Sunday, May 4, 2014

North and South - Part 2

 Photo by Mark Granieri

After spending most of April traveling outside of New Jersey, sometimes without even playing a match, the Neshanock returned to the Garden State on Saturday with a visit to Merrill Park in Iselin, New Jersey which is part of Woodbridge Township.  It was a great venue and the hosts did an excellent job of making everything work smoothly.  The game was taped for the township's local cable station which put me in the unfamiliar role as part of a three man broadcast crew, in my case providing historical background and context.  It was an enjoyable experience and gave me a sense of how television broadcasts really work, hopefully most of what I said was correct and, at least, somewhat entertaining.  The video will reportedly be put up on the township's web site and I'll give the link when that happens.

Photo by Mark Granieri

Today's opponent was the Brooklyn Eckford under the leadership of old-friend, Eric (Not always right, but never in doubt) Micklich, a relatively new club with some excellent players augmented today by some members of the Brooklyn Atlantics.  Played under 1864 rules, the Neshanock got off to a quick start scoring three in times in the top of the first, but the Eckford responded putting up five tallies in the bottom of the inning.  While it was a good Neshanock defensive effort after that, the offense wasn't there and Eckford scored enough runs for an 11-5 triumph.  Dave "Illinois" Harris, "Jersey" Jim Nunn and muffin Glenn Modica each had two hits for the Neshanock.  It was a second strong effort for Modica who had two doubles and would have had a clear score had he not been put out at home in the top of the seventh.  Scott "Snuffy" Hengst had a solid day in left field with five put outs (three in one inning) and two assists.  Next week the Neshanock will host the Brooklyn Atlantic for the annual match in Chester, New Jersey which usually draws a good crowd.

Steamboat landing at Cape May, primary means of access before the railroad

Although today's trip was short and smooth, as we all know, modern travel doesn't lack for frustrations, ranging from waiting at airports to being stuck in traffic jams.  However, the difficulties pale in comparison to the 1850's and 1860's, when the time consuming arduous nature of travel, led most people to spend their entire lives within a very limited geographic area.  But even then, the population was mobile enough to facilitate the spread of the New York game throughout the country, the young New Yorkers who joined the California gold rush being just one example.  Another way base ball came to new communities was via vacationers who played base ball as part of their sojourn in resort communities which is apparently how the New York game (albeit by way of Philadelphia) came to Cape May, the southernmost point in New Jersey.

 Photo by George Granieri

Cape May's attraction for residents of south Jersey and Philadelphia is demonstrated by the formidable obstacles 19th century travelers were willing to overcome just to get there.  During the antebellum period, the options were limited to "tedious hours" on a steamboat or, even worse, a two-day stage coach ride from Philadelphia in a carriage built for durability, not speed or comfort.  In addition to stops at almost every village along the way, riders had to tolerate "crude, overnight accommodations" at Bridgeton before getting to Cape May, then known as Cape Island because of a small stream that separated the resort from the mainland.  Still by the early 1840's, some 3000 visitors a summer vacationed there, an impressive number given the limited accessibility, but insufficient to attract investors to finance a railroad connection.

The Ocean Wave - June 24, 1868 - artist's rendering of Cape May in the late 1860's

By 1863, however, the situation had changed  and on August 23rd, the West Jersey railroad reached a point about ten miles from Cape May, supposedly substituting a three hour train ride from Camden for the two days in a stage coach.  Although a dramatic improvement, the trip by rail wasn't quite as convenient as it may have sounded.  Four years later, in 1867, a reporter for the Camden Democrat, made the trip, leaving Camden at 4:00 p.m. and arriving in Cape May at 1:30 the next morning, "exceedingly" fatigued.  Apparently the three hours on the rails didn't include changing trains twice en route, each time with lengthy delays to transfer passengers and baggage, not to mention covering the ten miles from the railroad terminus to Cape May.

The first documented base ball game in Cape May was played on the lawn of Congress Hall

Predictably though, the improved access led to more summer visitors especially from the Philadelphia area and it was only a question of time before some of them decided to make base ball part of their vacation activities.  As noted previously, Philadelphia's first organized clubs played a game called Philadelphia town ball instead of the New York game, but during the Civil War period, they saw the error of their ways and converted to base ball.  And so, in July of 1865, the first documented base ball match in Cape May took place on the lawn of Congress House, pitting a nine from that hotel, against a team from Columbia House, the other leading hotel at the resort.  Reportedly attended by "hundreds, if not thousands," who made the "welkin ring with loud huzzahs," Cape May at least had one reporter who knew the parlance of the game.  It appears most of the players were guests at the two hotels, as only a handful have been identified as Cape May residents.

New York Clipper - August 4, 1866

Perhaps somewhat surprisingly, given the above superlatives, Cape May's inaugural base ball match didn't immediately lead to the formation of a local base ball club.  Such a step in a still somewhat secluded resort community apparently required witnessing a higher level of play, an experience which wasn't long in coming.  In lauding the 1865 match, the Ocean Wave, noted that "the tour of the victorious Athletics of Philadelphia witnessed no better batting and fielding."  Hyperbole or not, local residents had a chance to make their own judgements when in July of 1866, the famous Athletics themselves came to Cape May to play two matches against a "picked nine" of players primarily from other Philadelphia clubs.  Upon arrival at the resort, the first priority was "bathing and dining" which took so long that the first game was limited to five innings by darkness, the Athletics prevailing, 18-14.  By 10:00 the next morning, the two clubs were back at it, this time going the full nine innings with the Athletics again coming out on top. 

The Athletics visit in conjunction with the other base ball activity generated sufficient enthusiasm to start Cape May's own base ball club.  Support for the idea also came from Ocean Wave editor Samuel Magonagle, who not only published two long articles explaining the game for those less conversant with the finer points, but also offered suggestions on the rules such as "it would be an improvement to have it [a home run], count two [runs]." While there were some hiccups along the way, the Cape Island Club finally got on the field at the end of October in 1866 for an inter-club match.  Later that same day, the club met to elect officers, headed by Dr. James Mecray, a prominent civic leader in Cape May.  After this flurry of activity, very few accounts of base ball matches appear in the local paper, a not uncommon occurrence in the late 1860's.  Some matches did, however, continue at the hotels and there were at least two active local clubs in 1869 with some of the1866 Cape Island Club members still active.  By 1866 base ball's reach within New Jersey extended from north to south plus most points in between. 

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