Sunday, June 14, 2015

Ever changing yet eternally the same

Saturday marked rare consecutive matches for the Neshanock against the same club.  Less than two weeks ago Flemington traveled to Elkton, Maryland to take on the Eclipse Club and yesterday, Elkton made the return trip to the Howell Living History Farm near Lambertville, New Jersey.  It's an annual event which, as always, attracted a small, but appreciative group of fans, four of whom became muffins for the day joining the match on the Neshanock side.  From my experience, Elkton is one of the country's best vintage clubs featuring good hitting, solid defense and entertaining pitching by Tom "Schoolboy" Duffy.  I'd love to watch a match with "Schoolboy" going up against Eric Miklich, in fact, I'd pay to see to that.  The combination of good pitching and sound defense pretty much shut the Neshanock's offense down for the entire first game, limiting Flemington to just six hits and one run.  Elkton led 3-1 after four, 6-1 after five and then broke the seven inning game up with a 7 run seventh for a 13-1 triumph.

Early in the second game, Flemington got going on offense, leading 5-2 after three, but leaving the bases loaded with none out in the top of the third doomed the Neshanock's chances against a good hitting club like Elkton.  Flemington still led 5-4 going to the bottom of the sixth (another seven inning match), but the visitors from Maryland scored five times for a 9-5 triumph.  Two offensive highlights for Flemington in the second game were a clear score by Danny "Batman" Shaw and two hits including a double by new Neshanock (but no Muffin) Bo Koltnow.  Flemington did play strong defense in both games, but winning low scoring games against clubs like Elkton is extremely difficult.  Special thanks to Charles "Bugs" Klasman of the Gotham Club of New York who joined the Neshanock for the day, carrying the bulk of the pitching load.  Next week Flemington returns to base ball's incubator in Hoboken for the annual match honoring the June 19, 1846 Knickerbocker - New York club match.

Playing Field at Howell Living History Farm, Elkton Eclipse web site

Both Howell Living History Farm and the Flemington Neshanock have at least one thing in common, a mission to recreate how activities which continue today, were done in the past.  As a result, the focus understandably becomes the differences between then and now. Understandable though it may be, however, in the case of base ball  there's a downside to giving too much weight to the differences between past and present.  Over emphasis on what has changed can lead to losing sight of that which endures, the things that make up the very essence of base ball's timeless and everlasting appeal.  One enduring aspect of base ball is the the fan's love of the game, passion sufficient to pay to watch it being played.  After all, if people didn't want to pay to watch major league base ball, be it at the average 50 cents price of 1915 or the roughly 40 times that amount ($20) a century later, the game would never have become what it is today.

Brooklyn Daily Eagle - 1915

If fan interest is part of base ball's sustained popularity, it stands to reason that no matter how much things have changed over the past century, there is some degree of commonality between fans then and now.  In that spirit what follows is a brief look at three fans (one nameless) who on examination aren't so very different from their modern counterparts.


During the modern World Series, the TV camera invariably captures stars of stage and screen sitting in the crowd (in the best seats, of course), a number of whom just happen to appear on programs airing on the network televising the series.  No such promotional synergies were available during the the Deadball Era, but that shouldn't suggest the earlier generation of actors lacked enthusiasm for the relatively new fall classic.  Shortly before Ebbets Field hosted it's first World's Series (that's how it was written at the time) in October of 1916, the below blurb appeared in the columns of the New York Tribune:

New York Tribune - October 8, 1916

Mr. Collier is William Collier who began a 60 year acting career performing Gilbert and Sullivan as a child before moving to Broadway and then to Hollywood where he performed in silent movies produced by Mack Sennett.  A contemporary and fellow performer of George M. Cohan (another big time base ball fan) Collier was starring that fall with Margaret Brainard in a well received farce entitled "Nothing but the Truth."  If  I understand the article correctly, Collier avoided any disappointed financial backers and/or potential theater goers by buying all the tickets for a performance that never took place.  Talk about commitment.

William Collier 

Hard Core Fans

Passion to see a World's Series game was not, however, limited to celebrities for whom the major challenge was finding time in their schedules.  Others, even some unnamed, overcame far greater barriers of time and distance. Tickets for the 1916 World's Series in Brooklyn were sold in three game strips which became an administrative headache for Ebbets and the McKeevers when Brooklyn only hosted two games, requiring large scale refunds.  Describing the process to reporters allowed Charles Ebbets to share some interesting anecdotes like the following account which appeared in the New York Tribune

            "Ed McKeever," concluded Mr. Ebbets, "broke a series ticket to accommodate one
           enthusiast.  This was an engineer who hoboed all the way from South Dakota to
           see a game.  He had only the price of a three-dollar ticket, and he wanted to start
           the long, homeward journey immediately after the game.  He said he had not missed
           a world's series since 1906 and as money was tight out his way he decided on the
           freight route.  It took him eleven days to get to the series.

New York Tribune - October 29, 1916

Eleven days on the rails to see one game which lasted about two hours and then getting back on the train for an equally onerous return trip takes commitment to the game to a new level for a man who may not even have had a rooting interest.

The Kids

While celebrities and hard core enthusiasts have been, and will probably always be, part of base ball's fan base, at the core of the game's deathless appeal is the story of a child experiencing his/her first major league game.  The following story describes one such experience, not at a World's Series game, but at a routine, run of the mill, June, 1914 contest.  Routine for many, perhaps, but not if you were a ten year old boy named Tony Calabro.

             Tony Calabro, a 10-year old youngster, who lives at 79 Main Street is one of the
             brightest honor pupils in Public School No. 1, Adams and Concord Streets,
             and he is also a baseball fan of the thirty-third degree.  He is in Miss Deam's
             ungraded class, and he worked mighty hard at his lessons because he had never
             seen a big league baseball game, and he knew that if he could earn one of
             The Eagle's honor roll tickets he would have a chance to go and get some points
             on inside baseball.  He earned the ticket all right, but the other youngsters from
             the school started off without him, and he did not know how to get to Ebbets
             Field alone.  He did know where The Eagle Building was, though, so he went
             over to Aunt Jean's office and told her his troubles.  He was so earnest in his
             desire to see the game that something had to be done for him.  Consequently
             a reporter was assigned to take him to the game and see that he got home safely.

Game action at Tony Calabro's first game, Brooklyn Daily Eagle - June 4, 1914

               The minute Tony caught sight of the field he started on a run, and could hardly
                be persuaded to stop to give up the ticket which he had been clutching in his
                hand all the way up.  All during the game he sat up on the edge of his seat
                just back of the press box and rooted for the home team like a true
               dyed-in-the wool baseball bug.  He did not know the players but he knew the
               game and he was strongly in favor of long hits.  When Rucker made his
               three-bagger in the fifth inning Tony nearly jumped out of stand in his
               enthusiasm.  He scrambled with the best of them for the foul balls that came into
               the stand and finally had the proud privilege of throwing one back with such
               good aim that he nearly hit the Boston catcher on the head.  When the last man
               went out for Boston and Tony knew that Brooklyn had won, 6-3, his cup of
               happiness was filled, although he would have preferred staying around the ball
               grounds until the next game.  He even expressed a desire to take up his permanent
               residence there, so he could watch the games until he grew big enough to be a
               player, but was finally persuaded to wait for another Honor Roll Day.

Brooklyn Daily Eagle  - June 7, 1914

A 1907 Aunt Jean's Outing to Washington Park 

Aunt Jean who came to young Tony's rescue was a Brooklyn woman named Thyra Espenscheid, who was the lead person on a circulation drive aimed at building the children's audience to give their parents incentive to subscribe to the paper.  In addition to an annual honor roll outing, first to Washington Park and then to Ebbets Field, Aunt Jean directed juvenile clubs sponsoring programs in literature, art and entertainment.  An author in her own right, Espenscheid wrote for the Eagle under her own name and published "Christmas House," a 1943 children's book about the writing of "The Night Before Christmas," under the pen name of Thyra Turner.

The annual Eagle honor roll outing or rather outings was no small affair.  Tony Calabro's day at Ebbets Field was one of three June 1914 games set aside to accommodate 20000 honor roll students.  Attendance at the game Tony attended was limited to 5000 of the honor roll crowd because Charles Ebbets was also hosting 1000 orphans that day.  Ebbets may or may not have been cheap, but he was smart enough to recognize that out of 20000 young fans, there were more than enough who would eventually become paying customers for life.  Something they would pass on to their children, grandchildren and generations yet unborn.

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