1864 baseball at Long Branch

Posted: May 7, 2013

The Winchester Star

Long Branch Historic House and Farm in Millwood will host a doubleheader of vintage base ball (two words prior to the 1880s). The Chesapeake Nine of Baltimore will take on the Old Dominions of Virginia using the game’s 1864 rulebook. They will play in back-to-back games from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday at 830 Long Branch Lane. This photo shows one of the players getting the foul tip.
A player fields and prepares to throw the pill during a vintage baseball game. The Chesapeake Nine of Baltimore will take on the Old Dominions of Virginia using the game’s 1864 rulebook Saturday at Long Branch Historic House and Farm in Millwood.

Millwood — America’s favorite pastime will embrace its roots Saturday at Long Branch Historic House and Farm in Millwood.

Baseball and history lovers alike will get a treat when the historic site hosts a doubleheader of vintage base ball (two words prior to the 1880s), executive director Nicholas Redding said.

The Chesapeake Nine of Baltimore will take on the Old Dominions of Virginia using the game’s 1864 rulebook. They will play in back-to-back games from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday at 830 Long Branch Lane. Admission is $5 per carload.

“This is more about enjoying baseball in a beautiful setting and getting to see what our ancestors would have seen had they gone to a baseball game back in the springtime,” he said. “There is really nothing more American and more fun than going out to see a baseball game.”

Baseball, which slightly predated the Civil War, really gained popularity during the war and immediately following it, he said. It is one of the games that would have been played in the camps.

The scene will be familiar but slightly off for modern baseball fans as players (called ballists) wear period reproduction uniforms that would have been common in the mid- to late 19th century, he said.

“You would recognize it as baseball, but there are some unique and fascinating quirks that catch your eye and make it that much more interesting,” Redding said.

Cranks (1860s term for fans) can bring blankets, chairs and picnics out to the field and watch the game as spectators in the 1800s would have done — with no frills, he said.

The two teams competing Saturday are members of the Mid Atlantic Base Ball League, which consists of 21 vintage teams on the East Coast, said Josh Leiling, captain of the Old Dominions. The league’s season goes from April to October.

The basics of the game are pretty much the same, but there were many tweaks that happened along the way in the past 150 years to produce modern baseball, said Leiling, 28, of Alexandria.

“There are a few key differences. The first is that we don’t play with gloves,” he said. “So in 1864, the rules we play by, at the time they would allow you to catch a ball on one bounce and it still be considered an out.”

When pitching, which is done underhand, the batter (called a striker) gets one warning and then three strikes and one warning and three balls, making it essentially four strikes and balls, Leiling said. The game was meant for hitters to hit the ball — “they didn’t want to see a lot of strikeouts.”

“Generally speaking, you don’t see a lot of walks or strikeouts,” he said. “Somebody usually hits the ball before they use all their balls or strikes.”

The playing field used the same layout with bases spaced 90 feet apart, but the fields they played on generally did not have a dirt infield, he said. They will play in one of Long Branch’s hay fields, “just like they would have in the 19th century.”

There will also still be nine players on the field playing nine innings, he said.

The uniforms are the feature that will probably stand out first, Leiling said. Depending on the time and team, players could wear long pants and a shield shirt, or a later style lace shirt and knickers. They try to incorporate styles and materials that would have been used at the time.

“Several teams have historians that work with the teams to come up with their uniforms, which is a really neat experience,” he said.

Some vintage baseball players may consider themselves historians, but for Leiling, it is more of a re-enactment of historic baseball. Players range from high school students to retirees, he said.

Vintage baseball is growing in popularity with organized leagues now playing nationwide, Redding said. There are many historic sites around the country that have hosted games like this, and he thought Long Branch would do well to embrace that part of its own history.

Hugh Nelson Sr., a resident of Long Branch in the late 1800s, was involved with the Old Guard, the local Millwood team of that era, he said.

Part of Long Branch’s strategic plan for its future is about making the organization more engaging, speaking to different audiences, and getting people out to see the land and the 1811 home, he said.

“It is fun and it has a historical connection to Long Branch’s past, which is everything we are trying to do with our new programs and events — to be engaging and historic,” he said.

Redding would especially love to see plenty of young baseball fans share in some of the game’s history. “We are hoping we can get some youngsters out here to enjoy the games and learn about where their sport came from.”

Information

Long Branch Historic House and Farm, 830 Long Branch Lane, Millwood, will hold doubleheader vintage baseball games from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday. Admission is $5 per carload. For more information, call 540-837-1856 or go to historiclongbranch.com.

— Contact Laura McFarland at lmcfarland@winchesterstar.com