Saturday, July 31, 2010
"Two hands, two hands" the players yelled to each other from the field behind the West Shore Evangelical Free Church in Mechanicsburg, PA. The next man came up and hit a ball soaring into the outfield. After it bounced on the dry grass, the outfielder caught the ball with his bare hands and the side was retired. This was obviously not your typical baseball game or church softball league. No, this was the first home game of the Mechanicsburg Nine Vintage Base Ball Club and they were hosting the Eurekas from Bohemia, part of the Elkton (MD) Base Ball club. Both teams are new teams in the Midatlantic Vintage Base Ball League which play by 1864 rules.
When my husband, daughter and I arrived at the field we were handed a paper, "Base Ball: 19th Century Rules & Traditions." This handout provided the fans or "cranks" with some basic information about what we could expect to see differ from a modern day game. We immediately noticed the Nine's authentic-looking uniforms and the equipment they had on their bench which set the stage so we felt as if we actually did step back into the 19th century.
My family was not exactly as excited as I was about going to the game but they were intrigued by the unique aspects of the vintage game. My daughter and I laughed as we learned that "hands" were outs. We discussed that we both had thought that the calls of "one hand" and "two hands" had referred to some rule about making one-handed or two-handed catches. Kayla said, "I thought that made sense until the first time they said "that's three hands!"
The Mechanicsburg Nine did an excellent job of explaining the rules of the game to the spectators. One time a ball came into the crowd and everyone yelled "don't touch it" and "it's still in play." Later, when asked about the play the Nine's first baseman, Justin ("Bulldog") explained that the runner could keep advancing until the ball is returned even if it goes into where we were sitting because, well, "you all wouldn't have been here!" Bulldog took time to check in with the "cranks" and answer any other questions we had about the rules. He even passed around a ball so we could all see what they call the lemon peel design.
After the game, I got a closer look at the bats and the bases, which were stuffed with hay and sawdust. I did not, however, see gloves because there were no gloves! Watching the teams catch the ball barehanded and the fact that the ball could bounce once and be caught for an out were the two aspects of the game my family commented on the most. You might be thinking that the bounce rule made it easier on the players' hands but don't forget about those line drives and even a ball caught on a bounce can sting, I'm sure. Plus, one member of the Eureka's found out what happens when you try to let a ball drop and catch it on the bounce in order to save your hands. He was booed. After the play, one of the Mechanicsburg Nine instructed us that it isn't "manly" and we should boo if anyone does that, even if it's one of their own players.
The fans cheered when the Nine ended the first game with a score of 14-8 over the Eurekas. The Nine did more than win the game, they won over the fans. I knew I would I love taking a trip back to my favorite era of baseball but the Nine made the experience educational and fun for the spectators who are NOT obsessed with baseball history like me. My daughter and husband both said they want to go back to another game!
Posted by Myka Diller at 3:11 PM