Description and Rules

Townball is the nineteenth century version of a bat and ball game that can be traced back at least as far as the 16th C. In theory, it is a descendant of the bat and ball games played by our "cavemen" ancestors. This theory is a result of the observation that there is no culture in the world that does not have some form of a bat and ball game.

In 16th C. England, the game called Rounders was a popular pastime. A version of Rounders is still played in the UK and Ireland. By the 19th C. in America, the game had undergone many changes, with regional variations abounding. Called "Townball" (because each town had their own version) or "Stickball", it was played all across America. You can see soldiers playing it in photographs from the Civil War. Our modern baseball is a variant of the version played in Cooperstown, New York. There is an active Townball organization in Cooperstown today, the Leatherstocking Base Ball Club. See my Rounders documentation page for research references.

This version is not documented anywhere, but is a variant played in the San Francisco Bay Area by Rounders fans when doing 19th century re-enactments.

The Layout

[Map of the Playing Field]

The Object

Each time a Defender successfully completes a foray and returns to the Fort with his gleanings (more food, more weapons, etc.) -- in other words, each time a Runner makes it back into the Fort without getting Out, he scores a point for his team . At the end of the game, the team with the highest score wins. The game ends after each team has been "In" the same number of times -- there is no limit but exhaustion or darkness to the number of "In"ings.

The Rules

  1. Infinite Swings. The batter has no limit on the number of tries to hit the ball. He keeps trying until the ball comes in contact with the stick.
  2. Ball Must be Fed Where Batter Wishes. The pitcher must throw the ball where the batter wants it. If the batter is unhappy with a pitcher, the batter may request a new pitcher.
  3. Any Hit - RUN! Any time the ball contacts the stick, even a "tip", it is a valid hit and the batter must run. The ball may be struck anywhere outside of the Fort. The Runners at the Hideouts may begin running as soon as the ball is struck -- whether it is a good hit or an Out doesn't matter, once the Runner begins to run, KEEP GOING!
    If the ball is hit into the Fort, call a "Take-Over" - the batter returns to the Fort and the Runners return to their Hideouts.
  4. Run Clockwise! Upon hitting the ball, the Batter then must run clockwise around the Hideouts. The Runner does not need to touch any of the hideouts and may run anywhere as long as he passes outside of each Hideout.
  5. Batter is Out. The batter is out if the hit is caught in the air or on one bounce.
  6. Runner is Out. The Runner is out if he is plugged (hit with a thrown ball) while running. He is not out if he grasps a Hideout (that he hasn't used before - see Rule 7) before he is plugged. Note: the Batter becomes a Runner as soon as he strikes the ball and it is not caught.
  7. Hideouts Work Once. Once a Runner has touched a Hideout, he may not let go of it and then grasp it again - it has been used up for that runner. (The idea here is that you are hiding -- if you suddenly pop out of hiding, everybody sees where you were hiding and it doesn't do you much good to try to hide there again.) A Runner may run back to an earlier Hideout that he has not used, but he must still proceed around the outside of the Hideouts in order when he runs again.
  8. One Player on a Hideout. Only one player is allowed on a Hideout at a time. If two or more players find themselves on the same Hideout, the player who was most recently at bat has the right to stay, the other player(s) must attempt to run on.
  9. In until Out. A player is "In" until he has been gotten out. This also applies to the Fort - all players who are "In" must remain in the Fort (they are "Defenders"), if they step out they are "Out". It helps, sometimes, to define an area for those who are still "In" to stand within so everybody can see how many players are left "In".
  10. Undefended Fort is Vulnerable. If there are no Defenders in the Fort (for instance, the last Defender just struck the ball and is now a Runner) the Attacking team (the team in the outfield) may capture the Fort by plugging the Corner Stone.
  11. Everybody Out. The teams change sides when the entire Defending team is Out, or when the Fort has been captured.
  12. No Blockades. No Attacking team member may intentionally get in the way of a Runner in an attempt to prevent him from grasping a Hideout or proceeding around the Hideouts. Nor may any Defending player prevent an attacker from plugging the Corner Stone. A warning is issued on the first offense, followed by ejection from the game on a repetition. If this results in a team having fewer players than the other, TOO BAD! (The Wages of Sin, and all that...)
  13. Hanging Out by the Hideout. If the runners have all stopped running and are hovering near a hideout, and if the Pitcher has the ball in his control back by his stone, the play shall be deemed ended and the Runners shall grasp the hideouts and the next Defender is up.
    If either the runner has not stopped running or the Pitcher is not in control by his stone, the ball is still in play.
  14. Pulling Up the Hideouts. If a Runner, in his or her exuberance, pulls out the Hideout stake, that Runner is automatically Out! Notify someone of a loose stake before this happens to you.
  15. Letting Go of the Hideout Between Plays. If a Runner mistakenly lets go of a Hideout after the play has ended but before the Defender has hit the ball, that Runner is automatically Out! The only exception to this rule is with Take-Overs - see Rule 3.

The Niceties

These are not official rules, but have been decided upon by the players to keep the game fun to play.

The Ball

[Ball Pattern]

Here is a pattern for the ball. Make four pieces from about 7 oz. leather. I sew two pair of pieces together into two hemispheres and then sew the two hemispheres together almost all the way around leaving about 2" open. Stuff it with whatever is handy - what you use will affect how the ball reacts. I use raw wool for a very bouncy, soft ball; old wool sock snippets for a less bouncy, less soft, but still a far travelling ball; leather snippets for a heavy, dead ball (for smaller fields and older players); or old nylons for a dead, soft ball (for smaller fields and young players). In case the scale doesn't translate correctly, the pattern is about 3.75" to 4.5" on the long axis.

The Stick

The stick can be any piece of wood 12" long or longer. Any shape will do, but flat sided ones seem to be the most popular. Make sure there is some sort of knob at the bottom to keep it from flying out of the Hitter's hands.

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© 1995, 2000 ChaosMedia by Chris Monser.