Monday, May 6, 2013

Three Nunns and a Train Ride

In addition to being open, if not anxious, to play new events, the Neshanock are always willing to take different modes of transportation to get to said contests.  Saturday was a case in point as the Flemington traveling party boarded the railroad to reach the site of an initial mini-tournament at the Strasburg Railroad Museum in Strasburg, Pennsylvania.  Also participating were the Athletics of Philadelphia, the Elkton Eclipse and the Harrisburg Keystones, formerly the Mechanicsburg Club.

Photo from Strasburg Railroad Museum

Base ball and the railroad had a close relationship for over a century beginning in the game's early days and running through the 1950's and 60's when airplane travel became the norm.  I have a theory, not yet adequately tested, that there was a very close correlation between the spread of the New York game in antebellum New Jersey and a railroad connection to Newark.  With few exceptions the New Jersey communities which had base ball clubs prior to the Civil War also had a direct rail link to Newark.  In this early period, I believe the importance of the rail connection was not facilitating travel for match play, but more as a means of exposing people to this "new" game.  Such exposure could have happened in a number of ways, including simply seeing a game while riding the train because, as noted in a prior post, a number of early Newark base ball grounds were literally located along the railroad tracks.

As New Jersey base ball spread in the 1860's and 70's, the railroad became important as means of enabling competition to develop on a state wide  basis.  I've been doing some research on the second incarnation of the Olympic Club of Paterson which was founded in 1864, disbanded by the end of the decade and resurrected in 1874.  The club is interesting, if for no other reason, because four of its members, Ed "The Only" Nolan, Mike "King," Kelly, Jim McCormick and Blondie Purcell went on to the major leagues.  It appears Nolan was the first to toil for the Olympics, serving as the club's primary pitcher in 1874 and 1875.

Photo from Joe Gallo

An Olympic Club trip to Morristown illustrates the challenges of playing away matches at that time.   Apparently there was no direct railroad connection covering the 22 miles between Paterson and Morristown, requiring the Olympic's traveling party of 40 to go by railroad to Jersey City or Newark to get a train to Morristown.  Then as now, however, there were always those who find an alternate route which they think/hope is preferable to the round about way.  In this case, a larger group, described in the Paterson Daily Press as more "impecunious" (without money) in nature took a Delaware, Lackawanna and Western coal train from Paterson to Denville.

In addition to taking a more direct route, they were, according to the paper, "stealing a ride," suggesting they had jumped on the train without paying.  Although this alternate, and perhaps illegal, approach, may have saved time, if not money, it also left the group some six miles from the field.  Whether anticipated or not, the trek didn't deter them as the paper cited the "amusing" sight of "scores of ragged, blackened and begrimed urchins and youth" arriving at the field.  At least their efforts didn't go unrewarded as the Olympic scored eight times in the fifth and 12 in the sixth for a convincing 26-12 win.

Photo from Joe Gallo 

On Saturday, of course, the Neshanock's railroad experience was no where near as arduous as either of the Paterson groups.  In fact those of us who went early, in a private car, were on the train no more than 15 minutes while the others on the regular route had a 40 minute trip.  Once the base ball got started, things on the field of play were historic in more ways than one as both Neshanock matches were similar to past experiences with the rival clubs. In the opener, Flemington and the Athletics played a close contest, reminiscent of our annual matches in Monroe, New Jersey.  Leading 10-7 after 6 1/2 innings, the Neshanock added four more while shutting out the Athletics for a 14-7 win.  With the victory, Flemington moved on to the championship match with the Elkton Eclipse in a game which unfortunately brought back memories of last year at the Philadelphia Naval Yard.  The Neshanock were leading 16-15 going to the bottom of the eighth when Elkton scored three times and held on for an 18-16 win.

Although the ending wasn't what we wanted it was a good day at an especially picturesque venue, hopefully one which will be repeated.  But what about the "three Nunns?"  It's not a misspelling of three sisters in a religious order, but a reference to the presence in the Neshanock lineup of a father and two sons, "Jersey" Jim Nunn and sons, Chris and Matt, ably cheered on by wife and mother, Mary.

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