Continued from page 1

Elkton’s roster includes 67-year-old Bill Freeland, a retired physical education teacher who joined the club in 2008.

“I never thought I would be playing baseball again, 46 years after my last game,” said Mr. Freeland, who receives periodic injections for stiff, achy knees. “But this game, I think I can play for a while.”

For a baseball fan, some aspects of the vintage sport are instantly recognizable. Three outs constitute a side. Games last nine innings. The bases are 90 feet apart. Other rules seem tinged in sepia: Three balls is a walk, fouls are not strikes, players can’t overrun first base, and runners can take bases with them on slide attempts (the last scenario is admittedly rare).

“In fast-pitch baseball with a good pitcher, it’s just very hard to hit,” Mr. Berkof said. “But in the old style game, you see players from all kinds of ages and backgrounds and skill sets be successful. Just put the ball in play in a strategic location and run. The great thing is, you’re still playing baseball.”

John Kilpatrick, an Eclipse member and resident of Oakford, Pa., agreed. Since joining the Elkton team, he’s torn a leg muscle and broken four fingers.

He couldn’t be happier.

Softball is where baseball careers go to die,” Mr. Kilpatrick said. “I wasn’t ready for that.”

The vintage game’s throwback ethos goes beyond the rules. Players wear custom-made uniforms that can cost hundreds of dollars apiece. They pay 25-cent fines for using “foul language” — that is, saying words like “shoot.” They give each other hokey nicknames: Mr. Berkof, a Harvard grad, is known as “Ivy”; Tom Duffy, a 50-something fireplug of a retired teacher, is called “Schoolboy” by his Elkton teammates, despite looking neither boyish nor particularly academic.

While waiting to bat, Eclipse players swung an actual sledgehammer to warm up.

“It’s our version of a batting donut,” said one.

“It doesn’t really help,” said another

“But it looks cool,” said the first.

It’s tempting to invest vintage baseball with larger social meaning — a romantic yearning for a sport of rough ‘n tumble, manly gentlemen, playing a gritty, agrarian game, motivated purely by love of the game, unspoiled and uncoddled by the modern athletic poxes of fame and money. But the truth is that Mr. Berkof and others participate largely for sheer fun.

Historical accuracy is sometimes sacrificed. Recently, for example, the Potomac Nine abandoned their dark, heat-absorbing wool uniforms with a lighter, cooler polyester blend. The Mid-Atlantic league has banned metal spikes - a concession to appall Old Hoss Radbourn - swapping old school cool for the comfort and safety of contemporary footwear.

Similarly, the Eclipse once posed for a genuine, 19th century-style tintype team photo. Big mistake

Story Continues →