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Just call the ump 'Sir': 1890s-style baseball game coming to Ansonia

Ansonia (AP) - Try catching a sinking fly ball in a baseball glove the size of an oven mitt with only slightly more padding, no web and no pocket.

"Oh my God!" screamed Alex Michel, a 23-year-old former Emmett O'Brien Technical High School infielder. "I don't know if I'm stupid enough, but I've got until July to learn."

"You've got to let it bounce off the glove and then catch it on the rebound," said Anthony Buono, who serves as Seymour's Little League commissioner.

Or try hitting an oversized, multi-stitched spinning hardball with a top-heavy, double-knobbed bat.

"Most of us are used to playing softball, so you've got to get your timing down," said Scott Gura, who coaches Shelton High School's baseball and guided it to a 2012 state championship.

"The extra stitching adds a little curve to the ball ... it almost moves like a Wiffle ball."

Still, George French, Derby's High School's football coach, had no problem spraying screaming liners all over Nolan Field.

"The ball moves a little more than the ones today," French said. "But once we get a couple of practices in, everyone should be fine."

Michel, Buono, Gura and French were among the first to get a feeling of what's expected of their play July 19 in a baseball game using 1890 rules and equipment at Nolan Field.

The game will pit the Ansonia Coppermen, in honor of its historic factories, against the rival Derby Osborndales, named for that city's philanthropic family.

The rules include seven balls required for a walk, but three strikes still make an out. Foul balls count as nothing except an out when caught. Each batter selects his strike zone. Getting hit by a pitch only gives you a bruise, not first base.

Pitchers won't be throwing from a mound, but a flat surface called the pitcher's box. If their motion carries them out of the box, its a violation. Do it twice to that batter and he gets first base.

"There's one umpire, and he sits in a high chair about 20 feet diagonally at the side of the catcher," said Greg Martin, whose Vintage Base Ball Factory in Hartford is supplying the uniforms, balls, gloves and the impetus for the game. The bats come from Bulldog Bat Co. in Newtown.

"The umpire will switch angles depending on whether a right-handed or left-handed batter is up," Martin said. "But he's not required to get out of that chair. Not even for a close play. He'll call it as he sees it from behind home plate."

Isn't that going to lead to some heated arguments?

"Any argument results in an ejection," Martin said. "However, if a team captain feels the umpire missed a call because his view was blocked, he can request a Gentlemen's Ruling to reverse it."

This requires the players involved to "truthfully" describe what occurred to the umpire.

Oh, yeah the umpire must be addressed as "Sir" at all times. Not ump, not blue or any other less complimentary adjectives.

Martin is hoping to lure Rich Marazzi, longtime Valley umpire, coach and author, to call the game.

So far the only thing missing are waxed handlebar mustaches.

But Gura said he can't grow one, French won't and Michel doesn't know if there's enough time.

"I do have this goatee," Michel pointed out.

Any interested ballplayers between 20 and 40 may come to practice.

"This is going to be great," said Mayor David Cassetti, who showed up in a suit but still chased down balls on a recent Saturday afternoon. "It's something I hope brings the city together for a good time."

Other upcoming events marking the anniversary are biweekly Main Street concerts beginning at 7 p.m. July 9 and a July 26 mapped-out citywide tag sale.

But it's the July 19 afternoon ball game, followed by concerts and fireworks, that Cassetti and Martin hope will fill Nolan Field. The music will come from the Rob Zappulla Orchestra and Eight to the Bar; food will be served by several restaurants and a fireworks finale will end the day.


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