- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 21, 2011

The hurler tosses the ball underhand to the striker as cranks cheer in the stands. Runners and fielders stay in contact with their respective bases until the striker knocks a ground ball into the field. The second baseman throws to first, and the striker is dead.

The terms and rules associated with 19th century base ball (written as two words until the 1880s) are barely recognizable to modern fans. But at this weekend’s Manassas Civil War commemorative event for the 150th anniversary of the Battle of First Manassas/Bull Run, baseball will be revived in its original form.

“There’s always been a lot of interest in the Civil War [in Northern Virginia], and certainly with a big event like this, it just heightens all that awareness and all that excitement,” said Kenny Loveless, a member of the Civil War Base Ball Committee. “One of the reasons why we were so interested in incorporating baseball into it is that baseball securely cemented itself into America’s folklore and as America’s pastime as the national game during the Civil War years.”

About 200 players will take part in 13 games throughout the weekend. Although some of them are new to vintage baseball, others have made a hobby of preserving the game’s history.

“It’s part of the educational process,” said Richard D’Ambrisi, historian of the Chesapeake and Potomac Base Ball Club. “I give a lot of talks to interested groups, and when I stand in front of people and ask them what they think vintage baseball is, they almost always answer, 1950s. Bubble gum cards. To them, that’s vintage baseball. Very few people are aware of how far back playing baseball goes here in the United States.”

The Chesapeake and Potomac Base Ball Club, organized about five years ago, consists of the Chesapeake Nine in Baltimore and the Potomac Nine in Washington, though it hopes to add a third team called Old Dominion in 2012. The organization has more than 70 members, and the teams play four games a month from May to October.

This weekend, the teams expect to play three games, either among themselves or against teams organized especially for the event.

One such team will represent Dudley Martin Chevrolet, a dealership that has sponsored a softball team for almost 30 years but is new to the world of vintage baseball. It will face the team from Thomas Engineering, which plays in the same softball league.

“I’m glad they’re not using the plugging rule, which is where you can throw the ball at a runner, and if he’s off base, he’s out,” said John Martin, the sponsor of Dudley Martin Chevrolet’s team. “I’m glad they’re not going to be throwing the ball at me.”

Among other differences, players will not use gloves. The ball, slightly smaller than a modern softball, is soft enough to catch with bare hands, especially since catching the ball on one bounce still counts as an out.

“In 1864, that rule changed to where you had to catch the ball on the fly for it to be an out,” D’Ambrisi said. “It makes the game more fair for the batter and requires more skill of the fielder. That would be one example of a rule that’s changed, and I think it’s changed for the better of the game.”

The pitcher and the hitter were not adversaries in earlier versions of baseball. Instead, the batter stepped up to the plate and pointed out a target for the pitcher.

“You’re not trying to strike anybody out,” Loveless said. “You’re trying to feed the striker, the hitter, with a ball that they can put into play. It was all about action. It was all about keeping the fielders lively. You wanted to be able to see the athletic talent of the fielders.”

Baseball has become an integral part of American culture, as anyone from children in Little League to major leaguers worth millions can enjoy a ballgame on a summer night. This weekend in Manassas is a tribute to the roots of a treasured national pastime — now watched by fans instead of cranks.

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