America's Pastime Turns Back the Clock in Belmar
Vintage Base Ball re-creators entertain on a sunny Saturday afternoon
The outfielder waited as the ball flew his direction off the bat of the batsman ... and as it dropped in front of him, he grabbed it off the bounce.
"One hand!" called the arbitrator, announcing the out.
"I'll never get used the bounce," said Pat Melango, a member of the Belmar Historical Society, as she settled into her lawn chair to watch. "I'll be glad when they're catching the fly balls."
This was baseball -- not the baseball of the 21st century, with fireballin' pitchers and home run hitters, but baseball of the 19th century, when the fielders played without gloves, the pitchers threw underhand and the batters got a warning before the first strike was called.
"We are baseball re-creators," said Brad "Brooklyn" Shaw, leader of the Flemington Neshanock, whose members hail from New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Shaw, describes himself as a history and baseball buff, first learned about the Vintage Base Ball Association when he saw a player dressed in period baseball dress on the cover of the Smithsonian. It wasn't long before he was playing, and soon after started his own team.
They play roughly 40 games, from early April until mid-November, showcasing baseball the way it was in the mid- to late 1800s. On Saturday on the field across from Belmar Elementary School, the Neshanock's doubleheader against the New York Mutuals, who are based on Long Island.
"We saw on the H network on the internet that they were looking for a place to host a game," said Pat O'Keefe, secretary of the Belmar Historical Society, which arranged for the use of the field with the town. "We reached out and were able to work something out."
The first game of the doubleheader, which began with a reciting by Shaw of the famous poem "Casey at the Bat," was played by 1864 rules, which allowed fielders to catch a "fly" ball on one bounce to record an out, while not allowing the striker -- the batter -- to overrun the first-base bag. The second game, played by 1873 rules, allowed the striker to call his pitch -- meaning he could state his preference for high pitches or low pitches -- but he could now overrun first base.
The arbitrator -- the predecessor to today's umpire -- came into being because gentlemen proved to not be gentlemen, said Davey Danny -- David Phillips, who was the arbitrator for the games.
And the origin of "home plate?" In the early years, teams used an actual plate -- usually copper or pewter, about 9 inches in diameter -- that often came from the kitchen of one of their homes.
"The housewives were never too happy about that," Shaw said.
For more information about the Vintage Base Ball Association, visit the website.