Russ McIver runs his own computer consulting company, a perfectly 21st century career.
But at nights and on weekends, he is a “pretty active public historian” in Monmouth County.
McIver’s favorite historical subject is baseball.
Almost every Saturday from April to October, McIver gets together with other history buffs to form the Monmouth Furnace Base Ball Club, the “Jersey Shore’s team in the Mid-Atlantic Vintage Base Ball League,” according to a team press release.
McIver, the team captain, and his friends, like all clubs in the Mid-Atlantic Vintage League, wear wool caps, wool uniforms and high stockings, like the baseball teams of yore.
They also play by 1864 rules, so no gloves, no overhand pitching and no singles for balls that are caught after one bounce. That was an out in 1864, and it’s an out in the Mid-Atlantic Vintage League, too.
“This is an actual league. Everywhere in the Northeast we play,” said McIver’s teammate, Rich “Step” Stepnoski. “I think we have two wins against five or six losses (this year). We are trying to infuse some youth into the club.”
The veteran Furnace club fell to a much younger club, the Hoboken Nine, 23-15, on July 7, at Sickles Field in Little Silver.
“And that is a very typical 19th century score,” McIver revealed with great enthusiasm.
The Hoboken Nine won despite apparently spending that Friday night, July 6, out on the town in Belmar.
They even showed up for the game an hour and a half late, around 12:30, pushing back the start time.
Once the game started, the 19th century feel was maximized to great effect.
McIver announced every batter by nickname, because you had to have a nickname in 1864.
“I’m not even sure if they knew each other’s names,” Stepnoski said.
McIver even announced the names while he was pitching in the late innings.
“Games were supposed to be events in 1864,” McIver said. “You weren’t just watching a bunch of guys run around a field.”
Runners stopped at first base because you couldn’t overrun the bag. If you did, you could be tagged out. Fielders played balls outside the foul line.
Any ball hit in front of home plate was fair in the 19th century. Pitchers tossed balls high and slow. Pitchers in 1864 were just supposed to start the action, not strike batters out.
Off the field, an older, white-haired lady sold Cracker Jacks, the quintessential old-time baseball snack. A young, smiling girl, wearing a bonnet, a white blouse and a blue skirt, walked around selling raffle tickets out of a basket.
Curious fans lined the bleachers and grass, chuckling at the novelties. One stood behind home plate and recorded the game on his iPhone.
“President Lincoln is expected to show up today,” he said at one point, to great laughter from the folks around him.
McIver and the players did not stop fans from using their phones. But they did reject modernity on the field.
Early in the game, a Hoboken batter stepped to the plate wearing a Colorado Rockies hat. “Hey! You can’t bat until you take that hat off! The Rockies weren’t around in 1864!” shouted a chorus of players. “It only took 130 more years!” shouted another player. (The Rockies played their first Major League Baseball season in 1993).
The batter laughed and threw his hat into the dugout.
The players/history buffs love vintage baseball because it’s different from a typical reenactment.
“This is not a scripted event,” said McIver’s teammate, Joe Burger, a local history teacher. “It’s a real game, with the outcome in doubt.”
“It’s fun because it’s a competition, so it feeds that part of you. But it’s also pretend play in a way,” said another Furnace player, Brian Donohue. “It’s one-stop shopping for someone who’s part jock, part nerd.”
Monmouth continued its season when it played in the Gettysburg Festival in Gettysburg, Pa., on July 21.
Not everyone will show up, because sometimes 2018 is too pressing to ignore, even for a few hours.
“People have real lives,” Burger said. “If we can get nine, 10, that’s great. But if we have to pull people from the stands, we’ll make do.”