Lake Otsego, Cooperstown, New York
Over the course of a seven month vintage base ball season, the Neshanock customarily take two or three overnight trips, primarily to play matches with clubs from outside of our area. This past weekend was the first of two such 2014 trips, a visit to base ball's mythical birthplace, Cooperstown, New York for two days of matches at the Ommegang Brewery. Also making the trip were longtime friendly opponents, the Atlantic Base Ball Club of Brooklyn, a new rival - the Lewes Club of Lewes, Delaware and the Keystone Club of Harrisburg, an occasional opponent at regional events. Since a visit to Cooperstown also offers opportunities for book buying and archival research, Carol and I went up on Thursday to take full advantage of the possibilities.
Thursday afternoon was devoted to scouring the shelves of local bookstores which produced six additional volumes for my base ball library including an early edition of Zane Grey's 1909 novel, The Shortstop. With the book needs met (if only temporarily), a rainy and overcast Friday was spent in the Giamatti Research Center in the Hall of Fame Library. Most of the focus was on the later part of the 19th century, but I revisited the 1858-1861 Hamilton Club of Jersey City's minute book. While the Hamilton Club had very modest on-the-field success, its minute book is significant because, as far as I know, it's the only detailed record of an antebellum New Jersey club that still exists. Not surprisingly, further review surfaced some interesting items including an entry which may help identify New Jersey's first sportswriter, more about that in a future blog post.
Minute Book of the Hamilton Club of Jersey City
With research and book buying time finished, if not complete, Saturday and Sunday were spent at Ommegang Brewery outside of Cooperstown beginning with an inaugural match against the Lewes Club of Delaware. As the accompanying pictures illustrate, playing at Ommegang means taking on the terrain (up and down with plenty of rough spots) as well as the opposing team. Flemington got off to an early 4-0 lead, but Lewes tied it in the second and gradually built a 12-7 lead after six innings. However, the Neshanock rallied for four in the seventh and three in the eighth to lead 14-13 as Lewes came to bat in the bottom of the eighth. Lewes had only tallied once since the fourth, but five straight hits produced three runs so Flemington trailed by two going to the ninth. Although the Neshanock offense was much improved this weekend, the side was retired in order and Lewes prevailed in a closely contested match. Flemington welcomed back Mark "Peaches" Rubini to the lineup and he more than responded to the opportunity with five hits. Tom "Thumbs" Hoepfner and Chris "Lowball" Lowry also contributed four hits apiece and Brad "Brooklyn" Shaw wasn't far behind with three.
After a brief recess to sample Ommegang's best brew, the action resumed with Flemington hosting the Keystone Club of Harrisburg. From the start, the Neshanock's defense was in fine form, holding the Keystone Club to just one run over the first six innings. Among the defensive gems was Brad "Brooklyn" Shaw picking a runner off of first base and Dan "Sledge" Hammer throwing a runner out attempting to steal second, continuing the tradition of rifle armed (albeit of varying calibers) Neshanock catchers. Flemington scored once in each of the first three innings and added three more in the sixth for what appeared to be a comfortable 6 to 1 lead. As so often happens in base ball, however, just when a lead seems safe, it disappeared when Harrisburg erupted for a six run inning and a 7-6 lead. Fortunately Flemington was far from done, scoring five in the seventh and adding six in the eighth while blanking the Keystoners the rest of the way for a 17-7 win. Mark "Peaches" Rubini, not only matched his five hit performance of the first game, but didn't make an out the entire match, earning a clear score in the process. Everyone on the Neshanock had at least one hit and the bottom of the order made a major contribution with Joey "Midnight" Gallo and Joe "Irish" Colduvell getting two hits apiece, with Irish adding a stolen base.
Sunday brought a quick and unexpected turn-around as word was received about 7:00 a.m. that the first game had been moved up an hour. Although challenged by age and related factors, the Zinns rose (literally and figuratively) to the challenge and made the first pitch in ample time. Of the weekend's four matches, the contest with the Atlantics seemed to have the least potential for any success as in three previous encounters, the Brooklyn team outscored Flemington by an embarrassing combined score of 49-2. This match began on a more hopeful note, when Flemington tallied three times in their first striking attempt, but the Atlantics responded with a seven run first, painfully reminiscent of a nine run first inning only a week ago. After that, however, the tide began to change as the Neshanock added seven runs over the next three innings while allowing only one Atlantic tally.
Trailing (not a word usually associated with the Atlantics) 10-8 headed to the bottom of the fifth, Brooklyn tallied five times to retake the lead. Flemington came back to score once in the sixth and three times in the seventh to tie the match at 14-14 as the Atlantics came to bat in the same inning. By that point, as Ed "Pigtail" Elmore, Captain of the Atlantic said afterwards, the Neshanock had put a scare into what, in my opinion, is the best vintage base ball club in the country. A scare is one thing, an upset victory is another and the Atlantics tallied five times in the seventh and blanked Flemington the rest of the way for a very hard earned 19-14 win. Once again Mark "Peaches" Rubini led the attack with three hits (13 over three games) followed by Dan "Sledge" Hammer, Tom "Thumbs" Hoepfner, Danny Shaw and Brad "Brooklyn" Shaw, all with two apiece. Superlative defense also a major reason for the close contest with "Peaches," "Sledge," and "Thumbs" all making exceptional plays under the very difficult conditions.
With three matches in the books and long car rides ahead for all, Flemington and Lewes met for a re-match. Continued solid defense behind "Brooklyn's" stout pitching limited the Delaware club to one tally through five frames while the Neshanock tallied seven times. At that point, however, Flemington's offense dried up while Lewes chipped away to tie the game at 7-7 after eight innings. Lewes went down 1-2-3 in the top of the ninth, giving the Neshanock an opportunity to score and head for their cars. Charles "Bugs' Klasman (a much appreciated guest from the Gotham Club of New York) led off the bottom of the ninth with a single, but the Neshanock could not bring him home and the match went to extra innings. It's almost automatic in base ball that if a team fails to win a game in the bottom of the ninth, the missed opportunity will come back to haunt them. It looked like that would happen once again as Lewes tallied once for a one run advantage, but Joey "Midnight" Gallo led off with a single, stole second (or his runner did) and advanced to third on a ground out. "Peaches" then singled the tying run home and was on third with two hands out and Dave "Illinois" Harris at the striker's line. No one on the Neshanock bench was surprised when "Illinois" rose to the challenge and drove "Peaches home with the winning tally, sending the Neshanock party home happy with two wins in four closely contested matches.
Partial list of the membership of the Hamilton Club of Jersey City
The four hour car ride home left plenty of time for reflection on a great weekend of base ball. In the introduction to our book about the 1916 season, I wrote that while that season wasn't base ball greatest season, it was base ball at its best because it featured close pennant races, record setting performances and controversy. As I think about it, the four matches at Ommegang were also base ball at its best, but for different reasons. While it would have been great to have won all four matches (especially the once against the Atlantics), just being part of competitive matches had its own rewards. A not insignificant part of those rewards was the spirit in which the matches were played - intense, competitive, but with respect for the opposition that made the post match handshake far more than a formality. Vintage base ball tries to recreate, not just the hitting, pitching and fielding of the 19th century, but also the spirit in which the game was played. At Ommegang, I think we did just that which made it base ball at its best. Thanks to all who made it possible especially family and friends who endured two days of chilly and windy conditions.