PARKERSBURG, W.Va. — People going to Blennerhassett Island on Sunday had to deal with a lot of “Aces,” “Hands Downs,” “Muffs,” “Strikers” and more as the island hosted a vintage base ball game.
The Ohio Village Muffins, a vintage base ball club out of Columbus, appeared on the island Sunday to take on the Blennerhassett Island Belles, a team made up of local park staff and others from the West Virginia State Parks system, including the Chief of Parks as well as a number of park superindentents.
“We are bringing back the old-fashioned base ball game,” said Blennerhassett Island activities coordinator Pam Salisbury.
“We are playing 1860s gaming rules.”
The park hosted a similar event a couple of years ago with the Muffins and invited them to come back this year.
“We wanted to do something that is different and unique” Salisbury said. “We wanted to bring out some of the old-time fun.”
Blennerhassett Park Superintendent Doug Wiant said events like Sunday’s exhibition game bring a lot of people to the park.
“It is something fun and educational for the public,” he said. “A lot of folks came out today to watch and have fun.
“We may not win, but everyone will leave with a smile on their face.”
The event teaches about history, which is part of the park’s mission, Wiant said.
The Muffins travel around the state of Ohio and beyond, as part of Ohio History Connection, to present the history of base ball – historically two words – to those who are interested. Players played the game as it was played in the mid-19th Century, adopting the rules, uniforms and equipment of the period.
The players did not have gloves. The ball is pitched underhand. An out is made if a fielder catches the ball on the fly or on the first bounce. A base runner may not advance on any foul ball and must return to their original base. A number of “gentlemanly” customs are also observed, such as no foul language and no spitting. Spectators cheer for a good play by either side.
The Muffins had people walking through the crowds gathered to explain the rules, how the game is played and a lot of the history of the game.
On June 19, 1846, the New York Knickerbockers played what was considered the first base ball match between two clubs against the New York Club on the Elysian Fields in Hoboken, N.J., according to a history provided by the Muffins.
As the game caught on, more clubs were formed. The Civil War took the game across the nation as soldiers played it in camps, including prison camps. As the troops moved around the country and became increasingly popular. After the war, soldiers returning home continued playing the game in their hometowns.
“The emphasis in the the early days was on courtesy among the gentlemen (and occasionally ladies) who played the sport for exercise and recreation,” the Muffins’ history said. “Initially, only a few rules governed the match.
“The rest was left up to the sportsmanship of the players.”
Matches were governed by an umpire, someone of high standing in the community, who would be fair and impartial as well as a scorekeeper who kept detailed records of the match.
“Base ball was played in the fresh air and sunshine in a less competitive atmosphere where everyone cheered for good plays on both sides,” the Muffins’ history said. “The Ohio Village Muffins … recreate a simpler, gentler time when base ball was emerging as the national pastime.”
John and Melissa Schaefer, of Vinton County, Ohio were celebrating their 20th wedding anniversary and found out about the game being played on the island Sunday. It was their first time on the island.
“We love history and we thought we would come to Blennerhassett Island,” Melissa said. “It is awesome and fun.”
The game got them to come to the island, but after seeing what is there, they are planning to come back, John said.
“I am glad we came,” he said. “This was a little more than what I thought would be here.
“I imagine we will be back.”
Park officials said that so far this year there has been an increase in visitors over last year.
“May was very successful,” Wiant said. “I believe we had 5,700 guests to the island that month which is 13 percent up from last year.”
The park is working on having more activities on Saturdays to bring in more people.
“It has been a good year for us so far,” Wiant said.
In the coming weeks, the park will host a West Virginia Day Celebration on June 19 where cake and ice cream will be served at 1:30 p.m. in observance of West Virginia’s birthday. Rendezvous on the River will be held June 24-26 as muzzleloader and mountain men will be gathering on Blennerhassett Island for a rendezvous and includes authentic campsites, demonstrations of camplife and period dress.
“Tea on Tuesday” at Maple Shade will be held June 28. “Brunch with Margaret” Blennerhassett will be June 30. There are scheduled cruises, nature walks and more coming up. People can check out the park’s website at www.blennerhassettislandstatepark.com for full details on upcoming events or call the park at 304-420-4800.