Maine’s take on America’s pastime

Posted Oct. 27, 2011, at 11:17 p.m.
Bob Hubbard connects in a game of vintage base ball held earlier this month in New Gloucester.
Bob Hubbard connects in a game of vintage base ball held earlier this month in New Gloucester.
Members of the Dirigo vintage base ball team pose near a barn in New Gloucester. Vintage games, like games in the old days, are often played in farm fields.
Members of the Dirigo vintage base ball team pose near a barn in New Gloucester. Vintage games, like games in the old days, are often played in farm fields.
Dirigo player Jacob Newcomb (left) of Bath and opponent Brandon Hubbard of New Gloucester see who can cap the bat to determine which team bats first.
Dirigo player Jacob Newcomb (left) of Bath and opponent Brandon Hubbard of New Gloucester see who can cap the bat to determine which team bats first.
Dirigo player Kevin Sullivan pitches underhand during a recent game of vintage base ball in New Gloucester.
Dirigo player Kevin Sullivan pitches underhand during a recent game of vintage base ball in New Gloucester.
Dirigo third baseman Bob Hubbard of New Gloucester fields a hit with his bare hands, the way players did it in the 1860s.
Dirigo third baseman Bob Hubbard of New Gloucester fields a hit with his bare hands, the way players did it in the 1860s.
Dirigo player Kevin Sullivan (left) goes over the rules of 1861 base ball with opponent Tyler Credit, a sophomore at New Gloucester High School.
Dirigo player Kevin Sullivan (left) goes over the rules of 1861 base ball with opponent Tyler Credit, a sophomore at New Gloucester High School.
Dirigo third baseman Bob Hubbard of New Gloucester (left) attempts to tag an opponent in a game of vintage base ball.
Dirigo third baseman Bob Hubbard of New Gloucester (left) attempts to tag an opponent in a game of vintage base ball.
Dirigo vintage base ball player Jacob Newcomb of Bath poses after a game in New Gloucester.
Dirigo vintage base ball player Jacob Newcomb of Bath poses after a game in New Gloucester.
1860's-style bats and ball.
1860's-style bats and ball.
Back in the 1860s home plate was actually an iron plate with a stake welded to the bottom, similar to the replica Bob Hubbard removes at the end of a recent game of vintage base ball.
Back in the 1860s home plate was actually an iron plate with a stake welded to the bottom, similar to the replica Bob Hubbard removes at the end of a recent game of vintage base ball.
Dirigo vintage base ball players salute their opponents at the end of a game held earlier this month at the New Gloucester Community Fair.
Dirigo vintage base ball players salute their opponents at the end of a game held earlier this month at the New Gloucester Community Fair.

NEW GLOUCESTER, Maine — One hundred and fifty years ago, when batters were called “strikers” and home plate was actually an iron plate, you couldn’t blame the umpire for striking out. There were no called strikes in the early days of a game called “base ball.”

“The only time a strike was called was if the umpire thought the batter was waiting too long for that perfect pitch,” said Bob Hubbard, a third baseman for the Dirigo Vintage Base Ball Club.

The Dirigo club plays by the rules of 1861, when games often were held in farm pastures. Earlier this month, they were challenged by some local high school varsity players in a game held on the infield of a former horse-racing track at the New Gloucester Fairgrounds.

The old game resembles the modern game with a few exceptions. In the mid-19th century, pitches were delivered underhand and a fielder could make the out by catching the ball on the first bounce.

The hand-stitched leather ball is a little bit bigger than a baseball you’d find today. The more it was used the softer it got — which was good since fielders did not use gloves.

The popularity of base ball spread during the Civil War, when soldiers played pick-up games in camp. But unlike the war, the game was not do or die.

“If there was a close play at first base and you knew you were out, it was the gentlemanly thing to do to admit you were out and surrender the out to the other team,” said pitcher Kevin Sullivan. “You probably wouldn’t find that today.”

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