The Old Ball Game | People & Places | Smithsonian
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The Old Ball Game

It's two, three, four strikes you're out

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The fanatics who play vintage baseball are as meticulous about details as are their brethren who re-enact Civil War battles. Historians as well as players, they read contemporary accounts of games played long before they were born in their quest for authenticity. They re-create the uniforms, equipment (or lack thereof), the home-made balls, even the language of more than 100 years ago. High fives are generally forbidden.

In Old Bethpage, in Long Island, New York, two separate leagues play, one according to the rules of 1866 and the other 1887. Most vintage teams around the country play by 1886 rules, in which pitching is underhand. The 1887 game is faster, "a gritty, full-speed-ahead athletic contest with fastballs, curves, hard slides and diving catches." A player is entitled to four strikes and five balls.

 A promising rookie in Old Bethpage, Tom "Squid" Jordan had played semipro baseball and adult-league softball in Chicago before moving to Long Island. Now he plays for teams in both leagues in Old Bethpage. Then there's Cliff "Buck" Archer, a catcher and sometime pitcher. "There's no way to describe how much I love baseball. I will play baseball until I drop dead on the field." He met his wife on the subway when she tried to read the sports page over his shoulder.

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