But the members of the Dirigo Vintage Base Ball Club are not simply reenactors, putting on a show about old time baseball.
They are ballplayers, and they want to win.
“It’s very competitive, both teams really want to win,” said Rob Rodriguez, 56, a member of the Maine-based Dirigo team.
While vintage games are competitive, and fun-spirited, they certainly offer a history lesson on what America’s Pastime was like in its very early days.
People who want such a lesson should head to the Cornish Fairgrounds on Saturday, when Dirigo will take on the Essex Base Ball Club from Massachusetts. The event is sponsored by the Cornish Historical Society and the Cornish Fairgrounds Committee.
Like any baseball game, there will be popcorn and hotdogs and drinks for sale. And like a lot of Little League games, people are encouraged to bring chairs or blankets to sit on.
But the differences are major, since baseball has come a long way in 150 years. The game Saturday, for instance, will be played on a grassy field, not a manicured baseball diamond. Because in the early 1860s the game was played in any old field or pasture that was available.
“We’ve played on a field was so sloped that you could barely see the outfielders from home plate,” said Rodriguez, who lives in Cornish and has been on the Dirigo team for about six years.”But that’s how the game was played.”
The Dirigo team competes or puts on demonstrations throughout the summer and early fall, and is part of a growing trend among baseball players interested in the game’s history. Dirigo, named for an Augusta team of the 1860s, follows the rules of both the New England Vintage Base Ball League and the Vintage Base Ball Association.
Though there are lots of differences between the modern game and 1860s baseball (see accompanying box) there are lots of similarities. The games are nine innings, there are nine players on each side, and the goals are to hit a pitched ball with a bat and score runs.
“I got interested in this because I love history, but I also love baseball,” said Rodriguez.
And baseball, as any fan knows, never gets old.
Some major differences between modern baseball and the 1861 rules followed by the Dirigo Vintage Base Ball Club.
1. OUCH – The fielders don’t wear gloves, so catching a hard smash or a long throw has got to smart a little. Broken fingers are an occupational hazard. The ball, mercifully, is a little softer than today’s regulation baseball. And since only one ball is used for an entire game, it gets softer as the nine innings wear on.
2. BOUNCE BONUS – Fielders can catch the ball on one bounce, and the batter is out. In today’s game the ball has to be caught on the fly to record an out. This means vintage games are a little faster, maybe an hour and a half for nine innings. It also means the term “drop in for a hit” is useless, since any ball that hits the ground can still be an out.
3. TRICKY TERMS – The English language is always evolving, and the language of baseball is no exception. So you’ll hear fielders yelling “two hands dead” instead of “two outs” and umpires saying “striker to the line” instead of “batter up.”
4. HOT TRENDS IN FASHION – The uniforms worn by vintage teams are wool, and often long-sleeve, so they can be pretty hot to play in. Especially in July and August. Luckily they look cool.
5. GOOD SPORTS ALWAYS – Players on opposing teams congratulate each other on good plays or big hits, in accordance with the sportsmanship etiquette of the times. Along the same lines, a batter who is out by a step at first base will call himself out, instead of trying to fool the umpire into thinking he was safe.