Monday, July 21, 2014

Gettysburg - 2014

 Photo by Mark Granieri

My first year as tally keeper or score keeper for the Flemington Neshanock was in 2010 after two years in the same capacity for the Newark Eureka, a Neshanock spin off which didn't bear fruit.  During its two year existence, the Eureka played relatively infrequently so 2010 was my introduction to the much more extensive Neshanock schedule.  All of it was so new that I didn't pay particular attention to a six team tournament in Gettysburg.  It was hardly my first visit to the area of the great Civil War battleground in southern Pennsylvania and I had encountered most of the participating clubs during my time with the Eureka.  It turned out, however, that the inaugural event was just the beginning of what has become a top flight vintage base ball experience at a great venue in a picturesque and historic setting.  Much credit goes to the Elkton Eclipse for their work not only for starting the event, but also for expanding and enhancing the experience. 

Abner Doubleday doesn't belong in Cooperstown, but definitely has a place at Gettysburg where he took over command of the Army of the Potomac's First Corps after the death of John Reynolds

Photo by Mark Granieri

Very wisely, in my opinion, the organizers shifted the format from a tournament played to determine a champion to a festival where every club plays four matches primarily against infrequent opponents from other parts of the country.  Avoiding the complexities of brackets, tie-breakers etc., facilitated expanding the field from six in 2010 to eighteen clubs this year, representing Maryland, Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, Delaware, Rhode Island, Michigan, Ohio and the District of Columbia.  A side benefit is the presence in one place of many of the eastern clubs so, for example, members of the Neshanock can visit with their friendly rivals from the Atlantics, Gothams, Mutuals and Eckfords.  Another factor essential to expanding the number of participants was the 2013 move to Schroders Farm (formerly the Yingling Farm), a space so large five different matches can be played simultaneously.  My understanding is that the farm was also used in the filming of the movie "Gettysburg" and the landscape certainly is similar to the embattled fields between nearby Seminary and Cemetery Ridges.

Photo by Mark Granieri 

A new feature of this year's festival was assigning the rules of different years to each match on a much broader basis than the more typical 1864 or 1873 alternatives.  It had its comical moments such as the Neshanock - Forest City match where no one including the umpire knew if base runners advance on a walk as they do under the 1864 rules.  The confusion produced a rule book consultation and discussion worthy of a modern instant replay review before finding that the rule was indeed the same.  Using different rules especially 1850's rules can also offer some interesting insights.  In discussing one major 1855 rule (first team to score 21 tallies wins) with Dean "Dreambucket" Emma of the Brooklyn Atlantics, he mentioned the Atlantics had previously played an 1855 match where the game went on long enough that the game was stopped before either team reached the magic number.  To the extent I've thought about the 21 run scenario, I've only  considered the potential to create a shorter game, never the possibility that good pitching, good defense, weak hitting or a combination of the three, could make it hard to bring a game to a conclusion.  Of all the variations which were used, the most fascinating was a Philadelphia town ball match which will get a more detailed treatment within the next few weeks.

Photo by Mark Granieri

The Neshanock's first festival action began early Saturday afternoon against the familiar faces of the Talbot Fair Play Club of Maryland under the equally familiar 1873 rules.  For some reason, the Neshanock followed a pattern throughout the weekend of digging a hole and then trying to climb out of it, not an approach that typically works well against a fine club like Talbot.  The Maryland club quickly scored five times in the top of the first and added six more in the fourth for an early 12-1 advantage.  Although Flemington scored four times in the fifth, Talbot got three back in their half of the sixth for a seemingly comfortable 18-5 advantage.  Having dug a seemingly insurmountable hole, however, the Neshanock proceeded to score 12 times in one inning, amazingly making up almost the entire deficit by combining eight Flemington hits with five Talbot walks and muffs.  Only two more innings were played because of a time limit and the Neshanock defense did its part allowing only two more Talbot tallies, but Flemington was unable to score again in a 20-17 defeat.  The Neshanock attack was led by Tom "Thumbs" Hoepfner and Dave "Illinois" Harris, each with three hits, supported by Dan "Sledge" Hammer, Mark "Gaslight" Granieri, "Jersey" Jim Nunn, Chris "Lowball" Lowry and Joe "Mick" Murray all with two apiece.

Photo by Mark Granieri

After a brief break, Flemington returned to action with an 1864 match against the Franklin Base Ball Club of Pittsburgh, a one time 2011 opponent at the Ommegang Brewery Tournament in Cooperstown.  Hole digging reached a new high or low in this affair when Franklin tallied 11 times in the first before Flemington had even come to bat.  Earlier in the day we had been joined by base ball historian Richard Hershberger, who has a comprehensive and encyclopedic knowledge of the game's development.  During the lengthy Franklin at bat, Richard mentioned he had never seen a home run in a vintage game even though home runs were certainly been part of early base ball.  Always anxious to oblige, the Neshanock quickly took care of that when lead off striker, Mark "Peaches" Rubini belted out a four base hit.  That was only the beginning, however, as Flemington added six additional home runs, more, in fact than the Neshanock have hit in the prior four seasons combined.  Given that kind of fire power, it's no surprise, the Neshanock wiped out the early 11 run deficit in just two innings, clubbing their way to a football-like 35-24 victory.   "Peaches" added a second home run, joined by "Thumbs" with two and "Sledge" with three.  Nor was the onslaught limited to the long ball as the Neshanock had 29 hits of the lesser variety, led by "Illinois" with five and matched by"Thumbs" who also earned a clear score.  Among the others with multi-hit games were Chris "Sideshow" Nunn, Jack "Doc" Kitson, Joey "Midnight" Gallo and Danny "Batman" Shaw.  The sole negative for Flemington (other than giving up 11 run in one inning) was an injury sustained by "Illinois" which sidelined him for the rest of the festival.

  Photo by Mark Granieri

 Early Sunday morning saw the Neshanock back at Schroders Farm for an 1867 match with the Forest City Club of Cleveland, another 2011 Cooperstown opponent.  Flemington tried to avoid the early deficit by striking first (literally), tallying three runs in the top of the first, but the lead was short lived as the Ohio club answered with eight tallies.  The Neshanock bounced back with four in the second led by another "Sledge" home run, but Forest City was too strong and coasted to a 20-11 victory.  Flemington did have some stand out defensive performances by "Sideshow" who made some fine running catches in center field and at third base by Danny "Batman" Shaw who played well at a relatively new position throughout the festival.  After a break of almost 90 minutes, the Neshanock took the field for the last time against another Ohio club, the Cincinnati Red Stockings in a match played under 1864 rules.  Once again, Flemington fell behind early, but rallied for to open a 13-7 lead after four and held on for a 14-11 victory and a 2-2 festival record.  Brad "Brooklyn" Shaw pitched the match and contributed three hits to his own cause, aided, among others, by Ken "Tumbles" Mandel with two hits matching his performance in the morning match.  After that it was time to change, take in a little of the Philadelphia town ball match and head home after a highly enjoyable and entertaining weekend.

Memorial to Battery B, 1st New Jersey Artillery (Clark's Battery) near the Peach Orchard

Although the agenda for the weekend was base ball, any visit to Gettysburg requires remembering the historic events that took place there 151 years ago especially when the route to and from the Festival passed through the center of the battlefield.  The route is full of monuments and the total for the entire battlefield must number at least in the hundreds to the point that it would take days, if not longer, to read them all.  I had the opportunity on Friday night to take some of the Neshanock party on a brief tour (I'm far from an expert on Gettysburg) including some young adults of college age.  It reminded me of the growing challenge of adequately commemorating what happened there as we get further and further away from the actual event.  There is, I fear, the danger that the monuments may become like the dry bones in the biblical passage from Ezekiel, marble memorials that have no life in them.  However, just as God could breath life into those dry bones, we can do the same so the monuments continue to serve as doorways to the stories of "The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here."

Just one example is the story of Richard Price, a young 25 year old man from Newark, a member of Clark's New Jersey artillery battery which, at the Peach Orchard on July 2nd, fired over 1300 rounds, supposedly the highest number of shells fired by any one artillery battery on a single day in the entire war.  Price was badly wounded during the battle, suffered at least one amputation and then almost drowned when the army hospital was washed out by a flash flood.  Sadly almost 60 days after the battle, Price died and was ultimately buried in the New Jersey section of the new National Cemetery.  In 1886, some 23 years after the battle,  some of Price's comrades, along with his father and other family members came to a reunion on the anniversary of the battle.  According to Michael Hanifen's history of the battery, after the veterans praised Price and his sacrifices, his father broke down sobbing, "My boy, my boy, O God, why did you take my boy? He was all I had."  Supposedly nothing could comfort him until a woman hugged him and said, "Look at that flag.  Your son died for that flag . . . When you and I are dead, patriots standing where we are now, will remember his name."  

The retelling of that story has once again honored that promise.

"That these dead, shall not have died in vain"

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