2013-06-28 / Front Page

Hats off to baseball

Take me out to the ‘vintage’ ball game
By Jack Flagler
Staff Writer


The Dirigo Vintage Base Ball Club salutes their opponent, Essex Base Ball Club of Massachusetts, with a cheer of “Hip hip hooray!” after the two played a baseball game at Southern Maine Community College under 1861 rules. The game was played with no gloves, no walks, no pitcher’s mound, and fielders were able to retire batters “on the bounce.” Essex won the game 14-7. (Jack Flagler photo) The Dirigo Vintage Base Ball Club salutes their opponent, Essex Base Ball Club of Massachusetts, with a cheer of “Hip hip hooray!” after the two played a baseball game at Southern Maine Community College under 1861 rules. The game was played with no gloves, no walks, no pitcher’s mound, and fielders were able to retire batters “on the bounce.” Essex won the game 14-7. (Jack Flagler photo) SOUTH PORTLAND – In the middle of a Saturday afternoon baseball game at Southern Maine Community College, a batter with the Essex Base Ball Club of Newbury, Mass. hit a short fly ball that sliced down the left field line.

The outfielder, of Maine’s Dirigo Vintage Base Ball Club, charged down the line into foul territory, let the ball bounce once, and leaned into the crowd to grab the ball before it took a second hop into the row of spectators sitting on lawn chairs and blankets.

Today, that fielder may be chastised for taking a souvenir away from a fan, but the Essex and Dirigo clubs play according to 1861 baseball rules. He had recorded an out.

“Well fielded sir!” called umpire Jeff “Greybeard” Peart, dressed in a top hat and long black jacket with a pocket watch tucked inside, as the fans applauded.

Cordial words between an umpire and player may also be a rare sight in today’s game, but the players and fans at SMCC had a reason behind their niceties. Anyone not exhibiting gentlemanly or ladylike behavior could be fined 25 cents under the 19th-century rules.

The rules of the game in 1861 closely resemble, for the most part, today’s game. Three strikes resulted in a strikeout, and three outs ended an inning, but there are a few key differences.

Fielders are able to retire batters “on the bounce,” although it was thought more manly to record an out on the fly. There are no gloves, no pitcher’s mound, and no walks. Additionally, batters are permitted to take as many pitches as they like before they decide to swing, although three swings and misses are still a strikeout.

The doubleheader Saturday afternoon, June 22, pitted Essex against two Maine teams, Dirigo and Presumpscot Base Ball Club. The event was hosted by the Maine Historical Society for the second consecutive year. Last summer, Essex visited Fort Williams Park in Cape Elizabeth to take on Dirigo.

Maine Historical Society Director Steve Bromage said he hopes to partner with local Little Leagues and offer refreshments in future years to expand the event in an effort to bring more baseball fans and history buffs to games.

“It’s a great way to engage people in history,” Bromage said. “It really represents a particular time in baseball history when it became the game that it is.”

Essex defeated the Dirigo team handily, 14-7, but Dirigo pitcher John Coray of Brunswick said most of his teammates are more concerned with the educational aspect of the event rather than the final score.

“We’re an older team,” Coray said. “We look at it more as representing the historical part of baseball.”

The Dirigo club has been active for seven years and, until last year, they were the only vintage baseball club in Maine. When Jeremy Gardiner attended the game between Dirigo and Essex at Fort Williams Park last summer, he decided to get his own team together, and formed Presumpscot Baseball Club. Gardiner, a Westbrook resident, works in the parks and recreation department for South Portland.

Gardiner said the players on the Presumpscot team share a love for the history of baseball and all wanted to try something a little different from a typical men’s softball league. Over the course of the last year, the club has traveled to various New England towns to play games at farms, parks and fairs.

In their first game, against Dirigo at a fair in Gray, Gardiner said one of the Presumpscot players hit a ball into a ferris wheel that was set up directly in the outfield.

“There’s something new every game; that’s what makes it fun,” Gardiner said.

The Presumpscot Baseball Club fell to Essex in the second leg of Saturday’s doubleheader at SMCC, 4-0. But the Maine club will have a chance to avenge the loss later this summer.

The two teams have another game scheduled at Wainwright Field Athletic Complex in South Portland Saturday, Aug. 24 at noon.

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