04/19/09 — Baseball with a historical curve

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Baseball with a historical curve

By Anessa Myers
Published in News on April 19, 2009 2:00 AM

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The Nahunta Nines warm up before their 1860s-style baseball game against the Greensboro Patriots at the Charles B. Aycock Birthplace on Saturday. The teams played by rules that dated back to the period when baseball was in its infancy.

FREMONT -- Saturday was a perfect day for a game of baseball.

But the players at the Charles B. Aycock Birthplace weren't playing the same game you would see on TV, or even at a local high school or college field.

It was baseball the old-fashioned way, played by rules more than a century old.

The home team, dubbed the Nahunta Nines, was dressed in attire from the 1860s -- old-fashioned cotton shirts and pants with suspenders. And the hats atop their heads weren't modern baseball caps but an assortment of old-fashioned styles.

The visiting team -- the Greensboro Patriots -- wore uniforms with red shirts, blue pants, white suspenders and blue-and-gray-striped pillbox baseball caps with red bills.

The two teams had been asked to come to the former governor's birthplace since he was a well-known baseball fan.

The Patriots had the edge, having been together for about three years.

But that meant nothing to the Nines, who were ready to show the out-of-towners how the game is played in Wayne County.

The locals said they just love baseball and thought it would be fun to play by the old rules. That meant no gloves, old wooden bats and a lighter but larger baseball.

Tony "Sickle" Tillman was a pitcher at Charles B. Aycock High School in the 1980s. He said that the Nines was made up of "farm boys," who were taking breaks from feeding their animals.

"I'm just hoping I don't split my pants," he said with a laugh.

John Thornton was another member of the Nahunta squad.

He said he had seen a similar old-fashioned game played before but had never played in one.

"There are a lot of differences," he said.

Many of the local players were unfamiliar with the rules until the Patriots explained them.

Outfield fly balls caught on the first bounce were automatic outs. Pitches were thrown underhand. Every time a player crossed home plate with a run he had to ring a bell.

As the game got underway, the Nines were the first ones up to bat.

The Patriots got their three outs in less than three minutes.

Then, it was the Patriots' turn to hit.

And that they did. The Greensboro team scored three runs in five minutes.

But the Nines came back to "tally" their own share of runs. Team captain Danny Davis said that before the game he gave his fellow players a pep talk.

"I told them, 'Pain heals. Chicks dig scars. But glory lasts forever,'" he said.

But the afternoon wasn't for competition. It was for fun. Both teams rooted for each other, and the crowd of a few dozen people would cheer every time there was a big hit, no matter who was at the plate.

Aycock Birthplace Site Manager Leigh Strickland said she was glad to see everyone out having a good time -- both the players and the visitors.

Jack and Ramona Kirby had never seen an old-fashioned baseball game. The Pikeville residents said that they often come out for events at the historic site and especially wanted to see the baseball game.

"It's something different," Jack, 85, said. "I enjoy it."

Ramona, 79, said she used to play third base for a ladies league when she was in her 30s.

Baseball was always one of her favorite sports, she said, and Saturday's game was a "good little outing," for the couple.

Every now and then, you would hear the umpire yell, "One hand out" or "Two hands dead," which was how the umpire would call the outs in the 1860s.

But there was one element to the game that wasn't exactly historically accurate.

There weren't Nikes in the 1860s, at least not that history tells.

The home team slipped and slid all day long in their old-fashioned shoes with no traction. But the visitors wore athletic shoes that gave them more traction.

"Maybe we wouldn't slip as bad if we had those," Nines' captain Davis was heard to say.