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An Old Spin On America's Past Time

Civil War era baseball comes to Waltham.

“That hurler is tossing nothing but jimjams.” --A 19th century expression implying a pitcher was throwing wildly.  

Babe Ruth's worn bat, dark and polished with use, was perched on the shoulder of his blue and white striped Yankee's uniform. He paced along the edge of the field and watched as others tossed and hit the ball. He was itching to play ball in Waltham – and you could tell.

The 6th Annual Civil War Era Vintage baseball game, played at Cornelia Warren Field this past Sunday in Waltham, was between the Essex Baseball Club from Danvers, Massachusetts and the Melrose Pondfielders. They were playing by 1860 New York Rules that certainly didn’t account for a baseball legend – real or not.

The rules of 1860 left players gloveless and vulnerable. You could take aim and hit the player as he ran from one base to another. Yes, the ball was lighter and a bit softer, but getting hit isn’t fun, no matter what the century.

This match started with Waltham’s 21st Century Mayor Jeannette McCarthy throwing out the first ball; but she didn’t exactly throw the ball. In 1860 terms she “hurled” it to the catcher and started the match.

Dressed in a red and white striped pill-box hat, an off white linen shirt and knee length pants, Jim Leopardi, the pitcher for the Melrose Pondfielders, hurled the ball, underhanded, toward the Essex “striker” or batter. Wearing the teams blue trousers and white linen shirt, he and his teammates sported a large matching patch on the shirt’s front, one that bore a stitched dark blue “E.”

Bath Ruth come out to play — sort of. Steve Folven of Tynsboro, was convincing in his role as Babe Ruth, a part he's played successfully for the last five years.

The ball, a bigger and somewhat softer version of today’s baseball, was smacked across the field and the outfielders ran backwards, eyes toward the cloudless sky.  

Leopardi’s son, Dave, and his cousin were two of the outfielders who, this time, unsuccessfully tried to catch the ball.

If the ball was thrown and bounced once on the ground before being caught, it was considered an out – a rule unacceptable today.

The spectators, known during the 19th century as cranks, rooters or bugs, cheered for both sides; so it was hard to know who was winning. That’s the point, Andrea Dird said as she and her family sat under a tree, avoiding Sunday’s heat. This, she said, is a game of congeniality and a reason she and others are vintage fans.

Dird’s husband, Ralph, is a pitcher for the Essex team. Six years ago, the Waltham couple went to that first game, she said.

“At the end, they invited the audience to come in and play,” Andrea said. “He did, liked it and joined.”

Ralph likes the game so much he pitch hits for the Lynn team too. The patch on the front of his shirt is sometimes turned around. The other side has an embroidered “L” for Lynn, Andrea said.  

Players came from everywhere to participate. The Leopardis come from Reading. Schneier, the cousin and nephew, came from Raleigh, North Carolina, but Ralph was the only Waltham player. Everyone else hailed from other communities. The only commonality was love of old-style baseball, then called base or bat ball. It originally came from the English games of rounders or cricket, Smith said.

The spectators felt the same spirit of congeniality. Gail and Marion Cormier, both from Waltham, opted for the stands, even though the sun was unrelenting. They’ve seen all six games and wouldn’t think of missing something that combined two things they love.

“We like baseball and we like history,” Gail said.  

The game is so friendly that it becomes more important than the winner. It was never clear who did win the game, and no one seemed to care.

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1860 Baseball Terms

Ballist: player; hurler: pitcher; behind: catcher; mascot: batboy; captain: team leader; home base: a one-foot diameter iron plate that served as home plate; the garden: outfield; bullpen: cranks and rooters seating; foul tick: foul ball; aces: runs.

 

1860 Baseball Rules:

These 38 sections were adopted by the National Association of Baseball Players in New York on Mar. 14, 1860.

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