The cable news hosts are screaming, and the iPhones are going off, and things are moving faster and faster - so fast that what began as a quaint idea to rewind life to a 19th-century baseball game has now ballooned into an annual attraction drawing hundreds, if not thousands, of spectators.

Every third week of July, fans and players descend on Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, from as far away as Colorado and Maine, to get a glimpse of life in a slower time. There, says organizer Bruce Lieth, they see how baseball was played before all of the ego and money that have become part of the modern game.

WDAY logo
listen live
watch live

Fewer fans got the chance this year - only a few hundred - because of five inches of rain that blanketed the region on Saturday, unleashing reports of flash floods and emergency responders, and leading to soaked players, sloppy fields and ultimately the cancellation of Sunday's final games.

"It was a mudbath," said Tom Duffy, who started the annual re-enactment along with Lieth nearly a decade ago.

But for one day, at least, the world slowed out on Schroeder Farm, and about 20 teams trotted out onto sodden earth in uniforms plucked from another time. Their tools of the day: wooden bats, balls with rubber centers that give out by the end of the game, and, if circumstances permit, mustaches with the ends turned up.

Baseball in the 19th century is at once both immediately familiar and disorientingly strange. Yes, players swing at a ball and there are pitchers. But the ball is thrown underhanded. And the heart of the game isn't a contest between pitchers and hitters, like it is today, but simply putting the ball in play. Out there in the "garden" - not to be confused with the "outfield" - players don't have to catch the ball in the air to force a batter out, but can field it off a single bounce.

The other huge difference? No gloves.

"A lot of broken fingers," said Lieth.

People started reviving the old-fashioned game in the 1980s, in New York, Lieth said, and it has caught on since. Today there are thousands of adults playing on 400 throwback teams across the country, dozens of them in the mid-Atlantic region. Many of the players came to the sport by way of softball and are baseball historians, like Leith.

He's not only the manager of concession development for the Philadelphia Phillies, but also studies baseball arcana. He knows baseball started as a pastime in the 1800s, when technology suddenly created more free time, and most folks couldn't believe the sight of it.

"People had never seen people exercise who weren't working," he said.

And he also knows what baseball can be at times today: "Million-dollar contracts and big egos and traveling budgets."

Stripping all of that away, and focusing on what makes baseball baseball, has resonated with fans and players, Leith said.

The area around the dugout is known as the "19th-century zone." Teams don't use plastic water bottles or modern chairs, and some even bring barrels of water with them.

"If you take a picture of one of our games, it looks like it's a throwback to 150 years ago," Leith said.

This article was written by Terrence McCoy, a reporter for The Washington Post.