In August of 2001, the Genesee Country Museum in Mumford, New York began its base ball program featuring what was billed as the first replica 1800s base ball park in the nation. (Silver Base Ball Park, named for Morrie Silver, the former executive for the Rochester Wings credited with saving the team from extinction back in the 1950s). Several men's teams and a couple of women's teams were assembled. I joined up with the Excelsiors. The rules were patterned after guidelines used during the game as it was played in the 1860s. The most obvious changes: batters couldn't stride into the ball, you were out if a liner or fly ball was caught on the fly or on a single bounce, sliding was prohibited and fielders didn't wear gloves. Pitchers lobbed the ball in underhanded. Forty-three years old at the time, I was still spry enough to compete- I'd say I was one of the fastest in the league, I got on base way more than making outs. I generally led off and played center field (nine played the field). Competitive as I am, it was a bit of a drawback not being able to slide. Really, the chance of injury actually increased with old guys having to slow down in a hurry trying to reach- then stay on- a bag. In the league's second year, the Excelsiors won the championship (see team photo with trophy below). I stayed for four years in total. The program is still going today in 2012, although I've heard the crowds and interest have dropped a bit over the recent years. It's supposed to be a program that interprets the game for the fans, where players are congratulating each other and faithfully copies the game as it was in the 1860s. They've got kids manning the scoreboard, women fans dressed in period dress, the umpire can be outfitted in a top hat and formal attire like it was back then. The striding rule was a real pain. The ump was supposed to call a do-over if he ruled the player strode into the ball but a lot of guys either cheated or didn't realize they were doing it. One of the worst episodes happened in the very first game, the first batter. The Excelsiors were in the field, I was in center field. We had the mayor of Rochester there (Bill Johnson), museum dignitaries, etc. And their first batter strode into the ball clear as day and belted the ball between me and the right fielder- who had some leg problem so I had to go chase it. It's much easier to power the ball and place the ball when you stride into it (I understand they've abolished the rule recently during Mueum games because it is hard to police). Well, with all the fans cheering, all the excitement, the ump wasn't going to call the batter back, and we got behind early and ended up losing. (The newspaper article below reviews the game). Tempers rose now and then. I know I started a minor-riot once when I knocked over a third baseman. The umpires weren't very skilled, but neither were a lot of the players. For me, it was hard trying to be competitive and complimentary at the same time. Oh, but all along we were supposed to have fun also. Some teams stocked up on young guys, disregarded rules and took advantage of the older players who were actually out there just to have a good time. When I left the program I wondered if people were actually glad to see me go. Staying up overnights and then being at the ballpark at 11am was a little draining, especially as a volunteer. I made as many practices as anybody and missed maybe one game at the Museum but didn't go on the base ball trips out of town because of my work/sleeping schedule. Thanks to DOUG BREI, who took the on-field photos that can be enlarged. Standing in front of the scoreboard at the Park. Back then, the home team batted first. They even made up baseball cards for us. The Museum's Gift Store tried to sell the things but for some reason I found plenty of doubles of the Flynn card, and bought a bunch to put on Ebay someday. Here's a good shot of the amount of fans that used to show up. I bet we got four hundred for our top attendance games. [ CLICK PHOTO TO ENLARGE ] The steely-eyed Flynn, a blow-up of the team photo below. We were supposed to look serious, some were told to look away- just like the period base ball photos looked like. When the photographer was positioning us for this photo, he says to me, "I want you in the front!" It's rough being photogenic. Me at first base. You couldn't steal and couldn't take off until the ball was struck. Check out the cool advertising on the fence- supposed to be done-up in period style, although an actual existing business. [ CLICK PHOTO TO ENLARGE ] I really didn't choke up too much, like I over-did it in some other photos. I just tried to slash it through the infielders. I only "homered" once, when a hit of mine skipped past an outfielder and I went all the way around. [ CLICK PHOTO TO ENLARGE ] Genesee Country Museum Champions, 2002. I thought I got along with everybody. We all had nicknames. Mine was "Irish", bottom right was "Billy Goat", upper right was Anthony the "Professor", top row second from right is Scott Pitoniak, D&C Writer, or "Scribe"... Top left, the famous Richard Dolan... Doc Brecker, second row, far left.. Max Robinson to his right... I'm the worst for remembering everybody here.. Dutch, 2nd row, far right [ CLICK PHOTO TO ENLARGE ] August 2001 Democrat & Chronicle article
by Scott Pitoniak