FREEPORT – The field was freshly mowed but no one had collected the clumps of grass clippings. Mosquitoes swarmed as Mark Rohman paced off the diamond to help set the bases. Ballists loosened their arms while rooters spread blankets or placed chairs for good sight lines.
Troubadors strolled and youngsters darted. Vendors prepared to sell beer, kettle corn, ice cream and hot dogs. Umpire Jeff Peart, so dignified in a black frock coat, dazzling white shirt and gray, bushy beard, called the two teams together Sunday.
It was time to play old-time baseball, to relive the America of 150 years ago. The men who are the Essex Base Ball Club of Danvers, Mass., took the field, 100 yards or so from the simple white house on Pettengill Farm.
The players of the Dirigo Vintage Base Ball Club of Augusta — or ballists, as they were called in the 1860s — hefted long, narrow bats and waited their turn to strike. “I love baseball and I love history,” said Rohman, a Civil War re-enactor. He organized the Dirigo side five years ago after researching everything from the rules of the period, the uniforms and the terminology.
Scouts playing in the garden are outfielders, for instance. Three hands dead? The side is retired.
No one wore gloves; leather-bound balls were caught barehanded. Chris Sheehy of Methuen, Mass., spread his fingers in a fan to catch a wicked line drive off Rohman’s bat. Sheehy moved his hands back to his body to lessen the impact.
Unfortunately, the force of the hit ball knocked his hands back into his groin. “My hands are calloused,” said Sheehy, a 24-year-old school teacher, “so they didn’t really sting. I’ve been playing this old-time baseball for eight or nine years.”
At the end of the first inning, Essex led Dirigo, 5-1. Essex plays more games in a season and has been around for more seasons than Dirigo. The experience showed. Near the end of the game, Peart, who lives in Manchester, Mass., and has an Essex uniform in his kit, was simply announcing that Essex had a lot of runs.
Not that anyone needed to keep score. “The game was very gentlemanly then,” Peart said. “There was (an unofficial) code of honor. It got much rowdier in the ’70s. More drinking, perhaps.”
Remember, Peart was referring to the 1870s.
Sunday was simply fun. There is no electricity at Pettengill Farm, a saltwater farm on the Harraseeket estuary owned by the Freeport Historical Society. There was no amplified noise. Just cheers from the crowd of nearly 100, applause and laughter.
One of the Essex players looked around and wondered out loud if he was on a set from the old television show “Little House on the Prairie.”
The field was no longer a working pasture and it was level only in spots. No one turned an ankle, but that didn’t mean spouses or girlfriends in attendance weren’t holding their breath.
Right scout Caleb Reed of Nobleboro was visible from the waist up or from the chest up, depending on where he stood in the garden. If he dropped a sinking line drive, no one would have known but him.
Balls were frequently lost in the rough and play stopped while the teams searched.
“This is so nice and mellow,” said Eden Millecchia of Cape Elizabeth. “No steroids, no commercialism. This is baseball as romance for me. It’s just the guys playing for the pure love of the game.”
Nearby, her husband, Drew, made sure their 5-year-old twins, Leo and Sam, didn’t get into too much mischief. Someday they’ll take their sons to Hadlock Field to watch the Sea Dogs, but this was entertainment of a different sort.
A doubleheader was scheduled, but after the first game Rohman was losing players to other commitments. The second game was opened to cranks — along with bug, two other terms for fans. Several did step up, including Ray Rike, Michael Collins and Rene Lopez, three friends from the Bath-Brunswick area spanning two generations. Lifelong baseball fans, they quickly became kids again.
“This has been such a great opportunity to present our national pastime as history and as everyday life,” said Christina White, director of the Freeport Historical Society. She rarely stopped smiling.
Rohman didn’t know if he had gained converts Sunday to this exercise in understanding the past. He is looking for additional players. “A lot of guys play softball but the 90-foot basepaths and the no gloves can be intimidating,” he said.
That’s the point.
Staff Writer Steve Solloway can be contacted at 791-6412 or at: