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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  • natw2003
    9/22/2014 - 01:12 p.m.

    It is truly unbelievable that people really did this. It was so crazy how they had to catch the ball with their bare hands. People didn't realize how dangerous this sport was. Now, we use catcher's gear, gloves, and batting gloves. I don't know if I would play baseball then! But, I play it a lot now.

  • jack.l
    9/22/2014 - 01:14 p.m.

    I think being on a professional baseball team would be awesome.
    Because you can have the whole crowd watching you.
    Also you can make big money$$$.I think I would play either way because baseball is my favorite sport.

  • TaylorJ10
    9/22/2014 - 01:15 p.m.

    This was a very interesting article and I have always wondered what it would be like to play base ball with my great- great grandfather or what it would be like to me them.

  • Jjjman1228j
    9/22/2014 - 03:22 p.m.

    I would like to play baseball like that the catch outs would be easier to get and there wouldn't be hot and sweaty catchers masks or hot gloves.

  • MCCobra13
    9/22/2014 - 03:29 p.m.

    I wouldn't like to play baseball now like they did back then because they didn't have helmets, they didn't have catching gloves, or wear the proper equipment.

  • IzzyNi
    9/22/2014 - 06:06 p.m.

    This story is amazing it talks about the then and now of baseball and how odd it was before we came to play our way of baseball. I Love storys about the past because it shows how much they have done back then and makes you think about what there still is to come in the future.

  • EmilyB25
    9/25/2014 - 01:37 p.m.

    I think about this story is that. Its telling you that how people played baseball in the olden days.I think it is very cool how they did it.

  • JozlynBear-Ste
    9/25/2014 - 07:16 p.m.

    This was a neat article, I liked it, because it was cool that they were trying to make it just like the 19th Century baseball.

  • mitchellw-Sch
    9/26/2014 - 11:46 a.m.

    At first when I saw this story i thought that it was just going to be a story about a regular baseball game. I turned out to be much different, I never knew that people still played baseball like they did when it first became a sport.

  • DevinK-Moo
    9/26/2014 - 12:20 p.m.

    I would like to try to play like that. I think it would be difficult for the out fielders to ceach a ball.

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