Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Cooperstown and the New York game

This past weekend the Flemington Neshanock were in Cooperstown, New York for a series of matches with the Essex Base Ball Club of Massachusetts and the Brooklyn Atlantics at the Ommegang Brewery.  Flemington was without their scorekeeper as Carol and I were in Massachusetts watching Sophie Zinn eat her first cupcake (not to mention celebrate her first birthday).  Even though we couldn't be present, just knowing the Neshanock were there brought back memories of our many visits to that beautiful village on the lake.

Photo by Mark Granieri

In spite of the fact that any possible role for Cooperstown in base ball's creation myth has been thoroughly debunked, the place never loses its charm.  If base was invented in any one place, it should have been William Cooper's town.  Thinking about base ball and Cooperstown, I started wondering about the real history of the New York game in the village.  When, for example, did Cooperstown have its first base ball club?  I've done no research on the subject, but my best guess is that it was sometime after the Civil War.

Photo by Mark Granieri

I "speculate" that because Cooperstown falls far short of two major factors that facilitated the spread of the New York game - population and a convenient connection to a place where the "new" game was played.  New Jersey's antebellum experience will help illustrate the point.  Listed below are the ten New Jersey communities with the highest 1860 population.  Of the group, nine had organized clubs playing the New York game by 1860 while, Camden, probably because of its proximity to Philadelphia, had a club playing Philadelphia town ball.

Municipality Population
Newark 71,941
Jersey City 29,226
Paterson 19,586
Trenton 17,228
Camden 14,358
Elizabeth 11,567
New Brunswick 11,256
Hoboken 9,662
Orange 8,897
Bergen 7,429

Cooperstown's population in 1860 was just under 1600 at 1597, that same year New Jersey had 13 communities with a population between 1500-1600, none of which had a base ball club.  The three smallest 1860 New Jersey communities with antebellum base ball clubs were Lambertville (2699), Harrison (2556) and Raritan (2270).  There were actually two New Jersey municipalities named Raritan in 1860 and it's not certain whether the Lafayette Club was from the one in Hunterdon County or the one in Monmouth County, but I believe it was the one located in Hunterdon County, not far from Flemington.

Photo by Mark Granieri

Why did these three small towns have base ball clubs before the Civil War?  The answer in Harrison's case is fairly easy, it's located between Jersey City and Newark, the two largest cities in the state in 1860 and the hotbeds of pre Civil War base ball in New Jersey.  Indeed it would have been hard for Harrison residents to avoid being exposed to the "new" game.  Lambertville and Raritan are more complicated, but both had an antebellum railroad connection to Newark and New York, indirect connections, but connections, none the less.  I'm not sure, when, if ever, the railroad came to Cooperstown, but I'm going to guess (and it's only a guess), that the even more remote location and small population delayed the formation of Cooperstown's first base ball club until after the Civil War, perhaps well after the war.

Photo by Mark Granieri

While there's no way of knowing what caliber of base ball, Cooperstown residents witnessed in the 19th century, the weekend offered the local population the opportunity to see some of the best of vintage base ball.  The Atlantics, in my view, are the best team on the east coast and arguably the best in the country, witnessed by the fact they came into the weekend at 8-0.  The Essex Club is also a fine team as the Neshanock learned in person last year in Massachusetts.

Although I wasn't there to witness the games, pictures and game summaries were provided by Mark "Gaslight" Granieri in addition to his role as catcher and heavy hitter for the Neshanock.  The weekend began with a close extra inning match between the Essex and Atlantic clubs with the Massachusetts team handing the Atlantic their first lost of the season, 16-14 in 10 innings.  The Atlantics rebounded with a 16-5 defeat of the Neshanock, leaving a Neshanock - Essex contest for the last Saturday match.  Essex led 11-9 going to the top of the ninth, but Flemington rallied for five runs and held on for an 14-11 win.

Sophie with her first, but definitely not last cupcake

Sunday's matches saw the Neshanock defeat the Essex Club again, this time an 10-0 shutout and then fall to the Atlantics, 19-6.  Although I don't have the score, it appears the Atlantic got some revenge in the final game defeating Essex to move their overall record to 11-1.  Through almost the first two months of the season, the Neshanock are a respectable 7-7 going into the traditional Memorial Day match in Newtown, Pennsylvania against the Newtown Strakes.  After that Flemington will be playing matches in different parts of New Jersey for the next five weekends.  More details are available at www.neshanock.org.  Please come out for a match, I guarantee you will enjoy it, at least as much as Sophie enjoyed her first cupcake!

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