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Wahconah Park Update




See the Pittsfield Hillies Vintage Game Poster! (PDF) >

May 17, 2004
On Saturday, July 3, ESPN Classic, along with former major league pitcher and Ball Four author Jim Bouton, will bring sports fans a one-of-a-kind look into the history of one of the nation's most treasured and historic institutions: baseball. America's Pastime: Vintage Baseball, Live (7-11 p.m. ET, ESPN Classic) will transport fans from around the country to historic Wahconah Park (established in 1892) in Pittsfield, Mass. for a live telecast of a vintage baseball game between the Hartford Senators and the Pittsfield Hillies.

The game will feature the amateur clubs competing under the 1886 rules of the game and adhering to the uniform styles, equipment and conduct of 19th century baseball. Veteran announcer Ron Thulin will provide the play-by-play and wi ll be joined by former Red Sox pitcher Bill "Spaceman" Lee, who will provide color commentary. Randy and Jason Sklar, the twin-brother hosts of ESPN Classic's Cheap Seats will provide additional reporting. A fireworks show is scheduled as part of the telecast (in color), following the game.

Pittsfield, a small city in the Berkshire Mountains of western Massachusetts, recently made international news with the discovery of what is believed to be the earliest reference to the game of baseball being played in this country, dating to 1791. The town was also the site of the first collegiate baseball game, played in 1859, between Amherst and Williams College. With America's Pastime: Vintage Baseball, Live ESPN brings fans to the historic home of baseball, and allows them to see the game as it was played more than 100 years ago.

Baseball historian John Thorn and Baseball Hall Of Fame curator Ted Spence will join the telecast to discuss baseball's origins, and costumed actors will mingle among the expected capacity crowd of 4,000. Among the characters from the period portrayed will be vendors, shoe shiners, newsboys and megaphone announcers.


America's Pastime: Vintage Baseball, Live will be played by the rules of the day in 1886.

  • There are seven balls and three strikes. The batter is awarded a base after seven balls.
  • There is just one umpire, positioned 10-15 feet to the side of batter. The umpire is always addressed as "sir" by the players and may smoke a cigar throughout the game.
  • Home plate is 12"x12"x " wood base that rests loose on ground. Bases are loose at each location and filled with sand, sawdust or hay.
  • Batters request a "high" or "low" strike zone before their at-bat. "Low" zone is from the belt to the knee, the "high" zone is from the belt to shoulder. Pitcher must throw in area requested by batter to earn a strike.
  • There is only one base coach, and he must be either the team captain or assistant captain.
  • Foul balls are not counted as strikes.
  • A hit batsman results in a dead ball, with no base awarded. The pitch is ruled a ball.
  • There is no infield fly rule.
  • The players' gloves are not much larger than their hands.
  • Any foul tip caught by catcher is an out, regardless of the count or number of outs.
  • Foul balls into the stands must be put back into play. Baseballs are not replaced unless lost.
  • There are no balks. Fake throws and "quick" pitches are legal. The pitcher, for example, can fake two throws to first base then quickly deliver the pitch to the batter.
  • There is no pitcher's mound or rubber. There is a pitcher's box measuring four feet by six feet, outlined in chalk. The front of box is 50 feet from home plate. The pitcher must remain entirely in the box on each pitch.
  • The Gentleman's Ruling: In the event an umpire is not able to have a clear view of a play, he can request a "Gentleman's Ruling". Players involved in play tell what transpired and the call can be reversed. The umpire also has the option to ask for input from fans in the stands.


About Wahconah Park

The first baseball game on the site of present day Wahconah Park is said to have taken place in August 1892, when a semi-pro team in Pittsfield defeated a team from Albany in a rain-shortened game. The first professional team played there in 1913-14 which one?, and the field took on roughly its present-day shape sometime around 1919, when the land was deeded to the city. The park is unusual in that the batter faces west, meaning that late in the day they are looking directly into the setting sun. This worked when games were played in the early afternoon, but as games began to be played later, "sun delays" were common - until trees grew in that blocked the sun. The park is also known for its artificial owls that hang in the rafters, intended to keep birds from nesting in the rafters above fans.

Wahconah Park has seen a who's who list of great ball players compete within its confines. Among the hundreds:, Bobby Bonds, Bouton, Larry Bowa, A.J. Burnett, Bobby Doerr, Hugh Duffy, Carlton Fisk, Lou Gehrig, Ken Griffey Jr., Lee, Mike Lowell, Sparky Lyle, Greg Maddux, ESPN's Joe Morgan, Jamie Moyer, Thurman Munson, Satchell Paige, Raphael Palmiero, Herb Pennock, Jim Rice, Lee Riley (former NBA coach Pat Riley's father), Cal Ripken Sr., Curt Schilling, Mike Schmidt, John Smoltz, Casey Stengel, Jim Thorpe, Tim Wakefield, Earl Weaver, Ted Williams and Don Zimmer.

About The Hartford Senators

The original Hartford Senators played from 1902-1934. During the majority of that time, the team was a member of the minor league system's Eastern League, where they had a fierce rivalry with the Pittsfield Hillies from 1919-1930. In 1931, the Senators posted a season record of 97-40 which ranks among the best winning percentages by a professional baseball team. Gehrig's only season of minor league baseball was played with the Senators in 1924 when he hit 24 HRs in 59 games before being called up by Yankees. Jim Thorpe, Leo Durocher and Hank Greenberg also played for Senators.

The current present-day Senators formed in 2001 and are 25-3 since their inception and have won 16 in row, dating back to 2002.

About The Pittsfield Hillies

The Pittsfield Hillies originally roamed the field at Wahconah Park from 1919-1930, during which time they developed an intense rivalry (not unlike today's Yankees-Red Sox rivalry) with the Senators. The last game time the Hillies played the Senators was in 1930, when they defeated their rivals. The Hillies, like the Senators, featured a long list of baseball greats including eventual Hall Of Famers Herb Pennock and Hugh Duffy.

The current Pittsfield Hillies were assembled just this year under the direction of Bouton and his business partner Chip Elitzer (who are undertaking the restoration of Wahconah Park), and is comprised of former high school, college and professional baseball players from the Berkshires area.

About Vintage Baseball

Vintage Baseball is a growing sport that features amateur clubs adhering to the rules, uniform styles, equipment and etiquette of the baseball in the 19th Century. Since the inception of the Vintage Base Ball Association* (VBBA) in 1995, the sport has grown from its 12 charter clubs to nearly 150 clubs in 25 states. Games are most often played by the rules of baseball as they were in the 1860's, 1870's and 1880's and are a combination of living history, competitive play and theater. The majority of vintage baseball clubs have adopted the name and uniform style of an actual professional or amateur club that once existed in their locale, researching the local baseball history legacy when establishing the club.


* Base Ball (two words) was the original spelling.

For More Information on America's Pastime: Vintage Baseball, Live contact: Paul Melvin, ESPN Communications 212.448.4918 or paul.melvin@espn3.com


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