The Westfield Wheelmen, a vintage baseball team, will play in the first-ever Old Tyme Base Ball Festival on June 8 and 9 in Suffield. The lineup includes eight teams from around the Northeast.

Photo credit: Alan Kenzior

A Westfield team is among eight vintage baseball teams from throughout the Northeast that will gather for some old-fashioned baseball bliss play at the first-ever Old Tyme Base Ball Festival in Suffield, Connecticut, next month.

Dan Genovese, the founder of the Westfield Wheelmen, said the team organized the two-day baseball festival June 8 and 9 at Hill Top Farm so people can step back in time and experience America’s favorite pastime as it was played in a simpler time.

“It will be a weekend filled with remarkable baseball nostalgia and community camaraderie where baseball history will come alive,” he said.

He added that in a world craving a taste of authentic, old-fashioned fun, the Old Tyme Base Ball Festival promises to deliver an experience that will transport players and fans back to baseball’s glorious days of the past.

“The crack of the bat, the scent of freshly mowed grass, and the sight of players adorned in vintage uniforms will whisk you away to an era of simpler pleasures and everlasting memories,” said Genovese, who is the author of three books about Westfield’s baseball history.

The “old-time” sport is more widely known as vintage baseball. Played all over the country, with teams of amateur ball players, its “ballists” play “base ball” — two words — by the rules and customs of the 19th century, according to Genovese.

“This style of play was from a time before baseball gloves or protective equipment and baggy wool uniforms. The rule sets can range from American Civil War style through a more ‘modern’ style played in the 1880s and 1890s,” he said.

Genovese said this time period saw constant changes in rules to make the game more appealing to the fans (known back then as “cranks”). Some rule changes were to create more offense, while some changes were to cool the offense and some changes were made to “fix” the game. As players got to know the rules of the young sport, they found ways to take advantage of loopholes.

He said vintage baseball is played by a group of athletes who love the game and see it first as an amusement.

“But once they ‘get it,’ the challenge becomes harder than they expected and much more of a challenge than playing softball or adult baseball leagues. Many of the players on our team play softball or adult baseball, but vintage ball is their priority,” he said.

The lineup of regional teams includes the Mudville Baseball Club, the Lisbon Tunnelmen, the Hartford Bulldogs, the Saugerties Base Ball Club, the Dirigo Base Ball Club, the Providence Grays, and the Mountain Athletic Club.

Genovese said the Westfield Wheelmen were re-formed in 2006 and take their name from an actual Westfield baseball team from 1886. He came across this genre of baseball in 2004 while researching his first Westfield baseball book.

“I saw a game and was hooked,” said Genovese, who grew up playing all levels of baseball in Westfield. “I researched what I needed to do to start a team, called upon my baseball and softball friends, and, as they say, the rest is history. We have played many memorable games and events in Westfield over the years, and we have no plans on stopping.”

Genovese said there are two main organizations for vintage baseball clubs, the Vintage Base Ball Association and the National Association of Historic Base Ball Clubs. They are committed to playing the game with proper customs and strict adherence to the rules of the year portrayed. He said some teams belong to both groups, while some belong to just one.

Although the host team is based in Westfield, the Suffield site was chosen for the festival for a number of reasons, said Genovese.

“While we prefer Westfield, it’s a challenge to secure baseball diamonds due to the lack of fields, lack of fields in playable condition and the constant use of these fields,” he said. “It’s unfortunate for a baseball town. This is not only a problem for us, but also for all age brackets and leagues.”

Genovese said his team “hooked up” with Hill Top Farm because one of the Wheelmen’s players grew up on the farm as a boy and still had connections.

“When we visited the farm to scout out a ballfield, we fell in love with the open space and rolling hills, similar to ballfields in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, site of the largest annual vintage baseball festival. It features more than 30 teams near the famous Civil War battlefields where no doubt the game was played,” he said.

Five games will be played on two fields at Hill Top on June 8. They are scheduled for 10 a.m. as well as noon, 2, 4 and 9 p.m. June 9 games will be played at 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. There is an admission charge of $5 per carload, and fans should bring their own lawn chairs and coolers. Hot dogs and hamburgers will be available to buy.

The farm is at 1616 Mapleton Ave. (Route 159), just over the state line from Main Street in Agawam.