As part of its 375th anniversary celebration, the city of Woburn hosted a full day of vintage and virtual baseball at Library Park on July 22nd. The bookends of the baseball celebration were a visit from the Red Sox Showcase team and an old-time (1864 style) base ball [sic] game between Mishaum and Websters.

I have spent a lot of Saturdays playing and coaching baseball in my time, but today was an experience unlike any other.

First off, to have the Red Sox Showcase team in town was a real treat. Right across from the street from the playground where our boys played as tiny  children, today they had the chance to enjoy batting cages, pitching stations, a Steal 2nd Challenge, and virtual reality experiences. The latter was a VR ride along with JBJ, from his first spring training to the start of the 2017 season.

Kudos to the Sox for joining the Woburn’s 375th celebration and bringing pro baseball to a city that is already enjoying a spectacular summer of baseball and softball.

I have to admit, I have seen throwback unis before, but I have never sat down to watch a throwback game. The players from the Essex Base Ball Organization were impressive: talented, tough, approachable and period-appropriate. It was a familiar and foreign game at the same time. It made me think of how adaptable and enduring the game is. It also explained one of baseball’s enduring mysteries: batters used to be called “strikers,” hence strike out and,when it was introduced later, strike zone. [Insert mind blown emoji here when it comes out.]

Here are some abridged rules for the game, 1864 style.

  • The pitcher throws underhand, 45 feet from home base.
  • Leading and stealing are allowed.
  • There is only one umpire. His decision is final and there is no arguing a call.
  • The fielders do not wear gloves. An out can be recorded if the ball is caught on the first bounce, or in the fly. It was considered more “manly” for a player to catch it on the fly.
  •  A fair ball is determined by where it first strikes the ground.
  • Base Ball [sic] in the 1860s was a sport of gentlemen and ladies. Players and cranks were expected to act in that way; anyone who did not exhibit this behaviour was fined.
  • If the umpire felt the striker was taking too many good pitches he could warn the striker and proceed to call strikes if the batter continued to not swing at fair pitches. If the umpire felt the pitches was not delivering fair pitches to the batter he could warn the pitcher and if the pitcher continued to throw bad pitches called balls.
  • Three strikes is an out and three balls is a walk.

Base ball 1864 style took some getting used to. The “thwap!” on thumbs was one thing. The ball-on the-bounce for an out was another. Ditto for the one bounce foul to the catcher–a catcher with zero equipment–for an out. Underhand pitching from 45 feet was odd, certainly, but less so than I might have imagined.

The game was quick and high scoring. There was no pitching changes and no situational substitutions. Entertaining? Yes! Good for television or Twitter? Probably not. Now the $25,000 question which should, of course, be adjusted for inflation: does the game expand to fit the broadcast space it’s allowed or does the pace of play dictate what it the game it alloted? Hard to say. Games evolve: Abner Doubleday didn’t imagine 4 hour games any more than James Naismith imagined $228 million contracts. “And so it goes.” The reflection question, and perhaps inflection point, for the game is “How can we preserve the rich tradition and unwritten rules of the game while bringing it to a modern global audience?” Even David Ortiz took this on in a recent post in The Players’ Tribune. For now, baseball continues to be a game that brings generations and communities together better than any other.

So, yesterday was a great day for baseball in Woburn. Celebrating the game’s legacy. Getting kids and families excited about the game today. Exploring ways to use technology to engage with the game and its stars. Reminding everyone–well, me at least–that baseball is meaningful across generations.

Thanks, Woburn 375. Thanks, Red Sox. Let’s see where the game and the community are in another 25 years…or maybe 375 years.