'Wheels,' 'Shoeless' and 'Honest' put on good show at vintage 'Base Ball' game

Special to the Union Leader
June 12. 2017 9:13PM
A crew of Franconia kids takes in the vintage base ball action. From left are Owen McPhaul, Jackson Clough, Coen Mullins, and Dan Burnell. (Meghan McCarthy McPhaul)

FRANCONIA -- The New Hampshire Granite and Maine Dirigo vintage baseball clubs played to a 6-4 score Sunday afternoon at Dow Field. About 100 fans came out to see the Granite take the victory in the game played by 1860s rules.

“This was really the first professional sport in America,” Granite captain Brian Donohue, of Chelmsford, Mass., said of baseball, or base ball as it was spelled during the 1860s. “This era is really the birth of the game.”

Both teams are part of the Vintage Base Ball Association, which boasts clubs throughout the country that play games following the rules and customs of two distinct eras in baseball history, the 1860s and the 1880s. Players wear period reproduction uniforms and use authentic equipment from the era.

The game was part of the annual Celebration of Lupine, which runs through the month of June in the Sugar Hill and Franconia area. 

The Granite is based on a team that played in the millyards of Nashua in the 1800s and includes players from New Hampshire and Massachusetts. The Dirigo club takes its name from a 19th-century club out of Augusta.

While the Granite most often plays by 1880s rules, where the pitching is overhand and the fielders wear gloves, Sunday they played by the 1860s rules more familiar to the Dirigo club. 

Jim Champey, center, prepares to flip a coin from the 1860s before Sunday’s game in Franconia as Dirigo club captain Jake “Shoeless” Newcomb, left, and Granite captain Brian “Flask” Donohue look on. (Meghan McCarthy McPhaul)

That meant fielders did not have gloves, pitching was underhand, and a hit ball caught on one bounce was considered an out, or a “hand” in 1860s terminology. There was no umpire at Sunday’s game, and calls were made by the players on the field. 

That is simply part of the camaraderie and gentlemanliness of the vintage game, Donohue said. 

“They were more proper,” he said. “We also try to use the 1800s language on the field. So we’ll say, ‘Well struck,’ instead of, ‘nice hit.’”

That language is often colorfully descriptive. A “muff” is an error, and “muffins” are the least-skilled players. A hard-driven ball may be referred to as a “stinger,” “whizzer,” “corker,” or “hot shot.” A “daisy cutter” is a hard ground ball. “Nice apple, hurler,” translates to “Good throw, pitcher.”

There were plenty of stingers and a few daisy cutters Sunday afternoon, but not many muffs. Players demonstrated impressive agility in fielding hard-hit balls, and spectators let out a few collective gasps as players made acrobatic bare-handed catches. 

Earning the most cheers of the day was Granite left fielder Nick “Wheels” Pascucci, who covered considerable ground in the outfield and rarely missed a play. Indicative of another entertaining trait of the vintage game is the nicknames most players acquire organically along the way; Wheels, Shaggy, Flask, Honest and Shoeless were among Sunday’s players.

One player without a nickname was Tom Eyman of Franconia, who was called to the field just before the game started to suit up for Dirigo, which was short a couple of players.

Eyman, who said he hadn’t played baseball in quite a while, and certainly never by 1860s rules, proved an able sub with several good hits. 

After a hard-fought game in 90-degree heat, the team captains thanked each other and teams gave the traditional “hip hip hurrah!” cheer. 

They also thanked the “cranks.” That’s “fans” in modern parlance, and the Granite and Dirigo earned a few new ones in the North Country Sunday afternoon.


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