Athletes from across the country play 19th Century ‘base ball’ at Gettysburg festival

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It’s a splash of history and a lot of fun. The Gettysburg National 19th Century Base Ball Festival kicked off Friday.

“The Civil War soldiers were playing base ball,” said Tom Duffy, who organized the festival and plays for the Eclipse Ball Club.

“I believe it’s the largest tournament of this kind in the country, which means it’s the largest tournament of this kind in the world,” said Jon Kilpatrick, who helped plan the festival.

We’re talking about base ball: two words. It’s the version that follows the rules from the 1860s.  

“Any ball that’s caught on one bounce is an out,” said Kilpatrick, who also plays and umpires. “The catcher stands about 10 to 15 feet behind home plate. If a foul ball is hit to the catcher and it bounces once and he catches it, it’s an out.”

Twentyone teams from across the country will suit up old-school this weekend.

“Most of the shirts have a bib,” said Eric Gladhill, who plays for the Gettysburg Generals vintage team. “They’re long sleeves.”

The Generals played local little league coaches.

“Coaches can see what it’s like to catch the ball, bare-handed,” said Duffy.

No gloves are allowed. Players can use whatever kind of bat they want.

“The balls are wound not as tight,” said Gladhill. “The covers aren’t quite as tight, so at the beginning of the game they’re firm, a little bit lighter than a regulation major league baseball, but they will soften as the game goes on.”

Gladhill likes playing both modern and vintage ball.

“It’s a tossup. I like them both. I can’t give up one over the other,” said Gladhill.

Kilpatrick says he thinks the old way is how the sport was meant to be played. 

“It’s very exciting, very fast-paced,” said Kilpatrick. “Two hours. Nine-inning game. Each team scores 15-20 runs, unlike modern baseball, which can be three and a half hours for a one nothing.”

While the kickoff game was at the Gettysburg Recreation Field, the rest of the tournament is at Schroeder Farm.

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