America's almost favorite pastime
In the 19th century, cities throughout the Northeast had their own versions of the game of baseball. In a battle to decide which version would become "America's pastime," the New York and Massachusetts versions of the game stood out as front-runners.
Ultimately, it was New York rules "base ball" that won out, and it was adopted as the national pastime that later became the baseball of today. But lost to the sands of time was the Massachusetts game that nearly became the most popular version, but soon fizzled out.
Newberg resident Daniel Jones and his friends are trying to reignite interest in what they call "townball" and they've created an updated version of the Massachusetts game that they hope catches on around Oregon and nationwide. Their sport is called 21st Century Townball and includes a handful of guys from the area that play once every weekend.
Jones discovered the game when he was teaching a class called "The Origins of America's Pastime" at a high school in Fresno, Calif. His passion for townball took off from there.
"In that class, we researched 10 different bat and ball games, and on the second day of the class we came across the Massachusetts game," Jones said. "No matter what game we played after that, everybody wanted to keep coming back to the Massachusetts one."
Twenty-first century townball is an updated version of the original Massachusetts game, imagining how the game might have evolved had it won out and become the national pastime. It is played on a rectangular field with five stakes taking the place of bases and a batting area that includes a net behind the batter.
The rules are complicated but easy to remember once you get the hang of it, Jones said. It took Jones and his pals a while to "perfect" the game to its current point, but they think it's better and easier to play than the original Massachusetts game – and a lot more fun than the current version of New York-style baseball.
"We were playing based on the original rules, but the more we played the more we realized the game needed some additional rules," Jones said. "There was almost no incentive for the batter to swing, there were no walks and it was only a strike if you swung and missed. Baseball as we play it today isn't the same game as it was in the 19th century, so we created an evolved version of the Massachusetts game to keep up with the times."
Jones describes 21st century townball as "baseball without all the boring parts." If the ball is pitched into the netting behind the batter and they don't swing, that batter is out, so they more than likely have to swing and create a more engaging game. There are no foul balls, either, one of many rules that make the game unique and more fast-paced.
The New York game was originally intended to be a slow-pitch game, Jones said, and townball is meant to be played faster. All the complaints people have about baseball being too slow and boring are alleviated with this version of the bat-and-ball sport, he claimed.
"In baseball you have foul balls, walks, inning limits and things built into the game that make it boring," Jones said. "For those who play baseball, usually after they play townball, they give up baseball. I hear them say that this is way more fun than baseball."
Jones came to Newberg for a teaching job at Veritas School, where headmaster Bryan Lynch has embraced the game and even started playing it himself.
In the near future, Jones hopes to get kids playing the game and establish actual adult leagues, because for now it's just pickup games organized by him and his friends.
One of those friends is George Fox University student Grant More, who has been spreading the word on campus about townball and trying to recruit more players.
The team is always looking for new athletes to come into the fold and try out townball, but they warn that once you play, you'll never want to play other forms of baseball again.
"Right now, all we do is pickup games because we don't have enough people for multiple teams," Jones said. "My vision for this is to have amateur townball teams that play against each other, like Newberg versus Salem or something."
The next and final townball game of the season is scheduled for 10 a.m. Saturday at Renne Park in Newberg.
Jones and company plan to set up the field for townball as they have every Saturday for the past few weeks, and they encourage more people from around town to come out and play.
More information on the rules and history of the game can be found at sites.google.com/mail.fresnostate.edu/21ctownball/home.
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