Jeff “Kentucky Kid” Jones sat on the Bethlehem Braves bench with a soaked towel over his head, trying to cool off after pitching the top of the fifth inning against the New York Mutuals.
Last Thursday’s hot, humid weather in Delmar was tough on the players from both teams. Then again, they were wearing canvas replicas of mid-19th century baseball uniforms. Breathable fabrics hadn’t been invented, yet.
Jones’ teammate, Jim “Dragon” Deragon, had his own way of preparing for the annual Fourth of July vintage game, which took place at Bethlehem’s Elm Avenue Park.
“Drink lots of liquids the night before and then right after the game,” said Deragon. “It’s actually not so bad when the wind blows through.”
The Braves – a collection of town residents, many of whom have a baseball background – were hoping the final score wouldn’t be as bad as the last three years, when the Mutuals scored 20 or more runs each time. Though the Mutuals pulled away for a 15-2 victory this year, Bethlehem manager Steve “The Prez” Peterson said the Braves made progress.
“Our goal was to tighten up the gap, score at least one run, demonstrate the game as it was played in 1864 and have fun,” said Peterson, the Bethlehem Mickey Mantle president. “We did that today.”
Peterson said he changed his player selection criteria from the old formula, which used to give town politicians and local celebrities a chance to play.
“The first criteria is to be athletic enough to play. The second criteria is that you have to be available on the Fourth of July,” said Peterson.
The Mutuals have been playing 19th century-era baseball since 1999, which gave them a competitive advantage against the Braves. While Bethlehem had difficulty at times fielding without the benefit of gloves (those weren’t used in 1864), the Mutuals played with the precision of a professional club.
Still, Bethlehem made the Mutuals work for this year’s victory. After scoring three runs in the top of the first inning, the Mutuals were limited to two runs over the next three frames. The 5-0 score entering the top of the fifth inning marked one of the closest scores between the Braves and the Mutuals in the four-year history of the annual vintage game.
It wouldn’t last, though. The Mutuals scored twice in the fifth inning and added two runs in the top of the sixth to build a 9-0 lead. The Braves scored a pair of runs in the bottom half of the sixth to close the gap, but the Mutuals tacked on five more runs over the last three innings to secure another win in the series.
Deragon – who has played in the last two vintage games – said the final score doesn’t matter in the long run.
“It’s a good time and a great bunch of guys,” said Deragon. “It’s nice to se these guys come up from New York to be here with us on the Fourth of July.”