A team of Eastern Shore residents turn back the clock to honor America’s pastime by playing in a regional baseball league governed by 150-year-old rules
Remember the days when baseball was just a game, before the multimillion-dollar contracts, performance-enhancing substances and narcissistic showboating? Well, if you find yourself longing for those simpler times, consider taking a drive over to Lewes, where the Lewes Vintage Base Ball Club resurrects the halcyon days of “America’s pastime.”
Participating in the Mid-Atlantic Vintage Base Ball League and a member of the Vintage Base Ball Association, the Lewes Vintage Base Ball Club plays by the rules in effect as of 1864, rules that have some striking differences from those we’ve come to know today. In vintage baseball, for example, no gloves are permitted for fielders, and pitchers throw underhand. Batters are called “strikers,” and a strike is called whenever a striker does not attempt a swing after a warning from the umpire. Balls that are caught on one bounce constitute an out, whether the ball is fair or foul.
Though Lewes had a team in the Eastern Shore Baseball League way back in the early 20th century, the first documented reference to organized baseball in the historic Delaware town goes way back to 1874, when the local team faced off against a competitor from Milton, DE. The teams themselves, meanwhile, have such charmingly nostalgic names as the Delaware Diamond States, the Chesapeake City Cecils and the Elkton Eclipse.
“It’s fun to play in the league because we get to travel to other towns — sort of barnstorming like they did back in the 19th century — meeting the other guys and playing a great game,” said Mike DiPaolo, who is the executive director of the Lewes Historical Society in addition to being a player on the Lewes team. “Strategy is much different, too. There’s much more of a premium on speed than just waiting for a long ball. Consequently, the game moves along much faster than today’s game. A nine-inning game usually lasts about an hour and half to two hours.”
The Vintage League season runs from April to October, and DiPaolo says you are more than welcome as a spectator. But, he adds, you’re also welcome as more than a fan cheering from the bleachers, explaining that interested parties may try out to actually play on the team. How fun is that?
THE LEWES HISTORICAL SOCIETY
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