Thursday, April 14, 2016

Bring sneakers but no gloves to Sunday's baseball fun on Fort Pulaski parade ground

(NPS photos)

The old ball game won’t cost you a dime Sunday at Fort Pulaski National Monument outside Savannah, Ga.

The Civil War site is marking the National Park Service’s centennial through a celebration of 19th-century baseball. Participants, with a focus on youth, will learn how to hurl (pitch) and strike (bat) on the old parade ground that saw baseball games way back in 1862.

“They’ll be learning the rules and taking a crack at it,” said interpretive ranger Andrew Miller. Games are planned at the end of two sessions (11 a.m.-1 p.m. and 2 p.m.-4 p.m.).

A bonus is that admission to Pulaski, as it is at all NPS units, is free during National Park Week, April 16-24.

Visitors will get a history lesson on baseball at Fort Pulaski. In 1862, months after the fort fell to Union forces, Henry P. Moore took one of the earliest surviving photos of a baseball game.

In the photograph, members of Company G, 48th New York Volunteer Infantry Regiment proudly stand at attention on the Fort Pulaski parade ground.

Behind them, other soldiers play a game that transcends geography and stations in life.

Miller is quick to point out that Sunday’s action will be less competitive. The main idea is to promote health and fitness, particularly among youngsters. He expects a good crowd.

Of course, many visitors to Fort Pulaski won’t be taking part in the baseball fun. “We’ll be trying to keep as many foul balls as possible corralled," said Miller.

And because the parade ground isn’t quite level and has some dips, “We want to emphasize safety. Do not try to run as fast as you can.”

Union soldiers, many from Brooklyn, followed the New York, or Knickerbocker rules. They are the basis for the modern game, and featured bases, the foul line and diamond shape of the infield.

There are no gloves or called balls. Hurlers throw the ball underhanded. A striker (batter) is called out if the ball is caught in the air or on one bounce.

The baseballs and bats to be used Sunday are reproductions of 19th century equipment. 

The Fort Pulaski staff a few years ago played in a “Rumble on the River” annual series against Old Fort Jackson, a Confederate defensive fortification operated by the Coastal Heritage Society.

Baseball got its start in the Northeast, with several variations and sets of rules adopted before and during the Civil War. Southern troops had little familiarity with the sport and there is no evidence it was played at Fort Jackson.

Mustered in Brooklyn, the 48th New York served more than a year at Pulaski before being sent to Hilton Head, S.C., and on to the bloody fighting at Battery Wagner near Charleston, where it suffered heavy casualties. While at Pulaski, they were protected by Union gunboats and other troops, allowing them to enjoy some entertainment.

Brigade commander Col. William Barton is remembered for the Barton Dramatic Association, a theater group that entertained the troops.

Among the patrons who saw productions outside the walls were Union officers and enlisted men stationed at Hilton Head and Port Royal, S.C.

Soldiers at the garrison in Fort Pulaski traveled to those locations to play baseball. Miller said his research showed the men were competitive and likely played against fellow New Yorkers.

While baseball hadn’t yet caught on in the South, Confederate prisoners (including Georgians captured at Fort Pulaski) that were held at Castle Williams on New York’s Governors Island were known to occasionally play baseball.

Miller said he will probably umpire Sunday’s games. “I am going to be very lenient.”

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