Be a Crank on Georges Island

If you’re a baseball purist fed up with millionaire ballplayers, steroid investigations, and sky-high ticket prices, what could be better than taking a trip back in time to the ‘60s?

No, not the 1960s. I’m talking about the 1860s.

If you want to see some seriously old-school baseball, head to Georges Island this Saturday (August 28) where the Essex Base Ball Club will play a doubleheader, including a game against Boston Harbor Islands park rangers. The vintage ball games will take place on the parade ground of historic Fort Warren, which is best known for incarcerating Confederate prisoners of war during the Civil War. Much like the Union soldiers stationed at Fort Warren, the ballplayers this weekend will be playing a little hardball using the rules of the Civil War era.

A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of checking out the Essex Base Ball Club for the first time, and it was a lot of fun to be among the cranks (the old-time term for “fans”) watching the action. Seeing the nattily attired players decked out in baggy flannels and pillbox caps definitely gives you a Field of Dreams moment (without the corn and the voices in your head).

What you won’t see the players wearing, however, are gloves. It’s cool seeing the different rules that were used back then. For instance, an out can be recorded if the ball is caught on the first bounce, not just on the fly.

It’s not in the same league as Fenway Park, but the Boston Harbor Islands actually have some hardball history associated with them. One year during the 1800s, the horse rendering factory on Spectacle Island used all the skins to make baseballs, and in the early 1900s Peddocks Island was home to an inn owned by John Irwin, a former professional baseball player in the 1880s and 1890s. Irwin helped organize “Ye Old-Timers’ Gambol,” an annual reunion of retired ballplayers from as far back as the 1860s that drew upwards of two thousand players and fans. The highlight of the day was a baseball game with the retired players in what was one of the earliest old-timers games in baseball history. (I’ve also read that the Boston Braves played games out on Peddocks, but I have never come across any records of those games in my research.)

Click here for more information about this weekend’s vintage baseball on Georges Island. While you’re there, check out the great new visitor center and Summer Shack restaurant.

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