Cooperstown Crier - Your Source for Hometown News - Cooperstown, Baseball Hall of Fame

May 15, 2014

Vintage 'base ball' coming to Brewery Ommegang

By Bera Dunau Staff Writer
Cooperstown Crier

---- — Baseball, the way it used to be played, will be on full display at Brewery Ommegang this weekend.

Tomorrow and Saturday the brewery will host a vintage base ball — the game was spelled as two words until the turn of the 20th century — tournament, where four teams will compete. The public will be able to watch the games, which are free.

“It’s always been a nice community event for us,” said Sean Hamilton, an events coordinator for Brewery Ommegang. “Our interest is not really in making money on this event in any way.”

Hamilton said that vintage base ball has been played on the grounds of the brewery for several years now, and that the games have proven to be popular with the public.

“It’s something that people don’t see all the time,” said Hamilton. “It’s very educational.”

For the event, Brewery Ommegang will have an outdoor bar adjacent to the field of play. Additionally Evan Brown, Brewery Ommegang’s new executive chef, will be cooking hot dogs and bratwursts on the grill.

“We want him to become a recognized face around here,” said Hamilton.

The Atlantic Base Ball Club played at Brewery Ommegang for the first time last year, and the club is organizing this year’s tournament.

“It’s more of a festival,” said Kevin “Flash” Harrison, first baseman and media coordinator for the Atlantic Base Ball Club, noting that no overall winner will be crowned at the end of the tournament.

“It was a lot of fun, the people were really into it,” said Dean “Dream Bucket” Emma, the Atlantic’s shortstop, on playing in last year’s tournament, which featured three teams.

Each of the four teams participating this year will have the opportunity to play against one another. Games will be played two at a time, starting Friday with a pair of games starting at 11 a.m. and another pair at about 1 p.m.  On Saturday, two games will start at 9 a.m. followed by another two games at about 11 a.m. Harrison said that base ball games generally last about an hour and a half.

“I think with the extra field there’ll be more involvement with the people up there watching us play,” said Emma.

The teams participating will be the Atlantic Base Ball Club, which is based out of Smithtown, Long Island, the Flemington Neshanock Base Ball Club, which is based out of New Jersey, the Lewes Base Ball Club, based out of Lewes, Del., and the Keystone Base Ball Club, based out of Mechanicsburg, Pa.

All four teams participating are named after and model their uniforms off of 19th century base ball teams. 

“On the east coast, I think we’re all exact replicas,” said Elmore.

The Atlantic Base Ball Club is a replica of the Atlantic Base Ball Club, of Brooklyn, which had an undefeated season in 1864. 

It is 1864 rules that the modern club prefers to play under, and which the tournament at Brewery Ommegang will be run under. The Atlantic Base Ball Club has its uniforms made by a company that specializes in Amish clothing, while its bibs are custom made.

The rules of 1864 base ball, Harrison and team Captain Ed “Pig Tail” Elmore explained, are quite different from those of the modern game, with the most visible difference being that no gloves are used.

“The style of play is a lot different,” said Harrison, who said that defense, as opposed to power hitting and pitching, was more important in the 1864 game. “It’s a much faster pace to the game.”

Pitches must be thrown under handed, with no wrist flicking or sidearm allowed. The pitcher stands only 45 feet away from home plate, which is round, but he can deliver the pitch from anywhere in a space that is 12-feet long and three-feet wide, allowing the pitcher to throw at an angle if he so chooses. Batters and pitchers get a warning before the first strike that is not swung at is called and before the first ball is called, and umpires do not have to call every pitch. Three balls walks a batter, and three strikes still strike a batter out.

“The umpire had a lot of leeway,” said Elmore, who umpires as well as plays.

Elmore said that one of the reasons that batters let good pitches go by is to give runners on base a better chance to steal. Because of this, he said that umpires often call pitches more strictly when runners are on base. Harrison said that umpires also tend to be stricter at the end of the game than they are at the beginning.

“The end of the game tends to go quicker than the beginning of the game,” said Harrison.

Another difference from the modern game is that foul balls can be caught for outs, as can fair or foul balls that bounce once. How a ball is called fair or foul is also different, as it is determined by wherever the ball touches first. Because the game is played in open fields with no fences, no matter how far a fair ball is hit, it can be recovered by outfielders. In terms of base running, players cannot overrun first base, so sliding into it sometimes occurs. The bat and ball themselves are different, with the balls being slightly softer and having a rubber center, and the bats being more akin to clubs.

Still, despite all the differences, the game is unmistakably baseball, with games lasting for nine innings and runners having to tag up after a fly ball is caught.

“We see part of what we do as a educating the public (about how the game was played),” said Elmore.

“It’s so different from the modern game, but it has the best parts of it,” said Harrison.

“You play for the passion of the game,” said Emma, who noted a camaraderie that extended not just to members of ones own team, but to members of opposing teams as well.

Another notable element about vintage base ball is that players are often given nicknames, a practice that was commonplace among 19th century ball players as well.

“In that era everybody on the team would have a nickname,” said Harrison. “On my team everyone has a nickname.”

Indeed, Elmore said that most players are given nicknames that were used by 19th century ball players. Elmore shares his nickname with 19th century player William Riley, also known as “Pig Tail” Billy, who, like Elmore, sported a ponytail. Harrison got the nickname “Flash” after he stole second and third base in quick succession. Emma got the nickname “Dream Bucket” due to a combination of him sleeping on car rides to games and a bout of car sickness he had on one such trip, where it was suggested he might need a bucket.

Elmore described the Atlantics as a close group of friends.

“The main part of our team has been together nine years now,” said Elmore, noting that team members socialize with each other year-round, regardless whether it’s baseball season or not. “It’s like a family.”

Harrison also cited the family atmosphere as part of the appeal of the vintage game, which he said was full of people who love the sport.

“You wouldn’t play a bare hand base ball game if you didn’t love baseball,” said Harrison.

Elmore said that people interested in getting involved should look up vintage base ball teams in their area, many of whom have websites.

There is also a regional organization, the Mid Atlantic Vintage Base Ball League, which the Atlantics are a part of. The MAVBBL site is www.mavbbl.com. The Atlantics site, which links to the sites of a number of other teams, is www.brooklynatlantics.org.

One area vintage base ball team is the Roxbury Nine, who were supposed to compete in this weekend’s tournament at Brewery Ommegang, but had to withdraw. The Nine’s website is roxburyny.com/vintage-baseball/roxbury-nine.

Emma suggested that those interested in starting their own team work with their local historical society. The Atlantics home field is on the grounds of the Smithtown Historical Society.

“(You) gotta come out and try it,” said Elmore. “People who try it and start playing they say, ‘Wow this is much better than softball.’”