Remember: The name is ‘Base Ball’
Where can you be a crank that people want to see? Observe a dewdrop that isn’t wet? Call for rover and not get a nuzzle from a golden retriever? At the tri-town vintage baseball game sponsored by the historical societies of Essex, Chester and Deep River on Sunday at Devitt Field in Deep River.
Cranks are fans; a dewdrop is a slow pitch and a rover is what you call a shortstop. Everything in vintage baseball is the same but different — even the name. It’s two words: Base Ball.
Batters, called ballists, hit the ball and run but they can’t overrun first base, as modern players who get a hit do. Overrun first and a tag will bring a classic ruling from the adjudicator: “Yer out!”
The adjudicator? That’s the umpire, but don’t look for him behind home plate. He stands on the sidelines. Not a good place to call balls and strikes? Not to worry. In the vintage game, played under 1857 rules, there are no pitched balls and strikes called. The only kind of strike is a full-out whiff at the ball.
And speaking of the ball, it’s hand-sewn and softer than a modern ball, and gets softer still as it is hit, even changing shape from round to more oval as it absorbs continued pounding from bats that are longer and narrower than their modern counterparts. For this game, teams will use authentic reproduction wooden bats.
Out on the field, the basetenders as the players at first, second and third are called, take familiar positions, as do the scouts in the garden. Don’t look for boy scouts pulling weeds. Scouts are the right, left and center fielders in the outfield.
But there’s a piece of equipment missing that no Little Leaguer would be without: gloves. Gloves were not part of the game in the 1800s and fielders caught the ball barehanded. Under vintage rules, fielders have an advantage no modern player has: you don’t have to worry about whether or not you can catch the ball on the fly. A ball caught on one bounce also is an out.
The first year the vintage game took place, a tri-town squad took on a team from New London that played in a vintage league. For the last two years, the games have been round robins featuring teams from Deep River, Chester and Essex. In previous years, the teams have played three-inning games; this year the games will be four innings. Last year, the team from Deep River took top honors, winning against both Chester and Essex. Chester won one game and lost one and Essex went winless.
This year will be different, according to Essex captain Jay Tonks.
“We’re going to win; last year Deep River only beat us in the final inning,” he said.
Tom Miceli, who manages the Chester team, noted that last year’s games were very close. For just that reason, Miceli won’t take a guess about this year’s outcomes.
“What happens, as we do this every year, people get better at it,” he said. “The games are very competitive. I’m not making any predictions.”
There are, nonetheless, some predictions that will certainly hold up. The stands at Devitt Field will be full of cranks, shouting huzzahs for the club nine from their town. They will cheer as ballists try to get hits from the bowler standing on the raised pitcher’s point throwing balls over the dish. And, who knows? Somebody might become a hero by hitting a four baser!
IF YOU GO
What: Tri-Town Vintage Baseball Game; free admission; old-time refreshments will be sold
When: Sunday at 2 p.m.; rain date is Sept. 25
Where: Devitt Field, off Route 154, Deep River
Info: (860) 526-2331 or visit chesterhistoricalsociety.org
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Filipino-American author writes about experiences in a post-millennial culture.