By Claire Crean
The Essex Base Ball club is back! After being closed during the pandemic, the teams have returned to “Play Ball!” I learned a great deal about vintage “Base Ball” on a recent visit to at Historic New England’s Spencer-Peirce-Little Farm for the Father’s Day Mixed Nine Game (6/20/2021). There was much to see at this historic location, from the rescued farm animals, preserved buildings, and Base Ball teams that appeared to have traveled back in time.
Historic New England is a regional organization that oversees 38 historic properties in every state in New England, except for Vermont. I had the pleasure of visiting one of the delightful locations in Newbury, Massachusetts.
Right off scenic Route 1A, the way to the farm is a conspicuously slim, unpaved road opening up to a grassy farmland. I parked at a makeshift parking lot—the turnout for the games being surprisingly large—and people were bringing their chairs and blankets and picnic baskets to the field.
The farm is home to horses, goats, sheep, pigs, chicken and roosters, each contently roaming in their area. Like the historic buildings on the property, the farm animals are being “preserved” as they have been rescued from the MSPCA at Nevins Farm in Methuen and get to live out their natural lives on this historic farm. Volunteers help feed and care for the rescue animals so that the public can visit and admire them. It is hard not to stop and take photos of the friendly crew. I also met the biggest pig I have ever seen.
The field was unlike what I imagined. There are no stands, mounds, clay, or any generic details one would usually see at a typical ball field. The men simply showed up to play with their uniforms, bats, and competive spirit. The match was in full swing (no pun intended) when I found myself near the scoreboard. The team names read “Champs V.S. Nips.”
The men play with the same rules and methods as the teams did in 1861, wearing wool uniforms and using their bare hands — no gloves! A referee wearing a top hat makes the judgement calls of strikes and runs. Many vintage Base Ball teams participate in the league around the North shore area of Massachusetts.
The Essex Base Ball Organization is a non-profit “vintage” baseball group that plays baseball as it was played in the 19th century. There are four teams that make up the organization: the Essex Base Ball Club, Lynn Live Oaks, Lowell Base Ball Club, and Newburyport Clamdiggers. One of their goals is to teach the history of baseball through games and demonstrations. In addition to playing a full schedule of games every summer, they also run youth clinics to teach children the evolution of the game through hands-on activities. The players also give lectures on baseball history at historical societies, libraries, and other civic organizations. I was curious about their vintage uniforms, so I asked the player Mark Capone to take a photo with me.
I sat down with the new Director of the Spencer-Peirce-Little Farm, Madison Vlass, to talk about how they came to host the teams. She explained that the club was founded in 2002 by the Danver’s Historical Society. Vintage Base Ball is now played in numerous states across New England, and has recently expanded across the country. Brian Sheehy is the captain who began the league. “The Farm is proud to be a part of this notable activity and to welcome visitors to the property to learn and appreciate history. We’ve been hosting games for a long time and are happy it is finally back,’” said Madison. I could tell she enjoyed the story behind the teams, the passion from the players, and the excitement it brings to her location and the community.
The Essex Base Ball Club website provides the latest information on the upcoming games and gives you background on the teams. Vintage Base Ball games are held in July-October. This was a unique experience and the one of the most memorable games I have attended. If you are a baseball fan or simply interested in how the history of the game has developed, I highly encourage you to gather your family or friends and head to the Spencer-Peirce-Little Farm for this all-American activity!