Vintage baseball season opens with old style

George "Wild Horse" Ferchland, right, of the Atlantic

George "Wild Horse" Ferchland, right, of the Atlantic Base Ball Club, catches the ball and tags the base as Rocky Belbol, left, of the Flemington Neshanock races to it. The Atlantics opened their schedule against two teams from New Jersey at the Smithtown Historical Society field in Smithtown, Saturday, April 5, 2014. The three games were played under 19th century rules. (Credit: Steve Pfost)

Play ball!

It was 1864 again Saturday as the Brooklyn Atlantics, Flemington Neshanock and the Elizabeth Resolutes competed in Smithtown during opening day in a vintage baseball league.

About 30 spectators watched the teams play three "base ball" matches on the field of the Smithtown Historical Society, based on rules and customs of a time when Abraham Lincoln led the land.

The players, whose ages ranged from the 20s to 60s, wore replica uniforms with long trousers, shield shirts and soft cloth hats.

"The nice part is that this is base ball, and this is entwined with America's history," said Neshanock player Chris "Low Ball" Lowry, 53, of Hillsborough, N.J., a computer programmer who joined the team in 2002. "It also changed like the country changed."

More than 200 vintage teams nationwide compete weekly from April to November, using rules based on research from the 19th century. "Ballists," as they're called, play with bare hands and use custom-made balls and wooden bats. Unlike in modern-day baseball, vintage players must throw with an underhand or sidearm motion.

The sport was spelled as two words before the 1880s, according to the Vintage Base Ball Association. It evolved from the British game of rounders until the Knickerbocker Base Ball Club of New York City formulated the basic rules of baseball in 1845, according to the association. By the late 1850s, there were more than a dozen teams, including the Atlantics, in New York City, the association found.

"I fell in love with it," said Anthony "Dirty Pirate" Cannino, 27, of Lynbrook, an insurance underwriter's assistant who has played with the Atlantics since he was 14. "It's different than what you see on TV today."

In Saturday's exhibition, the Atlantics defeated the Neshanock in the first game 26-1, but the Resolutes beat both in the last two matches, 12-7 and 21-4, respectively. "I never saw an old game, and I was curious of how it was played back in the day," said Mets fan Howard Jennings, 64, of Lake Ronkonkoma, a retired sales representative. "It's absolutely terrific."

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