Over 50 spectators had set out their lawn chairs that sunny Saturday morning June 4, some under sunshades, on the large mowed field north of the big barn at Hilltop Farm. They had come to watch vintage base ball (and yes, in the years after the Civil War the two words had not yet joined).
The ball field, which was set up that very morning, was a good deal bigger than a Little League field, but smaller than major league baseball. The baselines were marked with chalk in the lovely turf, and the bases were set in small cleared areas, but there was no pitcher’s mound. A spot had been cleared and marked on grade to keep the pitcher in place. And many rules were different from current standards.
The Westfield Wheelmen were to meet the Hartford Bulldogs. Their uniforms were quite simple, and their mitts were much plainer than now. More notable was the lack of good chest protection for the catcher, though the umpire had some. The catcher’s mitt seemed far too thin. The bats are heavier than now. The game seemed to move faster than now, with minimal delays between pitches.
A list of very different rules in force in 1886 was distributed. Batters could tell the pitcher whether they want the ball to be thrown above the belt or below, and if the request wasn’t followed, the pitch was ruled to be a ball. And a foul was a ball. But batters had to get seven balls before they walked. With strikes, the rules were like now: three and you’re out.
This reporter couldn’t stay through the game, but it was enjoyable to watch a bit of vintage base ball.