Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Enthusiasts Play by the Original Rules

Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Enthusiasts Play by the Original Rules

Article excerpt

PATERSON -- Dan Venezia was driving his wife, father-in-law and two sons home from a rained-out youth baseball game Saturday morning when he saw something in Westside Park that made him pull over.

Men dressed in heavy cotton uniforms were playing a game awfully similar to modern-day baseball, but they pitched underhand, hit with crude wooden bats and fielded without gloves.

"We thought we were back in the old times," Venezia said. "It looks like Shoeless Joe Jackson might come back to life," he added, referring to the former player for the Chicago White Sox who was banned from baseball -- some say unfairly -- for allegedly conspiring to fix the 1919 World Series.

In fact, the game on display Saturday predated Jackson's professional career by half a century. This was Civil War-era baseball, based on rules and using equipment going back to 1864.

Saturday's doubleheader was organized by the Paterson Historic Preservation Commission and pitted the Brooklyn Atlantics against the Gotham Base Ball Club of New York. Players tried to "tally aces" over the course of nine "frames" and were able to register outs by catching fly balls after the first bounce but before the second.

They played just a couple hundred feet from the Van Houten House, which was constructed in 1741 and is the oldest surviving residence in Paterson. Westside Park, in turn, was designed in 1889 by Frederick Law Olmsted -- most famous for his work on Central Park in New York City -- and long served as a hub for concerts, boating and athletics.

On Saturday, the thump of hand-knit leather balls making contact with wooden bats alternated with the smack of bare hands trying to bring the baseballs under control.

"It's intimidating when that ball's coming at you and you realize you don't have a mitt," said David Kilpatrick of Dobbs Ferry, N.Y., who was playing in his first historical game on Saturday.

But he said he enjoyed competing with "a great group of really smart guys" who "have an interest in a mix of sport and history."

Indeed, a deep appreciation of history pervades the proceedings at such 19th-century baseball games. …

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