Thursday, June 28, 2012

Weekend in New England

                                  Photo by Mark Granieri

As was mentioned previously the Flemington Neshanock traveled to Massachusetts last weekend for matches with the Essex Base Ball Club and the Melrose Pondfeilders.  The two matches with the Essex Club were played at the Spencer-Pierce-Little Farm in Newbury on Saturday. 

The Essex Club has a reputation of being an excellent vintage club and based on the Neshanock's experience, the reputation was well earned.  The Massachusett's teams skill was no surprise, but the nature of the matches was not at all expected.  Strong Neshanock pitching and effective defense limited the local team to seven runs in one game and only four in the second, but it was more than enough as the Neshanock could muster only one run in the opener and were shut out in the second match.  Needless to say, no one on the Neshanock earned a clear score.

Figuratively it was a long day, but that was far from the case literally as the first game lasted only 1 hour and two minutes and the second exceeded that by only 60 seconds.  In fact it took three Neshanock hits with two out in the ninth to extend the second game beyond one hour. Perhaps the only highlight for the Neshanock was Mark "Gaslight" Granieri's quick footwork in retrieving a ball that went into a nearby pig stye.  

Photo by Mark Granieri
(after retrieving the ball)

Fortunately the Neshanock had another opportunity on Sunday, this time at Fort Warren on George's Island in Boston Harbor against the Melrose Pondfeilders.  After a 25 minute ferry ride both teams entered the fort and began play on the huge parade grounds.  Things continued to look bleak as the local team took a 4-1 lead going into the bottom of the fourth inning, but the Neshanock staged a four run rally (double the number of runs scored in the preceding 21 innings) and went on to an 8-5 victory.  In the process, Tom "Thumbs" Hoepfner earned his first clear score of the season. 

With their confidence restored, the Neshanock scored early and often in the second contest and went on to a comfortable 17-5 win making for a pleasant ferry ride back to Boston followed by the car trip back to New Jersey.  Two Neshanock recorded clear scores in the second game with Dan "Sledge" Hammer earning his first while Dave "Illinois" Harris recorded his second.

Photo by Mark Granieri

Fort Warren, as Brad "Brooklyn" Shaw noted is probably the ideal venue for playing 19th century base ball.  Taking part in two games on this historic Civil War related site (the fort served as a prison for Confederate officers during the war) made me think about an ongoing discussion about how the Civil War either aided or impeded the spread of base ball.

The sheer size of the parade ground reinforced how other parade grounds at Union Army camps in Virginia naturally facilitated base ball games.  Certainly New Jersey troops played a lot of base ball prior to the summer of 1863 - I've read somewhere that only regiments from New York and Massachusetts played more base ball than New Jersey units - pretty good company.  I can see how such games could have marginally helped the spread of base ball in the more rural sections of New Jersey like Sussex County.  Young men from those areas who had never seen a game or even read about one would have had the opportunity to play in one which had to be addictive for some.

                                                Photo by Mark Granieri

Fort Warren's use as a POW camp also led to further reflection on the popular idea that base ball games played by Union POW's in Confederate prisons helped spread the game to the south.  Barring contemporary evidence of such games, I find that idea almost impossible to believe.  POW camps (north and south) were horrible places where disease and malnutrition quickly sapped whatever energy prisoners would have had for physical activity - just staying alive was enough of a challenge.  In addition unlike the expansive parade ground at Fort Warren (which was built for another purpose), Confederate POW camps were built for security, not exercise and I doubt both existence of such space and the permission to use it, if it did exist.  

This is just another example of how vintage base ball helps me to think about base ball history.  On June 30th the Neshanock return to New Jersey to take on the Diamond State Base Ball Club from Delaware in a double header in Princeton (more information at

There was one other historic note to Sunday's game.  It marked Sophie Ann Zinn's first base ball game even though she slept or yawned her way through the two innings she attended.  Still at five weeks, you have to get them started right.

                                                         Photo by Paul Zinn

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