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Brooklyn Atlantics

Smithtown residents can watch the Brooklyn Atlantics play for free through October

By Sara-Megan Walsh

“No gloves, no steroids” is the motto of the Atlantic Base Ball Club, which has a classic approach to playing America’s favorite pastime.

Smithtown’s vintage baseball club team hosted a two-day festival at the Smithtown Historical Society’s Atlantic Park off East Main Street May 5 and 6. The Atlantic Base Ball Club is a recreation of the 19th century Brooklyn Atlantics, wearing period-appropriate jerseys while remaining committed to playing the game by 1864 rules. The original team was organized Aug. 14, 1855, and played home games on the Capitoline Grounds in Brooklyn.

Spectators quickly noticed the hand-made baseballs are larger and made of rubber, and the wooden bats come in different lengths according to a player’s preference. Under the vintage rules, the catcher and field players don’t wear mitts, but a batter will be called out if a fly ball is caught on the first bounce. Runners must be careful not to overrun first base, or they can be called out. Those interested can find a full explanation of the rules changes on the team’s website at www.brooklynatlantics.org/rules.php. 

The Atlantic team is 7-2 at the start of its 2018 season with games running through October. Admission is free. The schedule of upcoming home games is:

May 20 @ 11 a.m.      Versus Talbot Fairplays
June 9 @  11 a.m.      Double header versus Old Dutch Day, Providence Grays
June 30 @ 11 am.      Double header versus New Brunswick Liberty
July 14 @ 11 a.m.      Versus Red Onion BBC
Sept. 15 [day-long]    Smithtown Heritage Fair event
Oct. 27 @ 11 a.m.     Annual ABBC Scrimmage

For those interested in attending, all games are held at Smithtown Historical Society’s Atlantic Park on Franklin Arthur Farm at 239 East Main Street in Smithtown.

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Brooklyn Atlantics and Brooklyn Eckford teams on the grounds of the Smithtown Historical Society this past May. Photo from Tim Keenan

By Marianne Howard

Much intensity erupted when Major League Baseball announced the no-pitch intentional walk rule at the start of the 2017 season. Accordingly, I wondered about the changes of baseball rules and their origins in America. The Smithtown Historical Society is home to the Brooklyn Atlantics, a team of vintage baseball players, those recreate the look and feel of historic baseball. The Atlantics play the game today according to 1864 and 1884 rules.  The original Brooklyn Atlantics were the World Champions of baseball for the 1864-1865 season, and champions of their league throughout the 1860s.

So how do these gentlemen play the game?  I spoke with Atlantics Captain Frank Van Zant, known to his teammates as Shakespeare, about these rules and how they evolved over time.  In 1864, there were no gloves because the homemade baseball was much softer.  It was made of one piece of leather which was sewn together.  The pitcher stood 45 feet away from the batter, and threw the ball underhand, but with some purposeful zip and intention as to force the batter out.  Over the course of 20 years, throughout the 1860s and 1870s, pitchers began to cheat slightly and throw the ball sideways, and eventually quicker and quicker, and then completely overhand.  Since pitching this way is faster, it led to the appearance of the first catcher’s glove by the 1880s.

Think about trying to catch a line drive without wearing a glove as a fielder.  If you stuck your fingers out, you would most likely break one, so you had to make a decision to force your hand out flat to catch the ball and stick to that, an insistence from today’s Atlantics that those who play this way are truly brave and manly men.  In order to avoid injury, balls caught with one bounce in the field were also called as an out.  This rule waned after the 1860s, with the fielders considered less manly if they caught the baseball in that fashion. In the early 1860s, balls and strikes did not exist.  The calls weren’t “invented” until 1864, and at that point, umpires did not have to call them.

Pitchers could be throwing 40 to 50 pitches per batter  Today, a starting pitcher is generally removed after throwing 100 pitches. Therefore, generally speaking, changes in rules over time have been to try to find an acceptable balance between the efforts of the offense and that of the defense.

Want to come down and see the Atlantics in action?  Their next home game at the Smithtown Historical Society is on July 22 at 11am.  All  games are free, open to the public, and the players welcome questions from the audience about the rules and the game.

Marianne Howard is the executive director of the Smithtown Historical Society.  For more information on the Society, its events or programs, or becoming a member, please visit smithtownhistorical.org or call 631-265-6768.