Ball 6, take your base!
By Joe Kuras
It was a grand old day for our nation’s pastime. A brisk wind blew in from the field to the right. But the wind was of concern only to the fickle spectator. It would cause no ball to travel beyond the grasp of an outfielder today. The scribes had labeled this period of time as “the dead-ball era”.
The local nine from Providence patiently waited for their noble opponents. The New York Mutuals would arrive shortly by way of motor car from Long Island, New York.
Many enthusiastic fans gathered in the grandstand at McCoy Stadium in Pawtucket, Rhode Island. Patiently, they too waited for the local Providence Grays to match up with the New York team. The calendar said it was the spring of 2000. This old time contest would commemorate the Providence Grays’ victory over the New York Metropolitans in professional baseball’s first interleague championship series in 1884
Finally, the worthy opponent arrived. The Mutuals look quite elegant and diplomatic, in their ivory white uniforms with forest green trim. The local Grays resembled a working class team from an industrial city, dressed accordingly in their gray uniform with Colombian blue trim.
“Seeing the old time game shows people where the game has been,” proclaimed Tim Norton, founder of the modern day Grays in a press release issued by the host Pawtucket Red Sox. “We don’t use gloves, and that’s a shock for most new fans, but you learn how to cradle the ball to protect yourself. “
Like many teams of their time, the Grays employed a hand stitched, homemade baseball. Baseballs of this type were not readily available by manufacturers of sporting goods. The price of the ball ($40 each today) sometimes made it prohibitive to purchase. Spectators were asked to kindly return stray balls into the grandstand back to the field. Uniforms, from Mitchell & Ness, cost each player $200, according to team spokesperson Samantha Schor. Leather gardener gloves were used by some of the fielders and the catcher. A wool knit glove underneath was utilized for a little extra padding.
The gentleman stationed behind the catcher on the field was Charlie Dryer. He graciously agreed to officiate this contest. Dryer was accustomed to serving the Grays’ as their starting pitcher. But knee surgery forced him into a new position of authority on the field of play. His white Sunday-best suit and brown straw hat was the only uniform or equipment that would identify him as the sole arbiter on the field. Mr. Dryer inquired of each batter if he wanted a low strike or a high strike to be called. Low strikes were from the knees to the belt; high ones from the belt to the shoulders. The batter was granted 3 strikes. Six balls resulted in a walk to the first base. But only if he ran. The free base could be denied if the batter, or any other runner, advanced to the base at a leisurely pace. Batters were not awarded first base if hit by a pitch.
The Mutuals scored first and often, with 5 runs crossing home plate in the top of the first inning. The Grays played with some apprehension, performing before their biggest crowd ever. They failed to execute some very basic plays in the field but it did not detract from the overall quality of play. They settled down and and applied their skills. After 3 innings of play, Providence found themselves trailing by one, 7 - 6.
The Faria brothers, Gil and Kevin, on the local Providence 9, proved to be workhorses on defense. Gil, the former, bore the brunt of the work, as the starting catcher behind the plate. Let it be known that he had the benefit of a face mask and chest protector, but no shin guards. One can hopefully assume he also wore other protection between the knees and waist. Brother Kevin, the latter, made several nice put-outs at first base, both routine and of the sliding & diving variety.
A key out was recorded at third base to keep the New York nine scoreless in the top of the 4th. In the bottom of the inning, the Grays’ Scott Lial hustled home from third base on a passed ball to deadlock the score at 7. With teams from Pawtucket and Ottawa ready to take the field for a regular season Triple-A baseball game, this old time contest ended in a deadlock after 4 innings.
“The Grays are made up of local guys who love old time baseball,” Norton said. “Babe Ruth hit his only minor league home run for the 1914 Providence Grays, which was then a minor league team.”
Each day, when a ball team takes the field, history is made. On this sunny day in Pawtucket, Rhode Island, history was replayed to the delight of many faithful fans who love the game of ball, be it vintage or modern.
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