When the first New Jersey base ball clubs were formed in the late 1850's, playing base ball was important to the organizers, but it certainly wasn't their entire life. In addition to work and family, a number of them were active in other organizations especially volunteer fire departments. As the population of places like Jersey City, Newark and Paterson grew in the antebellum period, protection from fire in predominately wooden buildings was an important civic responsibility for young men including ball players. In Jersey City, for example, the Pioneer Club, formed in 1855, had 11 members who were also part of Empire Hook and Ladder, No 1, a company made up of "men who would not associate with the rough element." There also may be a base ball - fire company connection with the Liberty Club of New Brunswick, an early Central New Jersey club which defeated the mighty Atlantic Club of Brooklyn in 1861. While it hasn't been definitely documented, it appears the New Brunswick club took it's name from a local fire company.
Harry "Cappy" Roberts
Picture by Mark Granieri
It was fitting, therefore, both historically and geographically for the Neshanock to participate in an event sponsored by the South Bound Brook Fire Company at Memorial Park not far from New Brunswick. The day of vintage base ball was organized by long time Neshanock member, Harry "Cappy" Roberts who out did himself both in terms of base ball history and the overall arrangements. Among the guests were Linda Ruth-Tosetti (Babe Ruth's granddaughter), Betsy Alverson (daughter of Noella "Pinky" Le Duc of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League), and James Robert Scott of the New York Black Yankees of the Negro Leagues. A leading off the field contributor to Negro League history was also present in the person of Dr. Lawrence Hogan who has done so much pioneering work to be sure that black players before Jackie Robinson are not forgotten. Free food was also provided for all the players, each of whom also went away with a commemorative mug so that the "Huzzahs" offered to "Cappy" for his day's work were lusty and made the welkin ring.
Originally the Neshanock were to play two matches against Eric Miklich's Brooklyn Eckfords, but the rest of the Eckfords were unable to attend so Eric headed up a select squad which consisted of two members of the fire department, Paul Salomone and some of his Elizabeth Resolutes and Russ McIver and another member of the Bog Iron Boys. Thanks to all of these gentlemen for literally stepping up to the plate to make the event a success. In honor of the occasion Eric wore his old base ball pants which will no doubt be the first exhibit should there ever be a vintage base ball hall of fame. As usual Eric combined skilled ball playing, sound historical knowledge along with his unique sense of humor to add to everyone's enjoyment.
Photo by Mark Granieri
The Neshanock were fortunate to have both a strong offensive and defensive club on hand which augured well for the day's success. Dan "Sledge" Hammer pitched the first match and along with strong Neshanock defense limited the select nine to only two runs. Spurred by six hits from Rene "Mango" Marerro and four apiece from "Sledge" and Tom "Thumbs" Hoepfner, the Neshanock tallied 14 times for a 14-2 victory. Included in "Sledge's" hits was another home run, giving him not only the Neshanock season record, but more than the entire club hit in the prior four years. With six hits in as many at bats, "Mango" could have had a clear score, but he was forced out by Mark "Gaslight" Granieri in Flemington's last at bat and the quirks of Henry Chadwick's scoring philosophy charge the out to the base runner. Today was the first time I've witnessed "Gaslight" play a position other than catcher and he distinguished himself in right field by a fly catch and throw (so to speak) that doubled a runner off of first.
Pre-game linguistic discussion on the Neshanock bench
Photo by Mark Granieri
After a break for rest, food and pictures, the second game began with a number of spectators joining the action which again resulted in a 14-2 Neshanock triumph. Although he had only half as many hits in this match, "Mango" did earn a clear score while "Sledge" added three more hits as did Dave "Illinois" Harris matching his feat of the first game. One of the select club's runs was a titanic home run to right field by Darryl Clyburn of the Resolutes. While neither match was close it was a good exhibition of vintage base ball that was well received by the crowd. Conversation on the Neshanock bench is usually pretty elevated, but it hit a new high prior to the first match when the day's proceedings were announced as the "first annual." After much discussion it was agreed that while the term was technically appropriate, the preferred usage is "inaugural." Whatever it's called, we hope do it again next year.