Among the most enjoyable matches the Neshanock play each season are those held to commemorate some aspect of base ball history. A case in point was this past Saturday when Flemington was fortunate enough to participate in an event at a venue, new to the Neshanock, but hardly to base ball, Cameron Field in South Orange, New Jersey. When I arrived, I realized that Paul Zinn had played base ball there about 20 years ago, but at the time, I had no idea of its history or the great base ball players who had performed there such as Babe Ruth and Lou Gerhig. Saturday's event honored the 100th anniversary of the field with special recognition for Hall of Famers Larry Doby and Monte Irvin, both of whom played there during their long careers. Doby's daughter and granddaughter were present as was Lee Leonard, a South Orange resident, who had a long career covering sports on radio and television including being literally the first person to speak on ESPN on September 7, 1979. For me, being in South Orange, was also an opportunity to see long time friends, Jude Seelbach and Donna Smith. Donna is running for the South Orange Board of Education and is an excellent choice for anyone with a vote in that election.
After 100 years of base ball, Cameron Field, South Orange is certainly among the venerable sporting venues in New Jersey, but the game has an even longer history in the Essex County community. The village itself split off from South Orange Township (now Maplewood) in 1869 after the township itself was created out of portions of Clinton Township and the city of Orange in 1861. Both of the latter two municipalities had base ball clubs before the Civil War with the Washington Club of Orange possibly being New Jersey's first organized base ball club. It's not clear if what is now South Orange had a team during the antebellum period, but the first club calling the village home was the Alert Club of Seton Hall which was mentioned in the Newark Daily Journal as early 1864. New Jersey's first college base ball team was clearly the Nassau Club of Princeton, but it appears the Alerts have a legitimate claim on the second position. A year later the college boys were joined by a second South Orange team, the Orient Club which had a not so auspicious debut, losing to the second nine of the Irvington Club by a count of 50-13.
Newark Daily Advertiser - June 10, 1865
For today's match, South Orange organized its own club, the South Orange Villagers, to take on the Neshanock. It's an excellent approach for such an event and Flemington always enjoys playing this kind of local team which sometimes leads to the formation of new clubs, like the Hoboken Nine, or the beginning of an annual event like the Memorial Day match in Newtown, Pennsylvania. The home club operates at an obvious competitive disadvantage as they are playing a new form of base ball for the first time against a team of veteran vintage players who play 40-45 matches per year. However, the Villagers played very well in the field, making a number of fine plays while committing only one muff over the course of the game. Flemington also had a strong defensive effort including a particularly noteworthy play in the bottom of the third that combined "strategy" and execution. The South Orange striker crushed a pitch to center field where wily Ken "Tumbles" Mandel lulled the batter into a false sense of security by first running in on a ball that was well over his head and then strolling after it while the crowd urged the batter to go for a home run. "Tumbles" leisurely peregrination allowed Tom "Thumbs" Hoepfner to get close enough to take "Tumbles" relay, and fire a long throw towards home which was cut off by Dan "Sledge" Hammer and whipped to Rene "Mango" Marerro just in time to nip the unsuspecting batter.
Not surprisingly the Neshanock had a good day at the striker's line with "Sledge" contributing a single, triple and a home run, joining "Thumbs," Scott "Snuffy" Hengst, Jack "Doc" Kitson and Julio"Grandpa" Carigga, (a first time Neshanock player) with three hits apiece. Going one better was "Mango" with four hits on the day. In the end it was a 20-2 Neshanock triumph, but it was a fun day for all, the Villagers did their best, it was a large, enthusiastic crowd and all of us on the Flemington side hope this becomes a regular event. Base ball is ultimately a team game and so credit for the Neshanock triumph is also due to Phyllis Shaw, Doreen Harris and Carol Zinn who watched Carter "Little Tumbles" Mandel during game so that his dad could "patrol" center field for Flemington. The Neshanock have three dates left in the 2014 season, next Saturday in Monroe Township, the following Sunday in Bridgewater and Saturday, October 11th in Allentown, New Jersey.