Sunday, September 30, 2012

Base Ball Battle in Monroe

After a return to the game's urban roots last weekend in Jersey City, this past Saturday saw the Neshanock in a more rural setting at the Dey Farm in Monroe, New Jersey (Exit 8A on the Turnpike).  The occasion was an event sponsored by the Monroe Historical Society and a good sized crowd attentively watched the Flemington club play two matches with the Athletics of Philadelphia.  In the first match, played by 1864 rules, the Athletics scored once in the top of the first, but the Neshanock jumped out to a 5-1 lead after two and never looked back for a 14-6 victory.  

                                                      Photo by Mark Granieri

Especially noteworthy was the pitching of Bob "Melky" Ritter who was in dominant form including four strikeouts, a rarity in vintage games.  Another interesting feature of the first match was the Neshanock scoring six of their tallies on one bounce outs to the outfield.  One of the major differences in the 1864 game is that any fair ball caught on a bounce is an out so the modern day one hop line drive to an outfielder is nothing more than an out.  Runners can, however, advance at their own risk and three separate times, two runners scored on bound outs hit by Gerard "Jacks" D'Angelo (twice) and Ken "Tumbles" Mandel.  

                                                     Photo by Mark Granieri

As in Jersey City the prior week, the second match was played by 1870 rules and once again the Neshanock got off to what seemed to be a comfortable lead.  Things go much closer, however, as the Neshanock stopped scoring while the Athletics rallied (never a good combination) to draw within 10-9 after seven.  Neither club scored in the eighth and when the Neshanock had two out and one on in the top of the ninth, there wasn't a real comfortable feeling on the club's bench.  Fortunately, however, three hits and a walk produced three tallies and a little more error room as the match headed to the bottom of the ninth.  While it was nice to have, the extra margin wasn't needed as Brad "Brooklyn" Shaw set the Philadelphia club down in order aided by two strong throws by Neshanock third baseman, Joe "Mick" Murray.  The two wins put the Neshanock within one game of .500 with three more chances to at least get to break even.

The matches marked the second time the two clubs had met, with the earlier contest taking place in Bridgeton in July when I learned exactly how far away Cumberland County is from Essex County.  My research into the spread of early base ball in New Jersey has now reached southern New Jersey as I work my way through newspapers like the West-Jersey Pioneer, which was printed in Bridgeton.  I would guess that I'm about half way through the different south Jersey papers and, thus far, I haven't found any evidence of base ball being played before the Civil War.  Given the geography of New Jersey one of the issues is the possible impact of base ball spreading from Philadelphia in the south much like it did from New York City in the north.

Last week I found the below article, "A Trip to the City," where the editor of the paper describes what is involved in a trip to Philadelphia since, as he says, not many readers of the paper had done so.  I thought I was reading it incorrectly at first, but apparently residents of the village of Bridgeton made arrangements with the stage coach company to wake them up in time to catch the 4:00 stage to Salem which would get them there in time to take the 8:00 steamboat to Philadelphia.  And we think we have tough commutes today! 

The significance of this is that if the trip was that difficult, it's doubtful (as the writer acknowledges) that many people did it, which eliminates or at least drastically limits their chance of seeing base ball being played and coming home excited about bringing the game to their local community.  I still have to look at the newspapers for Camden and Gloucester counties, the two closest to Philadelphia so I'll reserve judgement, but it certainly looks as if base ball, or at least the game played in the northern part of the state, didn't arrive in south Jersey until at least during the Civil War. 

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