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Vintage Ballists Go Back In Time, Honor Early Days Of Base Ball



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A Woodstock Hilltoppers’ player drove a ball deep to left field, over the head of outfielder Bryan Donnelly. A sure extra base hit in today’s game — but this wasn’t today’s game of hardball. Donnelly dove and caught the ball on a bounce for an out.

An out? On a bounce?

Welcome to 1864 rules base ball (that’s two words, not one word, like how we write baseball today).

Donnelly is a member of the Newtown Sandy Hooks Vintage Base Ball Club, which took on the Hilltoppers in a doubleheader at McLaughlin Vineyards, the Sandy Hooks’ home field, recently.

The Newtown Sandy Hooks, along with a variety of teams in the area, play the game in its vintage form according to the original rules dating from the early underhand 1860s to the more challenging 1880s overhand game. The Sandy Hooks and their opponents decide prior to competition which year they’ll honor, and follow the rules of that season.

Vintage “ballists,” as the Sandy Hooks call themselves, wear the uniforms in the fashion of the 19th Century, most notably lacking gloves in the field.

The club is made up of avid ball players, ranging in age from about 20 to 50. The Sandy Hooks have traveled throughout the Northeast since their establishment a decade ago. The team was formed in 2004 by Raymond Shaw, and began play in May 2005. The late Bee Sports Editor Kim Harmon was an avid player on the team, which plays games on and off during the spring and summer months.

Although some of the rules changed throughout the early years, among of the regulations the Sandy Hooks adhere to is not being allowed to overrun first base as players do in today’s game. Batters were not penalized for taking strikes unless the umpire deemed too many pitches had been thrown, and walks weren’t initially issued.

Eventually, in the 1870s, three balls earned a batter a walk. An out was referred to as a hand; a run was an ace; a pitcher was a hurler; a catcher was a behind or backstop; and a batter was a striker.

Softer base balls were used in the 1800s, but catching line drives without a glove isn’t such an easy task. Players were expected to police themselves, to some degree, on the playing field.

“If there’s some argument you’re supposed to be able to settle it like gentlemen,” Sandy Hooks team member Jason “Mister” Edwards said. “We’re really here to have fun.”

“If you’re out, you say you’re out. You’re expected to be honest,” added Dennis “HoBoy” Norwich, who has been a part of the Sandy Hooks since they were established.

The fundamentals of the game, although always important, were even more significant in the 1800s because of the rules, the Sandy Hooks players say. There’s a lot of strategy involved.

“Placing the ball is way more important,” player Zac “Dirt” Smith notes. “You’ve really got to play the fundamentals a lot harder. One of the best parts of playing vintage is it’s more of a cerebral game.”

The Sandy Hooks and their opponents enjoy not only playing a game they love, but learning about the roots of what has become America’s pastime.

“I would have come out here in a thunderstorm,” said team member Emmett Cole, observing the overcast conditions during this game.

In game one against the Hilltoppers, the Sandy Hooks won 8-7 as hurler Jamie “Breeze” Leath went the distance. In game two, Edwards was the hurler, and the bats came alive to spark an 18-2 victory. The Hilltoppers only managed one ace in the first frame, and one in the final frame to bookend the contest. Every Hook contributed to the win, and it was a day full of good baseball and great sportsmanship from both squads, along with all the cranks in attendance, the Sandy Hooks’ players noted.

The Sandy Hooks are scheduled to play another doubleheader, at McLaughlin Vineyards, beginning at 11 am on Saturday, August 15. Spectators (cranks) are welcome and there is no admission to the games.

Rounding out the Sandy Hooks’ roster are Phil “90” Keane, Michael “Bulldog” Paes, Tristan “Thunder” Toomey, Matt “Lightning” Maleri, Brian “Barkeep” Donnelly (not to be mistaken with Bryan Donnelly), Peter “Bison” Freidman, Jay “Papi” Ortiz, Tyler Terbrusch, and Chuck Ciccarello.

Emmett Cole was the one left standing after a play at the base.
Jamie “Breeze” Leath went the distance, pitching a 8-7 win over the Hilltoppers.
Zac “Dirt” Smith emphasizes the fundamentals both in the field and on the base paths. 
Dennis "HoBoy" Norwich, a veteran with the Sandy Hooks, fires a throw in from the outfield. 
Emmett Cole delivers a power swing at a good-looking pitch. 
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