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Turning back the clock on baseball

Thursday, May 9th, 2013
Posted by Mark Jones, Williston Herald

Baseball is a game that has been around since the 19th Century.

Over the years, the sport has seen significant changes.

Williston State College professor Richard Stenberg has been examining the early years of the sport in a mini-course on historic baseball from the 19th century.

The course began in the middle of March and concluded last Friday, as Stenberg, his students and faculty staff played a game with period equipment on a rough field.

"It's an eight-week course," Stenberg said. "Studying 1870 rules. There are distinct differences."

Among the differences between the early years of baseball and now is the field.

The bases on a current baseball diamond are separated by 90 feet. In the 19th century version of the game, there were only 75 feet between the bases.

"Double plays rarely happened," Stenberg said. "Ground balls and bunts were preferred hits. High-towering balls were likely to be caught."

In the 19th Century version of the game, no matter where the ball went, it was still in play.

"If the ball rolls foul, it's still fair," Stenberg said.

Another difference in the sport was gloves.

Stenberg says that in the early years of the sport, gloves were not used.

"When the ball bounces and is caught it's an out," Stenberg said.  

Positions went by different names than they do today.

A pitcher was referred to as a hurler in the 19th century. In today's game, a person at bat is called a batter, but in the early years of the sport the batter was called a striker.

The outfield positions used to be called right-scout, left-scout and center-scout.

Also in the 19th century, as each base runner touched home, they had to ring a bell and tell the scorekeeper to tally a run.

As part of the course, Stenberg had his students do research projects on when baseball was first introduced in their hometown.

The projects were bound to be wide-ranging.

"We have students here from Arizona," Stenberg said.

He says the first organized game of baseball in western North Dakota was played at Fort Buford in 1873.

Stenberg offers his course once every two years.