Roxborough community takes a swing at vintage “base ball”

The public was invited to Gorgas Park in Roxborough on Tuesday night to participate in a pick-up game of vintage base ball with players from the Mid-Atlantic Vintage Base Ball League teams: the Elkton Eclipse and the Athletic Base Ball Club of Philadelphia.

The 1860s era game, spelled “base ball” not baseball, is played by “ballists” who wear period wool uniforms and caps, create monikers like “Marzipan” and “Lardy Palms,” and play by the rules of the former time, at times emulating some of the speech and mannerisms of the day. Today, in the U.S., there are more than 300 teams playing the game by the mid-1800 rules.

The dozen plus members of the two teams were joined by a handful of interested park-goers who took a few innings to absorb the rules of the game, not vastly different from modern baseball but challenging enough to create a few botched plays.

According to Eclipse member Bill “Pockets” Freeland, some of the major differences between then and now are that the players wore no gloves, but if the ball were caught on one bounce the “striker” would be out. The game seemed more fast-paced than modern baseball, with a lone “arbiter,” underhand pitching with plenty of hits and outs, as well as extensive base stealing and sliding.

The tone of the game was mainly light and fun, with some good-natured jeering and cheering from the small crowd that had gathered along the sidelines.

Players ranged in age from seniors to middle-aged and young adults, and they were joined in the game by several kids from the neighborhood. Young families enjoyed the playground and watched the sport unfold as dogs barked and Friends of Gorgas Park members and volunteers prepared for the evening’s outdoor movie showing, “Field of Dreams.”

Susan Douglas, in charge of Development and Promotion for the Mid-Atlantic Vintage Base Ball League, noted that the game “really is what community is all about.”

The Athletic Base Ball Club of Philadelphia takes on the Cecil Club of Chesapeake City at 12 p.m. on Sept. 10 at Memorial Hall Field, 41st St. and Avenue of the Republic in Fairmount Park.

For more information about Vintage Base Ball in the region visit the league’s website

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