Take these players out to the old ballgame

Vintage (Civil War-era) 'base ball' makes its debut in county

August 03, 2008|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,Sun Reporter

Vintage "base ball" comes to the county today with the debut of the Havre de Grace Dauntless, a team that will play by 19th-century rules and, eventually, wear old-style uniforms.Named for a club that played in the city nearly 150 years ago - probably against the Havres, the other local team - Dauntless is the county's first vintage group. Other 19th-century teams have been organized in Maryland, Washington, D.C., and New York.

Fans will "see how the game was meant to be played," said Gary Wasielewski, a high school history teacher, city resident and team captain by virtue of having the only custom-made Dauntless uniform. As players sign on, the team will order more of the replica woolen uniforms, designed to reflect what the Civil War-era players wore. Each uniform costs about $250 and takes at least 12 weeks to make.

"I will wear the uniform for the sake of historical interpretation," said Wasielewski, 33. "Since we only have one, I guess that makes me captain by default."

He is unsure whether he will play catcher or pitcher when the team takes to the field at 2 p.m. today at the Steppingstone Museum against the Talbot County Fair Plays, a vintage team from across the Chesapeake Bay.

The Fair Plays will be in full vintage regalia - narrow-brimmed caps, shirts and knickers. Dauntless players, who range in age from 18 to somewhere in their 50s, will probably settle for T-shirts and jeans.

"That wool uniform is the only thing that concerns me," said Chris Crowe, a recent Havre de Grace High School first baseman. "This is definitely going be an experience that will show me the history of the game."

After one brief practice at the Lock House Museum, Dauntless opted for the larger venue at Steppingstone Museum.

"We were initially hoping for the Lock House," Wasielewski said. "But the grounds were so small, we kept putting balls in the canal or hitting the building with them."

Teams will abide by 1860s rules, which allow the pitcher to throw underhanded using hand-stitched, soft leather "lemon-peel" balls. Bases are canvas bags, filled with sawdust or sand and staked in place.

In 1860, nobody wore a glove, a batting helmet or a chest protector. Before the advent of cleats, players likely laced up uncomfortable work shoes. But by the mid-19th century, organizers had scrapped the previous practice of hitting base runners with the ball. "They decided that was ungentlemanly," Wasielewski said.

The umpire will stand off to the side and will call "out" or "safe" but not necessarily rule on strikes, balls or fouls. The game will be nine innings, although, at one time, the first team to score 21 runs was declared the winner and given its opponent's ball.

This year, the players are focusing on organization. Fifteen have signed on for the Dauntless, all men. They are looking for more, including umpires and score-keepers. Women are welcome in any role.

"No upper-level experience is necessary," Wasielewski said. "Historical ball clubs were developed from the town stock to provide civic pride."

Players expect to schedule one more game this year, early in the fall. Next year, Dauntless hopes to play about a dozen games.

"The idea is to raise awareness of baseball's early days," Wasielewski said. "We are not looking for all-stars, just those interested in the game. If there's enough interest, maybe we can get a full set of uniforms for next year."

mary.gail.hare@baltsun.com

IF YOU GO

The Dauntless Base Ball Club of Havre de Grace will play the Talbot County Fair Plays at 2 p.m. today at the Steppingstone Museum, 461 Quaker Bottom Road, Havre de Grace. Tickets are $3 for ages 12 and up, free for children.

Information: 410-942-0639.

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