Thursday, August 16, 2012

Why do we do it? - Why did they do it?

Twice in the past month, the Flemington Neshanock have played the Rochester  (Michigan) Grangers.  As I've written before, it's fun to play clubs from other parts of the country, if nothing else it's an opportunity to get a different perspective on vintage base ball.  At the end of each match, the Grangers add a new wrinkle to the traditional post game speeches and cheers, they sing their club song in honor of the other team.  While I can't remember the words, part of the message is that they play for the love of the game, not for money or fame.

Flemington Neshanock

Hearing the song at the National Silver Ball Tournament in Rochester raised the question, why do we do it?  Why do we participate in vintage base ball?  Well it's clearly not for money - there's no financial return and there are expenses involved - the cost of a uniform, membership dues and trips to Gettysburg, Rochester, Massachusetts.  So we don't make money, rather it costs us money (sounds uncomfortably like my writing).  It's also not about the fame, something that was demonstrated very clearly in Rochester.  Two years ago the Silver Ball Tournament coincided with Genesee Country Village's Laura Ingalls Wilder weekend while this year the two events were on separate weekends. Someone suggested this was done intentionally to test which was the bigger draw.  Trust me, "Little House" won hands down, the 2012 tournament was witnessed almost exclusively by family and friends.

Brooklyn Excelsiors

So if it's not money or fame, it has to be love of the game, right?  Yes, but I think it's more complex than that.  There are certainly other ways to meet that base ball "need" without the commitments that are part of an over 40 game Neshanock schedule running from April to October. Being part of a vintage team (or any team really) requires something more than just love of the game.  There are probably multiple reasons why people get involved in re-creating 19th century base ball, but I'm thinking more about why do we choose to be part of a "team."  I believe it's because of the positives that can come from the experience - the competition, gentlemanly though it is, the camaraderie, the humor, the challenges of travel, every thing that makes up being part of something larger than oneself even if the results don't have any cosmic significance.

Thinking about this while researching the spread of base ball in antebellum New Jersey made me think about the young men who joined these first New Jersey base ball clubs.  Why did they do it?  Answering that question leads us into the multiple explanations of why base ball grew like it did from 1855 on.  Part of it has to do with what was happening to American youth in the 1850's.  Adam Goodheart in his book, "1861: The Civil War Awakening," writes that at the middle of the 19th century "youth was ascendant as it had never been before."  This involved trying new things so young men "joined militias, volunteer fire companies, 'young men's societies,' and gymnasiums," and he could very easily have added - base ball clubs.  According to Goodheart it was a way they sought brotherhood, a need that existed simultaneously with a belief in rugged individualism.

Eureka Base Ball Club of Newark

No matter why they decided to join one of the new base ball clubs, these first New Jersey base ball players got something out of the experience as we get something out of being part of the Flemington Neshanock.  There is, however,  a big difference, all of us today are either trying to recreate or continue a positive experience that we first enjoyed some place else, be it Little League, high school, college, American Legion and so on.  Even though New Jersey's first base ball players may not have traveled far beyond their home state, they were truly pioneers because they joined these first clubs without knowing about the benefits that awaited them.  They believed without having a reason to believe. It was their willingness to be part of something new which makes them unique and why all of us who come afterwards owe them a debt of gratitude or at least "three cheers and a tiger."

No comments:

Post a Comment