Local rooters are sure to unite when the Bethlehem nine cross bats with the visiting New York Mutuals in a base ball match at the Bethlehem Elm Ave. Town Park in Delmar on Saturday, July 4.
Steve “The Prez” Peterson, manager of the Bethlehem Braves, shared his expectations for a tough match with this reporter the other day. Peterson said the Mutuals is a tough and competitive lot with a winning reputation.
“They’re dedicated guys,” said Peterson. “They enjoy playing us. They enjoy beating us. I hope we can put together a good team this year, and give them a little better run.”
The Braves is a young and speedy aggregation out of Bethlehem that doesn’t often see many opportunities to match wits with such formidable opponents. These young cubs may be wet behind the ears compared to the boys from the Big City, but they won’t for a second hesitate to go hammer and tongs when the occasion calls for it.
“Bethlehem always has a strong team, and though they have not beaten us yet, it is just a matter of time,” said Tom “Big Bat” Feslowich, the Mutual’s team president. “ They have the support of the home rooters, and that is always an advantage. We always expect a well-played match with enthusiasm and muckle. If they use the willow and hit daisy cutters, they should fair well.”
On the slab for the home team will be Josh “Sweet Pete” Peterson with Tony “Meatball” Sanchez behind the dish. Sweet Pete has shown some prowess with whitewashing his opponents (in games allowing him to throw overhand). “Dollar” Bill Bogatz will be pitching for the visiting nine, while Pockets will be his battery mate. News has it that Dollar is a gentleman and a bachelor, so if any ladies are present and unattached, they should come dressed in their finest dresses.
On the offensive, the Mutuals boast a skillful lot. Thom “Dirt” Fioriglio is said to be very skilled at the fair-foul. That is when you chop down on the ball so it hits in fair territory (and therefore a fair ball) and then heads towards the benches in foul territory and is in play. He can place the ball anywhere he wants, while Derek “Legs” Fesolowich is fast and not an easy out.
A different era
Baseball was very much a different game a century ago, complete with different rules and language more suitable for a Jane Austen book than the Sporting News. Fights with umpires, games disrupted by fans with money on the line, was not uncommon. Nevertheless, it was dubbed a gentlemen’s game, and later the National Pastime. Soon after the Civil War ended in 1865, the popularity of the game blossomed across the nation. Johnny Evers, baseball Hall of Famer, once described how every vacant lot in his South Troy had a baseball game played upon it.
“Playing in front of a crowd is the most fun thing we do,” said Feslowich. His Mutuals was founded in 1999, a homage to the original team that played the game from 1857 to 1876. His team made of individuals that are part athlete and part thespian, travel the region playing vintage baseball. It’s the game many of us played in Little League and later, but they hold true to the archaic rules that have been amended over the past century. “It is one of the main reasons we do this. Part of our mission is to educate and entertain and show people the history of the game of baseball and how it was played in the 19th century. It is very satisfying to see the smiles on people’s faces or to answer questions or to pose for pictures. Especially when kids are involved.”
For more than five years now, the Mutuals have made an annual trip to the Capital District to play off against a team in the Town of Bethlehem. Steve Peterson, president of the Bethlehem Mickey Mantle association that fields youth amateur baseball teams, established that team in 2008. The pairing between the two teams was out of happenstance.
Peterson said the town was organizing a celebration to recognize the 400th anniversary of Henry Hudson’s landing on the shores of the river that would eventually bare his name. “I attended the meeting because I’m very interested in American history. I just started the club, and I’m thinking, ‘What can I do to help? Is there something that I can do?’”
Peterson recalls people sharing ideas of showcasing wooden shoes and Dutch pottery, to pay tribute to the region’s Patroon heritage. A baseball fan, Peterson voiced his idea for a vintage baseball game.
“So, I sat in on the meeting, and not to name names,” said Peterson, “but … the quote was, ‘What does baseball have to do with America?’”
Peterson recalls responding with a chuckle before admitting that baseball may not have had much of a cultural impact in the area 400 years ago, but did so 150 years ago. To further support his idea, Peterson said he researched the idea of an old-time baseball game over the Internet, and reached out to a handful of teams across the region, comprised of individuals dedicated to playing baseball based on vintage period rules.
“The Mutuals answered my e-mail, and they latched right on to it.” What has since transpired is an annual event that welcomes a traveling vintage baseball team out of Long Island to play ball in Delmar each holiday weekend. Members of each team have an apparent respect for one another. This spring, the Albany Institute of History and Art debuted “Play Ball!” a baseball exhibit showcasing the history of the game in the Capital District. The Mutuals traveled from Long Island to participate with Peterson and his players to dress up and play a few exercises on the institute’s front lawn.
Each year, the event plays out as if the relics from the Baseball Hall of Fame escaped from Cooperstown and had come to life like dream match-up only W.P. Kinsella could conjure. Players play period authentic uniforms, long-sleeved and wool. Pitchers throw underhanded, and nearly 20 feet closer to the batter than from where they throw today (60 feet, six inches). And, perhaps the most noticeable difference among them all, none of the players on the field wear gloves.
The players who dress the part can’t help but feel as if they are putting on a production suitable for Proctors.
“There is a sense of showmanship,” said Feslowich, who goes by the nickname “Big Bat.” Some participants take to wearing fake facial hair, reminiscent of the lamb chops that were popular during the Victorian Age. For others, the handlebar mustaches that would make Rollie Fingers proud, are very much real. All play to the crowd to make it an interactive experience. “Part of it is having the skills to play the game the right way, but also, the humor and joy that we show while playing. The more we can get the crowd involved, the better. If we can pull off a trick play, like the hidden ball trick or a well-executed fair-foul, the better.”
Peterson has been known to use public figures throughout the Capital District to field his nine each year, some from the local media, others from politics. His made it a point to make it an event for everyone to enjoy.
“It’s a great town event,” said Peterson. “People like to come out and see that.”
Michael Hallisey is Managing Editor of Spotlight Newspapers.