Bare bones baseball

By NICK CANTOR  |  July 1, 2013

While the Grays usually play by 1884 rules, today they play under official 1864 rules and regulations, available for fans on the flyers given out by the Bristol Fourth of July Committee. Batters are referred to as “strikers.” There is no overrunning first base, and play does not resume until the ball settles in the pitcher’s hands, otherwise runners are “still vulnerable to being put out.” The ball is cross-stitched and slightly larger than the modern day one. The pitcher throws from 45 feet away, and on an even surface as the batter, rather than a mound.

But what’s most notable about today’s game is the lack of gloves — everything is fielded barehanded. While the underhand pitching component of 1864 certainly helps to reduce the risk of injury, one player on the Grays takes pleasure in showing off his “battle scars,” bandages on numerous fingers from where he has gotten hit.

In today’s doubleheader, the Blues take the first game by the final score of 15-12. The game has a more theatrical than viciously competitive feel. There are occasional disputes over whether a ball is fair or foul or whether a runner was safe or out, but nothing gets out of hand.

“This is a true living history product,” Norton says, clearly proud of all the players. There is no music, no fancy equipment, and no scoreboard. The umpire sports a straw hat with no protective gear. The occasional passerby stops for a while to watch an inning or two, before going on with their day. And the game continues without interruption, as it always has.

CORRECTION:  Due to editing and reporting errors, the original version of this article contained some inaccuracies. Tim Norton no longer teaches writing at the University of Rhode Island, as initially reported. The Grays usually play by 1884 rules – which allow for overhand pitching, among other things – but on the day described in this article, they played with underhand pitching to accommodate the Bristol Blues, who play by 1864 rules. Also, the Grays are not expressly concerned with playing in a “gentlemanly” manner, as the article originally stated. “ [In] 1884 with the Grays, the overhand game was actually quite vicious,” Norton says. Members of the present-day Grays, he notes, are “less concerned about decorum and more concerned about playing . . . as hard as they can.”

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