WESTFIELD, NJ — In the summer of 1994, a then 37-year-old Paul Salomone was sitting on the foot of the queen-size bed in his Colorado hotel room, waiting for his sister’s wedding to begin.
Salomone had the channel turned to PBS, hoping to pass the time while anxiously awaiting the impending marriage ceremony of his baby sister.
PBS was running a segment on the Colorado Vintage Base Ball Association. Men and women in Colorado would come together to recreate 19th century base ball (as it was spelled in those days), hoping to preserve the rich history of a sport increasingly being modernized.
“I thought this was the coolest thing ever,” said Salomone, now 62 and a Westfield resident.
Vintage base ball has grown exponentially across the U.S. over the last 30 years or so, with approximately 500 teams operating in almost 50 states. New Jersey has been the home to at least two of these teams since 2000.
Played with historically accurate uniforms and equipment, 19th century base ball is typically played under 1860s-1870s rules, but those years can expand based upon varying factors to 1855-1903 rules.
It is most common for players to compete without mitts and with underhand pitching, wooden bats and depending on the year, a rule that a ball being caught on one bounce yields an out.
“You’re playing an ancient form of the game,” Salomone said. “But the mechanics are still the same, and a single is still the most important hit.”
Five years after that fateful PBS segment, in 1999, and fresh off leading his band in the Forest City Jazz Fest in New London, Ontario, Salomone decided it was time to set things in motion and bring vintage base ball to New Jersey.
He spent most of 1999 recruiting old friends and acquaintances to join his team, the Elizabeth Resolutes. The Resolutes are a historically accurate team that played professional baseball in 1873, but also functioned as a team before and after ‘73 from 1866-1878.
By 2000, the Elizabeth Resolutes, with captain Salomone at the helm, were established and playing against teams from all over the northeast. The lone New Jersey team would travel to play teams in New York, Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Connecticut and Maryland.
In 2001, the Flemington Neshanock base ball club was established. The Resolutes and the Neshanock would remain New Jersey’s only two vintage base ball clubs for eight years. Today there are five vintage base ball clubs across New Jersey, with the New Brunswick Liberty, the Monmouth Furnace and the Hoboken Nine joining the fray over the last 10 years.
Salomone takes the historical element of the game seriously, as do many others.
When Salomone started the Resolutes, he became a member of the Vintage Base Ball Association, going on to serve four one-year terms as vice president.
He resigned from his position in protest in 2013. Salomone said he quit the VBBA due to the inaccuracy and overall disregard for the integrity of preserving the history of 19th century base ball.
Craig Combs, a 29-year-old outfielder and catcher for the Elizabeth Resolutes, is going into his third season with the team.
“If you’re actually interested in the history of baseball, there is no better person you can play with,” Combs said. “Paul is a fountain of knowledge and his passion is unparalleled.”
Salomone, often referred to as “Quickstep” by his teammates and other clubs, admitted he doesn’t envision himself playing five years from now, but hopes to still be involved in some capacity as he passes down the reins of the Resolutes to the next deserving captain.
“Provided they need my advice and can benefit from my research,” Salomone said. “I’ll still be a part of this thing.”
Zach Hertz is a junior at William Paterson University in Wayne.