This past weekend, two baseball teams, the Providence Grays and the Bristol Blues, faced off in an intense double-header on the Bristol Commons. Don’t ask me the details; I had a hard enough time just getting the game straight.
No, I’m not the worst American in existence. It wasn’t just any baseball game, it was vintage baseball played 1864-style. The Providence Grays, in particular, are the longest-running vintage baseball team in New England. They've been going strong since 1998, and say they strive to emulate the great Providence Grays of the nineteenth century.
This particular game was sponsored by the Bristol Fourth of July committee, with free hot dogs and beverages for all. But the free food and drink wasn’t even the best part. The teams, clad in vintage uniforms, played by some interesting rules, which made for rich moments of pain, joy and thievery. To understand what I mean, you’ve got to understand the rules of the game:
- No gloves allowed — picture a screaming line drive headed straight for a player, and he catches it with his bare hands. That’s dedication. (But ouch!)
- Wooden bats
- Cross-stitched ball
- Underhand pitching
- A strike zone from the shoulders to ankles
- Three strikes or three balls
- Before a strike or a ball can be called, a warning must be issued (i.e. a striker can swing and miss three times and still not be out if a warning was not issued)
- If a walk is issued, all runners (even if they’re not forced) advance one base
- If the striker is hit by a pitch no base is awarded, but the ball is live
- Where the ball touches first determines whether it’s fair or foul, regardless of where it ends up
- When a ball is caught cleanly in the air, fair or foul, the striker is out
- A ball caught on one bounce, fair or foul, the striker is out. This rule kept me wondering for a while!
- No advancement on a foul ball. The ball must pass through the pitcher, and runners must retouch and base they pass through on their way back to the original base before the ball is put in play
- No overrunning on first base
- The ball must be caught with bare hands — though, admit it, it would be funny to see one of the players catch a ball with his hat.
- No restrictions on leading or stealing — which was probably my favorite part of the game. They played dirty by today’s standards (and got pretty dirty in the process).
To us spectators, it didn’t really matter who won or lost. We cheered for strong hits and brave catches, and gasped when a slugger sent a home-run ball into the parking lot toward our cars. Thankfully, no broken fingers or windows were reported.
The Providence Grays will play next on June 24 at 11 a.m. against the Brooklyn Atlantics at Ardoene Field, Narragansett Avenue and Santiago Street in Providence. Free admission. providencegrays.org