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A return to the yesteryear of base ball: ca. 1864


GRAHAMSVILLE, NY — It was the perfect day for a base ball game. The scent of a freshly mown field, bales of straw used to fashion a backstop, an American Flag flying from the topmost bale and crowds lining both sides of the field.

On Saturday, August 24, the Time and the Valley Museum presented two vintage base ball games between the Mountain Athletic Club (MAC) of Fleischmanns, NY and the Atlantic Base Ball Club of Brooklyn, NY, aka the Brooklyn Atlantics or the Atlantics.

Both games were played at the Grahamsville Fairgrounds, recently home of the 140th Annual Little World’s Fair.

The first game was played in nine innings by the rules and customs of base ball in 1864, while the second base ball game was a seven-inning outing under the rules of 1895.

In those bygone days, what was destined to become the nation’s pastime was spelled “base ball,” only later to be contracted to the baseball we know today.

A brief glance at the rules of 1864: no gloves, the ball (called a lemon peel) is stitched differently and is slightly larger, a batted ball caught on a bounce is an out, the pitches are hurled underhand, the pitcher is 45 feet from home plate and umps won’t call a ball or strike until they issue a warning.

In the first game, Brooklyn Atlantic sent 20 runners across the plate, while MAC posted a final tally of nine runs.

George “Wild Horse” Ferchland earned the win for the Altantics, while Archie “The Lumberman” Biruk was tagged with the loss.

Both teams are members of the Vintage Base Ball Association (VBBA), whose mission statement reads in part, “presenting the game of base ball as it was actually played in accordance with the rules, equipment, uniforms, field specifications, customs, practice, language and behavioral norm of the period.”

The MAC was established in 1895 by the brothers Julius and Max Fleischmann, and also took to the field as the Mountain Tourists and the Mountaineers.

In those early days, the MAC teams were primarily comprised of semi-pro players from the Cincinnati area with the goal of fine-tuning their skills before moving up to “the show” in a major league club.

According to Collin “Stumpy” Miller, captain and shortstop of the modern-day club, “The early years of the MAC produced four players on the 1906 World Series Champion Chicago White Sox, dubbed the ‘Hitless Wonders.’”

“In fact, nearly a dozen or more MAC players would go on to have solid careers in the majors, including Johannes ‘Honus’ Wagner (HOF ’36), considered to be among the best shortstops in baseball history and a first- ballot Hall of Famer, and Miller Huggins (HOF ’64),” added “Stumpy” Miller.

Frank “Shakespeare” VanZant serves as captain of the Atlantic Base Ball Club of Brooklyn.

Asked his take on the game, VanZant replied, “Vintage base ball is history come to life, an opportunity to see what the game was like in its infancy.

“America fell in love with the game that they beheld back then, and modern vintage players and fans know the reason,” he said. “The game balances two very American ideals: first, the cohesiveness of teamwork, especially hard-fought competition, and second, the opportunity for individuals to rise in action and influence.

“For me, it’s a love of simpler moments in baseball,” said VanZant. “Real grass with lumps, bumps and divots… and bare hands… and a deader ball that calls for batters to hit with a primitive energy rather than engineered launch angles.

“I’ve played baseball all my life; vintage base ball is the most fun,” he said.

Between games, a fascinating story unfolded, as several generations of fans gathered around “Stumpy” Miller, in the role of announcer and spokesperson, as he showed folks the difference between the base balls and gloves (or lack thereof) used during the periods portrayed on that summer afternoon.

For more information about the Mountain Athletic Club (MAC), visit www.macvintagebaseball.org. To contact the Atlantic Base Ball Club of Brooklyn, visit www.brooklynatlantics.org. And for information about the Vintage Base Ball Association (VBBA), visit www.vbba.org or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/vintagebaseballassociation.


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