For years the Town of Wytheville was known for its farm league baseball teams which included affiliates for several major league programs. From 1948 to 1989 Wytheville baseball teams competed under the banner of Statesmen, Pioneers, Cardinals, Senators, Twins, Braves, Cubs and a host of other mascots in the center of the town’s Withers Field.
Since 1990, however, baseball has been all but dead in Wytheville, following the move by the Cubs to Huntington, West Virginia.
Town museum officials, however, have a plan to celebrate the community’s rich baseball history in a fun and exciting new way. Museum officials hope to launch a local baseball league this coming spring that will play by the original 1869 rules of the game.
Michael Gillman of Wytheville Museums says he came across the idea while working at the museum. “I’m a student of history and study it in my personal time. I began researching vintage baseball and that’s when I discovered that there are towns trying to bring back the sport.”
Gillman says that he and museum officials have been working on bringing vintage baseball to Wytheville for a year now.
“1869 baseball is a lot different from the sport we know today, but it’s also very similar,” said Gillman, who went on to list the differences between the two games.
Players of vintage baseball wear no gloves and if the ball is caught on the first bounce after the batter has hit it then the batter is out.
Additionally, there are no over handed pitches in vintage baseball.
“It’s not really a softball pitch, but more like a floating underhand pitch,” said Gillman. “Basically, you find an open field and start playing baseball.”
Newcomers to the sport will realize that it isn’t just the rules that are different about baseball from 149 years ago. The language is different, too. Batters are called “strikers” and the Wytheville museum official added, “It’s a gentleman’s sport.”
Umpires wear a three-piece suit and top hat. There is no arguing with umpires and other teams are quick to compliment each other. When a striker points to a specific spot where he wants the pitch, the pitcher is obligated under a gentleman’s agreement to attempt to put the ball there.
“The rules make it more of a fair and even game for everyone.”
The ball is roughly midway between the size of a modern baseball and a modern softball.
An informational meeting has been scheduled for Thursday, February 22 at 5:30 p.m. at the Heritage Preservation Center, located 115 West Spiller Street in Wytheville. Individuals interested in learning about the upcoming season, which is slated to run from the spring and into the summer are encouraged to attend this informational meeting.
Persons who cannot attend this meeting may contact Gillman by calling 276-223-3331 or by emailing him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Currently, the nearest vintage baseball team is in the Knoxville, Tennessee, area, but other Virginia localities are in the process of attempting to launch similar leagues prior to modern baseball’s 150th anniversary next year.
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