15 Sep 2014
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Play Ball! 19th Century Style

N.Y. Mutuals host annual festival at Old Bethpage Restoration, featuring baseball played the way they did in the 1800's.

If you could hop in a time machine and travel back in time a good 150 years or so, suffice to say it would be quite the culture shock. Easing the time warp transition would be the National Pastime. Sort of.

Yes, you could take in a game of baseball back in 1864, but it would look a while lot different once you get past the bats and balls. Fortunately, you don't need a DeLorean to check out the action - simply head over to the Old Bethpage Village Restoration.

This weekend marked the 15th Annual Baseball Festival at the Restoration, hosted by the New York Mutuals. The Mutuals are part of the Vintage Baseball Association, and are a travel team consisting of players from across Long Island. This weekend, vintage teams from Philadelphia, Hartford and Providence came to Old Bethpage to play ball - 19th century style.

"It's more of a gentlemanly type thing, we're playing to win, but we're not playing for a trophy, we're showing baseball the way it evolved," said Mutuals team president Tom 'Bat' Fesolowich.

The Mutuals took on the Philadelphia Athletics in an 1864-style contest. For starters, players wear the uniforms of yesteryear, no easy task as those temperatures rise. The bats look similar, as do the balls, except that they're stitched 'lemon peel' style, in an 'X' pattern.

Once the game begins, you can see the differences. Home plate is just that - a round metal plate. Pitchers, or 'hurlers', throw underhand. The catcher ('Behind') has no mask or chest protector. One player from each side take each other on in a game of 'bat toss': whomever's hand ends up on top of the bat, that team decides whether to hit or field first.

Batters are called 'strikers'. An out is recorded if a ball is caught on one bounce, and wherever the ball first hits determines if it's fair or foul, even if the ball doesn't reach the base, meaning it's more about angling a hit rather than power ('muckle'). And be careful, because if you overrun first base, you can be tagged out.

The Vintage League started in 1980, part of a Civil War re-enactment at the Restoration, and grew from there.

"Civil War soldiers would travel and have nothing to do, so they played baseball in camp," said Mutual player Tom 'Dirt' Fioriglio of Levittown.

It's part game, part entertainment. Players speak the language of the era, with the umpire shouting 'Hand down' for an out, and 'ace' if a run scores.

And it's a history lesson, as players often speak to the crowd about the sport and how its evolved through the decades.

"Part of our mission is not just to play baseball, but to also educate and explain how the games are different and how they're played, and show them the history of the game," Fioriglio said.

Game. That's the key word, as this is baseball at its core, stripped of salaries, agents, exploding scoreboards, and yes, steroids.

"It's baseball in the purest sense," Fioriglio said. "It's a nice simple game, a relaxing game [with] some competitiveness, a beautiful setting - just baseball."

Huzzah! (that's 'hooray' for you modern folk).




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