Ballists, The New York Mutuals, Play a Fizzing Game at Bartow-Pell Mansion

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What perfect way to spent a weekend afternoon than by watching a good old game of baseball…1864 style.

On a mild and breezy sunny day, Tom “Big Bat” Fesolowich announced that catching a ball on a bounce was considered an out. Tiger (real name Ryan Peckina) caught that ball in a swift, almost graceful manner before teasing the other team that they were “dead” (meaning an ‘out’ according to 19th century terminology). The New York Mutuals verses Manetto Hill Surprise game was on its fifth inning, showcasing how baseball was played in its infancy along with plenty of 19th century trash talking.

Formed in 1999 as part of Mutual Base Ball Club of New York, The New York Mutuals are a vintage baseball league that play by 1864 rules, which mean no gloves or helmets. Players on both teams wear short brimmed caps, knickers, and long-sleeved shirts with the team emblem stitched on the front. The original uniforms were made out of wool but current ones are a wool and polyester blend for better performance, as explained by David “Danny Davey” Philips. The purpose of the game is similar to Civil War reenactments and this is exactly what is done when you realize that the ballists are sticklers for details. Not only are their uniforms based off of the original designs, but the players emulate the characteristics of individual players from 1864. They are well versed in 19th century terminology, like the striker (batter) chafing (complaining about an umpire’s decision) that there were no foul ticks (foul ball). Many players called each other muffins, not in saying that they are a sweet, spongy treat but a common term used to say that they are unskilled in the game.

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The original New York Mutuals were part of the New York City Fire Department and formed in 1857. They played many of their games at the Hoboken Grounds and traveled to Cincinnati, Chicago, and Brooklyn before disbanding in 1876. The original Manetto Hill Surprise played their games at what was known as Keil’s Grove, which is currently the corner of Round Swamp Road and Old County Road in Old Bethpage Village, New York. Currently, this is where both the Mutuals and Manetto Hill Surprise play during the warmer months, though they are scheduled to play in New York City and New Jersey.

Playing a baseball game by 1864 rules is unique in that foul balls are not considered strikes and there was no infield rule (only instated in 1895). Indeed, some of the rules are agreed upon by both teams before a game and depends on where they are playing. At the field at Bartow-Pell Mansion, a ball was out if it went into the woods. Another unique aspect of the day’s game was that the Manetto Hill Surprise had a female ballist on the team. As pointed out by “Big Bat”, Jenna “T-bone” Capriola probably would not have been allowed to play the game since this was not part of the domestic sphere in which women were regulated to at the time.

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The New York Mutuals ended up winning the game but in 19th century tradition captain’s on both teams praised the performance of the other team. After all, this game is considered a gentleman’s sport and each team is expected to be gracious. After the game children were invited to participate in a game of rounders with all the players.

It is fair to say that no one takes the game too seriously, at least in the sense that modern baseball is more concerned with being profitable and less with the actual game. While lighthearted and gallant, the seriousness of the game is shown in the details from uniforms, characters, rules, tools, terminology, and even the setting. All of this comes to together in a mutual mission that both Bartow-Pell Mansion and The New York Mutuals share, to bring the past back to life in the present so that it may always be preserved for the future.

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Want to see The New York Mutuals in action? Check out their schedule on their website.  Summer activities wouldn’t be complete without a visit to Bartow-Pell Mansion. Every Friday from April to December, visitors can take the Bronx Seaside Trolley to Bartow-Pell Mansion for an evening of live music,  tours,  and to enjoy a stroll in the garden.

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