Baseball is the original, the all-American sport, America's national pastime, as it has been called. But really it's so much more than a mere sport.
sport, part dance, and with a little physics thrown in, baseball is
for players who are both athlete and artist. And on the baseball
diamond, inside that fence, you find a microcosm where the human
drama is played out on a small scale. You find man against man, man
against the elements, man struggling with himself – players
outmaneuvering others bent on impeding their progress, fighting
gravity and inertia and mud and dust, overcoming their own fears and
deficiencies, displaying both boldness and costly caution, using the
tools and playing within the rules and boundaries that make the whole
thing possible. It is life distilled to an exciting essence.
that microcosm you'll also find the essential human quest on display:
the struggle to get back home (or to home plate). Just like Odysseus
or like Frodo and Sam, players leave home with a bang and then strive
to return – in the face of all those enemies and conditions and
twists of fate that conspire to keep them away from home, yet aided
along the way by the help of those on their side. Basically, it's the
sport that shows us life.
baseball today isn't what base ball once was. Today, we have
multi-million-dollar professional athlete-specialists and strident,
overzealous Little League parents pushing their kids to do what they
couldn't. Once, though, the game was played for the sheer love it.
that's why we have things like Monmouth
Furnace Vintage Base Ball.
Vintage Base Ball Re-Enactments?
Why? Well, mostly for a love of the sport in its purer, closer-to-original form. And also because it's loads of fun. But a lot of the men (and
women, of course) who get involved in these re-enactments are also
keen history buffs who simply want to bring a little of our past into
the present and be involved in it, much like Civil War re-enactors.
sport – which typically reenacts game play from a range of years
between 1858 and 1886 – has existed for roughly 30 years and has
become something approaching an obsession for many of the players on
the approximately 400 teams around the country. It harkens back to
the beginnings of the game as we know it, appealing to those who want
to learn the history of baseball and crave a simpler time when
players weren’t millionaires (they often weren’t paid at all),
owners weren’t billionaires, and stadiums didn’t have massive
high-definition screens, thumping music, and t-shirt cannons"
"Lefty" Coray, who plays for the Vintage Base Ball Club
of Dirigo, Maine, explains it: "Vintage
base ball . . . represents the origins of the sport I love and still
play competitively today. As a lifelong player and avid baseball fan,
discovering vintage base ball offered me the opportunity not only to
research the origins of the sport but also play the game and actually
immerse myself into the experience."
Base Ball Rules
Monmouth Furnace Vintage Base Ball team uses, as do many others,
the "1864 base ball rules." First of all, as you can see,
back then in the nineteenth century it was called base ball,
not baseball. And, according to Russ McIver, the
driving force behind Monmouth Furnace, there are several other
significant differences between base ball then and baseball now, for
Batters are called "strikers."
The pitcher's mound is 45' from home plate (rather than 60'), and pitching is underhanded.
The game is played and balls caught without the assistance of gloves.
Outs can be made on fly balls after one bounce.
rules of the game, though, at this time in the nineteenth century,
were still evolving. In 1883, for example, overhand pitching was
incorporated, and in 1893 the pitcher's mound was moved out to 60'.
It's just that Monmouth and many other teams have adopted the 1864
rules as best representing baseball of that period. In addition, many
of the vintage base ball teams are named after and based on real club
teams from the mid to late nineteenth century.
Furnace Vintage Base Ball
So where did this Monmouth Furnace Vintage Base Ball outfit get its name? That is an intriguing story.
The Monmouth Furnace was an active bog iron (iron smelting) facility in Monmouth County New Jersey in the early nineteenth century. Fifty years after the fires were finally put out and the doors closed, this facility's grounds, Allaire Village, became a place a major league baseball team used for spring training. The Brooklyn Dodgers used it for training (one spring) around the turn of the twentieth century, back when they were often referred to by their unofficial name of the Brooklyn Bridegrooms.
the property was an Indian ceremonial area until 1750 when a sawmill
was established. A village grew up in the immediate area when the bog
iron furnace got going, which was originally known as the
Williamsburg Forge, later becoming Monmouth Furnace, and finally
renamed the Howell Works when it was taken over by Benjamin B.
Howell. The foundry, a wood-burning furnace, closed for good in 1846.
Eventually, in about 1922, it was purchased by philanthropist James P.
Allaire who wanted to establish a self-contained community, hence
Allaire Village, which is now owned by the state of New Jersey.
the historical ties with both base ball and baseball remain strong.
"Vintage squads from other states consider the Historic Allaire
hallowed ground. It was the spring training site for the 1898
Brooklyn major leagues team which later became the Dodgers. The
village, in Wall Township's State Park, was an iron-making 'company
town,' in the 1800s. Today it is a living history museum with guides
in period clothing who take visitors through restored buildings"
was only natural, then, that a vintage base ball club from the area
would assume the name of Monmouth Furnace.
McIver's Role – The Man Behind Monmouth Furnace
And who is this Russ McIver character we keep mentioning?
is the Club Captain of (and driving force behind) the Monmouth
Furnace Vintage Base Ball Club. He is also the successful
owner/operator of Connections Unlimited, a computer networking
company. And he is a keen (and contagiously enthusiastic) local
historian who conducts historical "interpretations," a sort
of living history performance to help the audience get a genuine feel
for the subject and the period. And this is what Monmouth Furnace
Base Ball grew out of.
gave an interpretation concerning Monmouth Furnace, Allaire Village,
and the connection to the Dodgers/Bridegrooms. Owing to this, as well as
connections to the American Society for Baseball Research and the Mid
Atlantic Vintage Base Ball League, he was asked to stage a vintage
base ball game there. So Russ put together a team of interested and
like-minded people and put on the game. Then they were asked to play
in other places. And so the Monmouth
Furnace Vintage Base Ball Club was born, and the team began
playing all over . . . to the delight of baseball fans and history
thanks in large part to Russ, Monmouth Furnace is part of the Mid
Atlantic Vintage Base Ball League, which boasts 30 teams and
stretches from Maine to Virginia. The Monmouth Furnace team has traveled to and played games in many other states besides New Jersey, including New York,
Pennsylvania, and Delaware, and once played a team from Colorado at an event in Philadelphia.
a long time this area didn't have any true vintage base ball teams.
But now, owing to a certain base ball fan and historian named Russ
McIver, there's Monmouth Furnace.
Base Ball Uniforms and Caps
what's a vintage base ball team without period uniforms and caps?
Without those, a lot of the historical magic and just sheer fun would
Russ and Monmouth Furnace first got going, they were looking for a
kind of uniform that would reflect or parallel the clothing worn by
iron-foundry workers back in the day. So they settled on white shirts
with cravats and grayish-tannish Dickies for the trousers. But they
still needed caps.
wanted a style of cap that would be true to the fashion of the era.
So Russ asked around and finally found Wholesale
For Everyone, a New Jersey-based company. The Monmouth Furnace
team has now made two large orders and a smaller one with Wholesale
For Everyone. Dan Weaver and Wholesale for Everyone are, according to
Russ, "very responsive and cooperative – very helpful."
fact, other teams are constantly asking them where they get their
caps because they like them so much. In addition, Russ said, they
love the way the caps hold up – they can keep wearing them till
they get that weathered look, but still keep their shape. The team
also has to be very budget-conscious, so they like the fact that with
Wholesale for Everyone they get so much quality for the price when
they purchase their vintage
base ball caps.
You're Interested . . .
if you're interested – a baseball or base ball fan, a history buff,
or just interested in some simple weekend fun – why not get
vintage base ball players occasionally receive honoraria for playing
events, and so do speakers and interpreters like Russ on occasion.
But the players have to pay dues, and there are travel and equipment
expenses. So donations
are always welcome.
important, though, vintage base ball teams are always looking for
players. Men and women are welcome, and Monmouth Furnace itself has
players ranging in age from 16 to 70. If you'd like to find a vintage
base ball team in your area, you can contact Russ McIver (who even
has contacts in the Midwest) by phone at 732-859-7643 or by email at