HEISER: Event offers rare opportunity for York County lovers of baseball, history

Steve Heiser
York Dispatch
  • A vintage base ball doubleheader is set for Shrewsbury on Saturday, June 16.
  • It's believed to be the first such games to be played in York County.
  • The Keystone Base Ball Club of Harrisburg will face the Allegheny Ironsides.

In a few weeks, folks in York County will have the rare opportunity to travel back to 1863.

No, there is no time machine involved, but for one afternoon local fans will get to see "base ball" as it was played in its infancy, more than 150 years ago.

Under 1863 base ball rules, the pitcher throws the ball underhand to the batter, also known as the striker.

There won’t be any gloves, the pitchers will throw underhand and a ball caught on the first bounce is an out.

Still, the basic roots of the game will be there for all to see.

It should be a fascinating glimpse at the birth of one of our nation’s most popular sports.

On Saturday, June 16, the Keystone Base Ball Club of Harrisburg will take on the Allegheny Ironsides in a Mid Atlantic Vintage Base Ball League doubleheader starting at noon. The 19th century games will be played in Shrewsbury, near the Southern York County YMCA at 100 Constitution Avenue. They will use the rules adopted in 1863 by the National Association of Base Ball Players.

Organizers believe this will be the first time that such a game will be played in York County, and they are hoping this may spur interest in forming a vintage club in our area. It’s estimated there are nine such teams in Pennsylvania.

Everyone involved in the contests will do their best to look, talk and play like real 19th century ballplayers. The uniforms, the equipment and even the terminology used will authentically recreate the game as it was played in 1863.

“Our mission is to provide a healthy, recreational outlet for the club membership, and to provide an enjoyable opportunity for the public to learn the interesting evolution of our national pastime in the years before exorbitant player contracts, manicured fields, performance-enhancing drugs, and yes, even gloves,” said Rich Heinick, the senior member of the Keystone Base Ball Club of Harrisburg, which has its home field in Mechanicsburg. Heinick also umpires.

The Allegheny Ironsides, a vintage base ball club pictured above, will compete in Shrewsbury on Saturday, June 16.

York County connections: The Keystone club features some York County members in Dover’s Brian Gross and Manchester’s Gene Rauhauser. Gross’ cousin, Eli, is also expected to play for the Harrisburg team.

Brian Gross, 36, is in his fourth year with the Keystone club. He first became interested in 19th century base ball after seeing a vintage game called by the Sklar brothers, who are comedians, on an ESPN channel. Gross played baseball in high school with Dover and in the Central League with Jefferson. He also played softball.

“It is extremely family oriented,” Brian Gross said of vintage base ball. “I was turned off of playing slow-pitch softball in York because of the attitudes and bad sportsmanship, which if I’m being honest, I probably contributed my fair share to that, and I didn’t like being that type of player. Vintage base ball is a gentleman’s sport and you really don’t see a lot of arguing or hear much cursing. Honestly, some of the guys curse in 1860s’ terms, so you might not realize someone cursed anyway.”

Brian Gross also said it can be relatively inexpensive to play.

“It can be very expensive if you want to get crazy, but it doesn’t have to be," he said. "When I started, I had to buy a pair of pants for $25 and a can of black spray paint to paint my cleats entirely black. The team gave me the rest of the uniform. I’d imagine it would be around $100 total for the uniform we have now, but we have a pretty basic uniform.”

A vintage base ball umpire, Rich Heinick, is shown in period dress from 1863.

Like Brian Gross, Rauhauser, 56, has a background in baseball and softball. He said the umpiring of balls and strikes is one of the biggest differences between the game of today and the game of 1863.

“An umpire does not call balls and strikes until he gives a warning to the pitcher,” Rauhauser said. “So a pitcher could pitch 15-20 pitches with no calls made. A batter will also be given a warning if he is not swinging at hittable pitches.”

After the umpire warnings, three strikes will make an out and three balls will lead to a walk.

Differences and similarities: Those are just some of the quirky rules differences between vintage base ball and the game played today. The essence of the sport, however, remains the same — hitting, fielding and pitching.

Those differences and similarities will be on full display down in Shrewsbury in a few weeks.

For lovers of baseball and/or history, it’s an opportunity you may not want to miss.

Steve Heiser is sports editor of The York Dispatch. He can be reached at sheiser@yorkdispatch.com. For more information on the Mid Atlantic Vintage Base Ball League, visit MAVBBL.com.