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Vintage Base Ball is a unique game

BaseballAtlanta BravesLos Angeles Dodgers

Mention old-time baseball to most people and it brings to mind throwback jerseys — the Brooklyn Dodgers, the Milwaukee Braves or the Washington Senators.

But the Chesapeake Vintage Base Ball Team has added an entirely new dimension to the concept of yesteryear baseball.

To be sure, they wear old-style uniforms. Really old styles, nearly a century-and-a-half old, in fact.

Chesapeake — which features catcher/pitcher Steve Kahl (Parkville), catcher Rebecca Petruccy (Nottingham), right fielder Mike Stanik (Hampden) and infielder Mark Megary (Mount Washington) — also plays by a set of rules that were in use as early as 1864 and in many cases were abandoned more than a century ago.

For instance, gloves aren't allowed, because nobody wore them back in the Civil War era. Balls caught on a bounce count as an out. Foul balls aren't strikes and a batted ball that hits in fair territory in front of home plate and rolls foul counts as a fair ball.

Stanik said one of the most confusing old-time rules involves foul balls.

Stanik said that after a foul is fielded, "if the ball gets back to the pitcher first before you get back to the base, you're out."

Petruccy said all these different rules made it tough for her to get used to the game during her first year with the six-year-old club, which competes in the mid-Atlantic Vintage Base Ball League. Now that Civil War-era rules have become second nature to her, she loves it.

"I have been playing softball for 10-plus years," she explained. "I played slow-pitch, fast-pitch, in high school and after high school. But I have never played a game like this. It's unique and very complex. That's what so fun about it, but the rules take getting used to. I am still learning some of them."

The uniforms worn for Sunday doubleheaders at Jerusalem Mill Village in Kingsville look like nothing anyone has worn this century — or last century for that matter.

Dark blue hats with a yellow circle resemble a soft painter's cap. Jerseys have crests sewn on them and players wear long, dark blue khaki trousers with a white stripe, and black shoes.

Some of Chesapeake's opponents, such as the Delaware Diamond State Baseball Club, wear knickers and suspenders with a newspaper-boy type of hat.

Even the nicknames seem from another era. For instance, Petruccy's is "Burner" and Megary's is "Stretch."

Players use softer and slightly larger balls, which become softer as the game progresses. Most of the players use wood bats that are somewhat thinner than modern bats.

The lingo of the game is different, too. "One hands down" means one out, "Two hands down" is two outs.

A pitcher is called a "hurler," the batter is referred to as a "striker" and outfielders are called "scouts." Even the fans have a different name: "cranks," "bugs" or "rooters."

But the conversation always comes back to the rules.

"You are honoring the first rules of the game," said Kahl, the team's assistant captain and field manager. "They were first coming up with the rules and trying to figure out the game. People were getting injured trying to stop at first base. They were wondering what do. They changed the rules to allow people to over-run first base."

The Chesapeake players' old-style uniforms never fail to attract some onlookers to Jerusalem Village, part of Gunpowder Falls State Park.

"I have seen a lot of people who are not here to see us," Megary said. "They pull in, take a look and ask questions, 'What are you guys doing? 'Why are things different than we are used to?'"

And for the Chesapeake hurlers, strikers and scouts, being watched by so many cranks never gets old.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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