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Ray Routhier

Portland Press Herald staff writer Ray Routhier will try anything. Once. During 20 years at the Press Herald he’s been equally attracted to stories that are unusually quirky and seemingly mundane. He’s taken rides on garbage trucks, sought out the mother of two rock stars, dug clams, raked blueberries, and spent time with the family of bedridden man who finds strength in music. Nothing too dangerous mind you, just adventurous enough to find the stories of real Mainers doing real cool things.

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Posted: June 20, 2016

The old ball game: The New England Vintage Base Ball Festival will show fans how the game was played in 1864

Written by: Ray Routhier
The Dirigo Vintage Base Ball Club will be showing people how baseball used to be played, along with other teams from around the Northeast, at the New England Vintage Base Ball Festival Saturday and Sunday in Cornish. Photo by Matthew Muise

The Dirigo Vintage Base Ball Club will be showing people how baseball used to be played, along with other teams from around the Northeast, at the New England Vintage Base Ball Festival Saturday and Sunday in Cornish. Photo by Matthew Muise

Six base ball teams will travel hundreds of miles, and about 152 years, to meet in the pastoral Cornish Fairgrounds Saturday.

The six vintage base ball teams, playing by the rules of 1864, will wear old-fashioned wool-blend uniforms and boxy hats, and fans might hear them referring to batters as “strikers” or to a hard-hit ball as a “whizzer.” Fielders won’t wear gloves and a ball caught on a bounce will be an out.

The Dirigo Vintage Base Ball Club will be showing people how baseball used to be played, along with other teams from around the Northeast, at the New England Vintage Base Ball Festival Saturday and Sunday in Cornish. Photo by Matthew Muise

The Dirigo Vintage Base Ball Club will be showing people how baseball used to be played, along with other teams from around the Northeast, at the New England Vintage Base Ball Festival Saturday and Sunday in Cornish.
Photo by Matthew Muise

The teams, including Maine’s Dirigo Vintage Base Ball Club, will take part in the two-day New England Vintage Base Ball Festival. Organizers include the Cornish Historical Society and the Cornish Fairgrounds Committee.

And though the players are certainly fans of history and are willing to talk to spectators about the historical accuracy of what they do, they are not re-enactors.

They are ball players and fans will see them playing to win.

The Dirigo Vintage Base Ball Club will be showing people how baseball used to be played, along with other teams from around the Northeast, at the New England Vintage Base Ball Festival Saturday and Sunday in Cornish. Photo by Matthew Muise

The Dirigo Vintage Base Ball Club Photo by Matthew Muise

Vintage base ball – spelled as two words in 1864 – has taken off in the past 20 years or so, and there are about 200 teams around the country. Maine has one, the Dirigo club, named after an old baseball team from Augusta. For several years the Dirigo team has been hosting teams from other parts of New England, usually one team at a time.

But members of Dirigo and the Essex Base Ball Club of Newburyport, Massachusetts got together and decided to host a festival. Besides Dirigo and Essex, the teams scheduled to play include the Mechanic Base Ball Club of North Andover, Massachusetts, the Mudville Base Ball Club of Holliston, Massachusetts, the Bristol Blues of Bristol, Rhode Island, and the Neshanock Base Ball Club of Flemington, New Jersey. Three games will be played each day of the festival, Saturday and Sunday.

There also will be a Civil War encampment set up nearby. Plus the players themselves will be on hand to talk to people about old-time base ball, besides giving a living history lesson on the field. The Dirigo team is made up of about 30 men from all over southern and central Maine. They range in age from 20s to upper 50s.

Many of the players play vintage base ball because it combines their loves of baseball and history. Jake Newcomb of Dirigo is a 30-year-old history teacher, at Medomak Valley High School in Waldoboro. Brian Sheehy, an organizer of a six-team league called the Essex Base Ball Organization, is a high school history teacher in North Andover, Massachusetts. Sheehy actually teaches a course where students learn the history of a sport by playing it. It’s sort of history and gym combined, he said.

The games will be played in the well-manicured infield of the fairgrounds’ horse racing track. The spot is rural and pastoral, so it evokes an earlier time. But it’s also better for playing baseball than an actual field full of rocks and bumps and things, Newcomb said.

The Dirigo Vintage Base Ball ClubPhoto by Sean Alonzo Harris

The Dirigo Vintage Base Ball Club Photo by
Sean Alonzo Harris

Though watching vintage base ball is a way to learn how the sport is changed, it’s also fairly remarkable how much it hasn’t. All the positions on the field in 1864 were called the same things they are now: pitcher, catcher, first baseman, etc. A batter who hit the ball so far he could come all the way home was credited with a home run. A base was a base and, of course, a ball was a ball.

But the 1864 rules were different. The pitcher threw the ball underhanded and from 45 feet away. Today pitchers are 60 feet, 6 inches from the batter and throw overhanded. On a walk in 1864, all runners got to move up one base. Fielders could record an out by catching a fly ball on one bounce, in both fair and foul territory.

“We’re recreating the game, but we want to display our skill, too. A lot of the guys play in softball or men’s (baseball) leagues,” Newcomb said. “It can get pretty competitive.”

Here’s a short film by Roger McCord about Dirigo Vintage Baseball


IF YOU GO

NEW ENGLAND VINTAGE BASE BALL FESTIVAL

WHEN: Games are 11 a.m., 12:40 p.m. and 2 p.m. Saturday; 9:30 a.m., 11:15 a.m. and 1 p.m. Sunday
WHERE: Cornish Fairgrounds, Route 25, Cornish
HOW MUCH; $5; $3 for ages 6-12; Free for children under 6
INFO: On Facebook or at Newenglandvintagebaseballfestival.wordpress.com


THE OLD BALL GAME
Things to know about vintage base ball played by 1864 rules

LET IT BOUNCE: A fielder can catch a ball on one bounce and the hitter is still out, unlike today where a fielder has to catch a ball on the fly to record an out. But if a ball is caught on a bounce, baserunners can advance to the next base without tagging up. If the ball is caught on the fly, runners have to tag up before advancing.

WORD PLAY: The terms used by players and fans were a little different, a little more colorful. The term “muffed balls” was used when a fielder committed an error, and the least skilled players were called “muffins.” Players who wanted a teammate to run faster would yell for him to “put some steam on.” A batter was mostly referred to as a “striker” or a “batsman.” A hard-hit ball was known by various names, including “stinger,” “whizzer” and “corker.”

SAME OLD SAME OLD: Many terms used in 1864 are still the same today, including all the fielder’s positions from pitcher and catcher to right fielder. Other terms that are some 150 years old or more include umpire, runs, outs, double play, foul ball, strike and home run.

SOURCE: Vintage Base Ball Association

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