Article by: Jim Spavins
Published: July 25, 2015
This article was originally published on the website Railroad Traveler.
"Two hands! Two hands!" exclaimed the New York Mutuals' pitcher to his team before turning his attention to the batter at home plate. In a tight game in the sixth inning with a runner on second, the New York Mutuals were holding on to a thin lead over the Brandywine Baseball Club of West Chester. The tying run for Bradywine was dancing on and off second as the pitcher lobbed the ball toward home. With a thud, the batter snapped a bouncing grounder to shortstop who charged and hustled a throw to first. With all out effort the batter slid into first just after the ball settled into the first baseman's outstretched hands. "Three hands!" proclaimed the umpire. Just another afternoon of vintage baseball in the fields of Paradise, PA.
A Strasburg Railroad excursion chugs west past Verdent View Farms during a vintage baseball exhibition between the Eclipse BBC of Elkton and Mutuals BBC of New York. | Photo by Jim Spavins.
For the last few years, the Strasburg Railroad, with help from vintage baseball clubs around Pennsylvania and New York, have staged a round robin tournament of games at Verdent View Farms - just to the east of the Strasburg Station.
Patrons board the train and take a ride to Paradise, PA, where they disembark for an afternoon of games in the fields. A stroll up the hill brings the spectators back in time with an old time baseball field - complete with haybale backstops, twine bases, and wooden benches. Even an old time concession stand serving standard ball game fare - like popcorn and hot dogs completes the scene. The teams play following baseball rules from the 1860s which is fairly similar to the way baseball is played today with some minor variations in rules, terminology, and equipment.
The Mutuals Baseball Club of New York take on the Bradywine BBC at Verdant View Farms. | Photo by Jim Spavins.
The marriage of baseball and the railroads is a natural for this scenic railroad. Back around the turn of the century, the Pennsylvania Railroad had its own industrial league - which included teams from various departments of the railroad. These teams were used to boost morale and many of the players on the teams were hired on to the railroad based on their skill as a ballplayer as opposed to their ability to spike a rail or repair a box car.
Games were prominent around the railroad's shops in Altoona, PA. In fact, a stadium, Cricket Field, was constructed in the city just to hold games. As the name implies, its original use was for cricket matches but as baseball gained popularity in the late 1800s, the stadiums use was altered. By the 1920s, the stadium had expanded to hold 25,000 fans.
The location of the city in central Pennsylvania and its location on the major travel route between east coast and the midwest cities meant many professional teams and ballplayers would stop over and play games in the city. For a period of time, the ballpark served as an alternative home for the famed Homestead Grays of the Negro League - during a time when the roster included legendary players such as the power hitter Josh Gibson and leftie Willie Foster. Even Babe Ruth played an exhibition in the city, cracking a home run during a game played in October 1924.
The spirit of this old time baseball tradition is kept alive twice a year by the Strasburg Railroad and the various historical baseball clubs competing in the Pennsylvania and New York region. So make sure to grab some Cracker Jacks and root, root, root, for the railroad's team at the ol' ballgame...
A pitcher for the Keystone Baseball Club of Harrisburg deals against the Eclipse BBC of Elkton as a Strasburg Railroad excursion chugs east past Verdent View Farms. | Photo by Jim Spavins.