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Reenactor Baseball at Washington Park

Old-timers day! History buffs to play 19th-century baseball

for The Brooklyn Paper
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Photo gallery

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Team spirit: The Flemington Neshanock.
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Batter up: In 1864, baseball was played with wooden bats that were longer and thicker than today’s.
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Old-school slugger: The Flemington Neshanock’s Jim “Jersey” Nunn at bat.
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Catch: The Flemington Neshanock’s Joe “Mick” Murray catches the ball — without a glove.
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On the ball: 19th-century-style baseballs were about a half-inch bigger than modern balls.

Why reenact the Civil War when you can reenact a Civil War-era baseball game?

Three teams of history-loving hitters will take to the field at Washington Park in Park Slope on May 2 to play baseball as it was played during the war. The competitors may be toting wooden bats instead of rifles, but in many ways, their role-playing is more realistic than that of their military counterparts, said an organizer.

“If the Civil War reenactors did what we did, they’d be using real bullets, because we’re playing a real game, they’re not,” said Brad Shaw, a baseball historian and executive director of the Flemington Neshanock, which will take on the New York Gothams and the Bog Iron Boys for four hours of play at the park. “They’re just reenacting. We’re actually recreating the game as it would have been played in 1864.”

There are a several important differences between 19th-century baseball and the Major League Baseball games we see today, Shaw said. First, the old-school uniforms — think “Gangs of New York”-style knickers and bibs. Players also do not wear gloves, as they did not come into regular use until the 1880s. Pitchers can only throw underhand, and batters can’t overrun first base — they have to slide in.

The bats and balls are also slightly different, Shaw explained — the bats are a bit longer and thicker, and the balls are about a half an inch larger than today’s regulation baseballs.

Shaw estimates there are about 300 teams playing 19th-century-style baseball around the country. The Neshanock plays about 20 different teams from around east coast each year, he said

Shaw, 60, said that the age range on his team stretches from early 20s to late 60s. The games are competitive, he said, but players don’t have to try-out to join, nor do they need to be in tip-top shape.

“You have to be true to the game of baseball, but it’s one of those things that if you lose, it’s not that big of a deal. We’re all friends,” he said. “Certainly I have some players that used to play in college that are very, very good. But I also have players that are there just for the fun of it.”

Shaw said he doesn’t even have to play to have fun — he just enjoys educating onlookers about the history of the sport.

“Normally, if I have enough players, I don’t play, I just go around and talk to people and let them know about the history and what’s going on,” he said. “It’s bringing history life. I love teaching history to other people.”

And the location of this weekend’s game is of particular historical significance — Washington Park was the first home of the Brooklyn Dodgers. Shaw said he hopes spectators will see that you don’t need replica muskets to have fun with history.

“For some reason people always embrace wars. They embrace the Civil War, the Revolutionary War,” he said. “I’m trying to get them to embrace something different, that’s not people shooting at each other, but rather, something people did for enjoyment and for fun.”

Reenactor Baseball at Washington Park [Third Street between Fourth and Fifth avenues in Park Slope, (718) 768–3195, www.theoldstonehouse.org]. May 2 from 1–5 pm. Free.

Updated 10:17 pm, July 9, 2018
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