With spring temperatures climbing this weekend, I thought it would be a good time for photographs up at Ringwood Manor, a National Historic Landmark District that has seen much over the last few centuries: home to Native Americans, site of ironworks in the colonial, revolutionary, and early 19th-century eras, and summer estate for industrialists Peter Cooper and Abram Hewitt. I had last visited this Passaic County, NJ site, just south of the New York border, more than a quarter century ago, but I remained impressed by its beauty all this time later.
When I checked out its Web site, I had another reason to visit, something picturesque in a different way: several baseball games played according to rules from 1876, using period equipment and wearing period uniforms. So a friend and I drove up on Sunday afternoon to see what it was all about.
We couldn’t have asked for a finer day, as far as the weather was concerned. We spent much of the time roaming the grounds, but we did catch one of the games. The Website mentioned the Flemington Neshanocks and the Elizabeth Resolutes, and I thought I heard the word “Brooklyn” shouted in a recital of one of the end-of-inning scores.
But the game was less about sound than about sight—the unusual caps and uniforms seen here, for instance.
Oh, yes, there was another sense involved, but not belonging to us but to the players: touch. Take a closer look at this picture I took that day. See any gloves? You wouldn’t, because, according to the 1876 rules, there weren’t any.
My friend and I speculated at how the fielders’ hands must have smarted each time they moved to intercept one of the many stinging line drives we saw hit. Smarted? Heck—it’s a wonder the fielders’ hands weren’t broken from trying to catch these. (And that umpire--the fellow with his back to the camera, in the black vest and hat--and the catcher are pretty brave, too, without facemasks or chest protectors to guard against foul balls.)
It was a looser game altogether, with players frequently taking the extra base on a drive or just plain stealing second or third. Before we left, the score for at least one team had reached double figures, with the other threatening to do the same—a far cry from the 3-2 affairs we see more and more of on TV, in modern major-league baseball, with every player a gloved one.