Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Before there was Base ball,

there was town ball. We headed up to Fonthill in Doylestown on the Fourth for their "Old Fashioned Fourth of July". Admission was very affordable; $3 adults, $1 kids and it was good old-fashioned fun. We missed the bike parade, but were able to catch some of the decorated bikes. We did a cake walk, listened to some dulcimer music and made a patriotic craft. There were also sack races, a watermelon eating contest, pony rides and horse-drawn wagon rides, and OLD bikes. Most of our time was spent watching some exhibition "town ball".

Town ball is kind of like Rounders, a game from the UK, whose history reportedly goes back to Tudor times. The rules of town ball are varied, but the ones most exhibitions play by, and indeed this one did, are found here. Once I read over the rules few times and watched the play, it was understandable. What is most difficult is you keep thinking "baseball" but it's very different. There are 4 bases, but only one out per half-inning. You swing only at pitches you like and if you miss on the third swing you run anyway! Runners can be tagged out, but more often they were hit with the ball. And the bat is basically just a stick.

The players weren't dressed in period clothes, but they did have matching polo-like shirts and caps. They used a lighter ball with a rubber center, wrapped in cotton yarn and then covered with a "lemon-peel" shaped piece of leather, sewn together. Apparently there are several cottage and bigger industries making equipment like balls for vintage base ball players today. But at $16 to $25 each, we won't be buying one anytime soon.

After almost an hour of playing, the players invited kids that were watching to play. Erin and Julius had a wonderful time learning the game and Julius even got a hit. Erin didn't hit the ball, but because of the rules she made it to base anyway. She just ran really fast when she missed the ball the third time.

There are vintage base ball clubs all over the country with tournaments, championships etc. Some play base ball, some town ball. You can check this list to see if there are games near you. A Genesee Country Village and Museum near Rochester, NY has even constructed a vintage base ball park. They have 6 resident teams (2 women) that play every Saturday and Sunday in the summer with a national tournament in August. Closer to Philadelphia, head up to Howell Living History Farm in Lambertville, NJ (which has great events every Saturday, btw) in the beginning of June to see or play with the resident teams. I know we'll try to make it next year!


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