11:41 a.m.

    I though this article was interesting because it talked about how they played baseball in the 1800s. I though it was cool because it talked about how they didn't use gloves or helmets.

  • ethanho
    9/22/2014 - 11:43 a.m.

    well its kind of like wall ball see. you use no gloves, and you use no bats. I have been to philly and seen it, it was really cool to see all that baseball stuff.

  • jasonman5
    9/22/2014 - 12:56 p.m.

    I think that it would be fun but hard also because you use a hard ball and you don't have a glove, helmet, or any kind of padding.

  • JalenK124
    9/22/2014 - 01:07 p.m.

    This is kind of weird how if the ball bounced once and you caught it the batter is out . They don't even use mitts . Their uniforms are around $300 . They are wool and come with a paper boy hat .

  • lindseypow
    9/22/2014 - 01:11 p.m.

    Maybe they want to see how it feels to be playing old fashion baseball. They also said in the text, " Because if we're not doing this, we might as well just be playing softball in the park." Old fashion baseball is actually kind of cool to me. It seems fun. I do like baseball.

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