Two local squads turn back clock to 1800s

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GREENFIELD — An open expanse of green grass at Riley Park became Greenfield’s Field of Dreams Saturday as baseball players from a bygone era emerged from the afternoon mist for nine innings of “the gentleman’s game.”

The Indianapolis Hoosiers, a reincarnation of the squad originally formed in 1884 to play in the old American Association and then reorganized in 1887 for a two-year stint in the National League, hosted the diamond men from Freetown Village, the capital city’s living history organization celebrating African-American culture. The game was part of the weekend’s Riley Festival.

And it didn’t take long to set up. Victorian-era baseball — or base ball, as it was known then — was a decidedly Spartan affair: four bases, a couple of hand-wound baseballs and a bag of skinny hickory and maple bats is all that’s needed to transform an empty field into a ball park.

After Hoosier Jim “Mountain” Walker explained the “home field” rules of play — not always necessary since almost any obstacle and hazard was playable in those days — the game was on in its simplest form.

One ball, no gloves, underhanded pitching, no umpires, no infield fly rule, and if a deep drive is caught on one bounce, the batter is out. That rule closes off a vintage field considerably.

“Of course, power is never a bad thing,” said Daniel “The Codger” Hook, one of the original Hoosiers from 2005. “But this game is much less about power as it is about placement.”

Hook and the others say they are drawn to the vintage version of the game because of its purity and civility.

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