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August 22, 2008

 

Past-time

Old-style baseball on Saturday

baseball

Joe McIntyre/staff photographer
Mike Dexter practices 1864 style baseball by fielding a fly ball without a glove. Dexter and his teammates, the Wagonmakers, will hold a Bicentenial Game at Truxton's John J. McGraw Field Saturday at 1 p.m.       

By TOM VARTANIAN
Staff Writer
TRUXTON — Time will stand still for just a few hours Saturday in this tiny Cortland County village as Base Ball (yes that is the correct spelling of baseball for that time) steps back 144 years.
To put this era in perspective, it was the final full year of the Civil War as the Cortland County Wagon Makers square off against the Mountain Athletic Club from Fleischmanns at 1 p.m. in an 1864 Vintage Base Ball Game at John J. McGraw Field. In fact, the rules by which this game will be played came nine years before the field’s famous namesake was born.
McGraw, whose professional baseball career began in 1890, would go on to a career as a star third baseman (1891-1900) and manager (1899) for the Baltimore Orioles of the National League. The Orioles were dropped from the National League in 1900 and, with the help of McGraw, the American League was organized that same year with McGraw managing the Orioles in 1901-1902. As manager of the New York Giants (1902-1932), McGraw returned to the National League and became one of the outstanding figures of baseball, leading the Giants to 10 pennants and three World Series championships (1905, 1921 & 1922). He was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1937.
Playing for the Wagon Makers will be Mike Dexter, Abe Johnson, Tony Kissel, Mike Boylan, P.J. Dwyer, Sean Caughey, Bud Jermy, John Sabach, Jeremy Boylan, Joe Bodden, Scott Schrader, Chip Jermy, Sean Babcock, Dick Meldrim, Mick Lowie and Lee Price.
Dexter is a life-long resident of Cortland and looks forward to the game.
“I could not think of a better place to play this game than John J. McGraw Field,” Dexter said. “It is a good venue and I really hope a lot of people come to check out the game. There is no admission charge so that cannot be used as an excuse not to come. It really should be a lot of fun.”
“Of course,” he continued. “It will be a lot like playing the (Harlem) Globetrotters. The Mountain Athletic Club team plays this game regularly. They know the rules and we will play by their rules, which we really don’t know that. Again, though, I think is should be fun and entertaining.”
Playing without a glove and a softer ball, what does Dexter think about that?
“The only practice we have had so far was on the field with standing water after it had rained,” Dexter replied. “The ball is soft and it gets mushy when wet.”
“The ball is single-stitch,” he continued. “As hard as some of our guys can hit a ball, I was surprised that it doesn’t come apart. I know Jeremy (Boylan) got a dozen of these balls so we could practice with them.”
As for catching the ball and fielding it?
“I’m still not sure how easy it is going to be to catch the ball without a glove after all these years,” Dexter stated. “I hope the throws are soft and have some arc to them. We can field a batted ball on one bounce, catch it, and still have it count as an out. Will I get many of those chances? I really don’t know if I will or if I can make that play. We’ll see what happens.”
Another staple of Cortland is Mick Lowie, a long-time fast-pitch softball player and a coach at Cortland High. Lowie will handle some of the pitching duties Saturday.
“The good thing is we do pitch underhand, but that is about the only similarity,” Lowie said. “It really is more like slowpitch softball without the arc. You don’t really fire the pitches in. You really throw the pitch where the batter wants it. It is more of a hitter’s game and a gentleman’s game.”
“I have had one of the ball at home since the first practice,” Lowie added. “I guess I was suppose to be practicing. It is a little bigger than a baseball. It is a softer ball and you can compress it some by squeezing it, but it is still somewhat hard. I know it goes pretty good when you hit it so I guess you would want it field it on one hop, especially in the infield, or just get out of the way.”
Was Lowie excited about this opportunity to play a vintage game?
“Once I heard Mike (Dexter) as playing, I expected a call,” Lowie said. “There was not a lot of arm-twisting.  It will be fun to play with some of the guys I have played with before.”
“It really is something different,” Lowie continued. “You get to meet some new people and have some fun at the same time. I guess one of the unwritten rules is that the home team has to feed the visiting team. We are still figuring out where we are going to do that. I guess it would be best to eat in Truxton and that would be the proper thing to do.”
As for the opponent, the Mountain Athletic Club plays a number of vintage baseball games every year. Fleischmanns is a small community in the Catskills and was a big summer resort area in its early days, especially with people from the New York City area. The Mountain Athletic Club is located on Wagner Avenue and was the place where many ball players came to get in shape before the start of the regular baseball season. The most famous player to train at the Mountain Athletic Club, known now as Fleischmanns Park, was John Peter Wagner, better known as Honus Wagner, nicknamed “The Flying Dutchman”, one of the original five first elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1936.
The rules of Base Ball in 1864 were much different than what you see today. Some of the rules include:
   1. No gloves are worn. Players in the field use their hands;
   2. A batted ball caught on one bounce is an out;
   3. There are three balls and three strikes, and all runners advance on a walk, even if they are not forced;
   4. The pitcher pitches underhand from 45 feet;
   5. If a runner over-runs first base, he can be tagged out.
For a complete look at the 1864 rules, check out this website link: http://wiki.vbba.org/index.php/Rules/1864.
With so many differences in the rules, there is one rule that sticks out in Dexter’s mind and it is still used in the modern game today. And leave it to a veteran ballplayer to find it.
“The bases were 90 feet apart then and the bases are still 90 feet today,” Dexter said. “It the faster players and everything improved in this day and age, you still run 90 feet to reach it base. I really find that interesting.”
Spectators, young and old, are invited to attend the 1864 Vintage Base Ball game Saturday. Admission is free, the weather forecast sounds good and everyone should have a good time.