HOBOKEN — If you walked by Dobbelaar Field on Saturday, you might have initially thought a regular baseball game was underway, except for the underhand pitching and conspicuous lack of gloves.
Look more closely, and you’d notice the lightweight bats, spongy baseballs and players’ full-length pants, like how the sport was first played in 1856.
“It’s interesting to participate in the way things were before, so you respect the way things are now,” said Raphael Badagliacca, a player for Hoboken’s team, as he sat in the dugout during the game.
The annual vintage match-up, which pitted the Hoboken Base Ball Club against the Maryland-based Chesapeake 9, marked the 171st anniversary of the first known baseball game, played on Hoboken’s Elysian Fields.
Although Hoboken residents like to call their city “the birthplace of baseball,” the claim is slightly disingenuous because the game has changed so much over time, said Robert Foster, the director of Hoboken Historical Museum, which sponsors the team.
Still, he said the games that brought The New York Knickerbocker Ball Club to Hoboken in the middle of the 19th century predated the games in Cooperstown, N.Y., commonly thought to be the site of the sport’s origin.
As Hoboken player Matt Petersen, 33, waited for his turn to bat Saturday, he said the annual game is one of several he plays each year through the vintage baseball league. He showed up to Governor’s Island for his first game four years ago with all of his modern baseball gear, thinking it was a regular game, and quickly found out he was in for something different.
Petersen said he now relishes the chance to play at historic sites, like Gettysburg, Va., and Philadelphia’s Navy Yard.
“You kind of get into character, and people there are in character, so it’s like going back in time,” he said.
In this league, the rules are a throwback to the sport’s beginning. Balls can bounce once before they’re caught for an out. There are no called balls or strikes. Runners can’t advance on a foul. And the first team to get 21 runs, wins.
Badagliacca, of Glen Ridge, said he went to his first vintage baseball game about five years ago, just to watch. He ended up playing because the other team was short a member, had fun and soon after, joined the Hoboken squad.
A fan of baseball in all its forms, Badagliacca said he has come to love the camaraderie of the team and learning about baseball’s history.
“A lot of times, you assume that institutions have always been the way they are, and it’s just not true,” he said.
The first baseball game on June 19, 1846, saw the New York Knickerbockers lose to the New York 9 in a 23-1 landslide. On Saturday, Hoboken won, 13-10, in an hour-and-a-half long game.
The team will be back next year to mark the 172nd anniversary of baseball the way they do each year, with an umpire in a top hat and a chant of “Hip, hip, huzzah!” to thank the other team at the end.
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