Monday, August 24, 2015

Weekend in New England - Base Ball and Grandchildren

Based on the large number of vintage base ball teams currently promoting games on social media as well as the many accounts of tournaments and festivals, the new version of the old game seems to be in good shape.  Perhaps like any American enterprise, approaches to vintage base ball, while always honoring historical accuracy, differ even in such basic issues as how to structure a schedule.  Many clubs like the Brooklyn Atlantics and the Elizabeth Resolutes follow the historical practice of playing primarily home and home matches with some games and tournaments at neutral sites.  Implicit in this approach is a home field, like that of the Atlantics in Smithtown, Long Island or the Resolutes' grounds at Rahway River Park.  The Flemington Neshanock, on the other hand, schedule matches as part of special events throughout New Jersey on the premise that such events, as a rule, draw bigger crowds.  It's an approach that works for Flemington, but I will admit that playing a certain number of games at a conveniently located home field has a certain appeal.

Photo by Mark Granieri

All of this came to mind this past weekend when the Neshanock traveled north to Massachusetts for a series of matches with the Essex Base Ball Association.  Founded in 2002 as the Essex Base Ball Club by the Danvers Historical Society, the Essex Club is now the traveling team for the larger  Association. which plays at the Spencer-Peirce-Little Farm in Newbury, Massachusetts, not far from the New Hampshire border.  What's different about this, at least to me, is that the Association sponsors four other clubs which play most of their games at the farm, an historic site in its own right.  The net result is a lot of vintage base ball in one place, offering fans and visitors multiple opportunities to witness the 19th century game.  Not only does this expand access for spectators, the relatively limited travel almost certainly facilitates player participation.  In keeping with historical accuracy, the other four clubs are modern re-incarnations of 19th century teams from Massachusetts and New Hampshire.  The Granite State representative is the Portsmouth Rockinghams while the Massachusetts clubs are the Lowell Baseball Nine, the Lynn Live Oaks and the Newburyport Clamdiggers.

Photo by Mark Granieri

The Neshanock's last visit to the Spencer-Peirce-Little Farm was in 2012, shortly after our granddaughter Sophie was born, and there was a certain symmetry to this year's trip as her baby brother, Henry, arrived at the end of June.  So for the Zinn family the stage was set for a great weekend of vintage base ball and grandchildren.  The farm is a beautiful venue for base ball and the weather which was forecast to be wet, turned out to be sunny and comfortably warm with a refreshing breeze.  Flemington's first opponent was the Rockingham Club, the newest member of the Association, based on a club that played in nearby Portsmouth, New Hampshire in 1866 and 1867.  As has been the case for most of the season, Flemington won the bat toss, sending the home team to striker's line first.  Off to a good start defensively, the Neshanock set Rockingham down without a run and then got off to a hot start in their first two at bats, to take a 6-1 lead after only two innings.

Photo by Mark Granieri

However, based on today's play, Rockingham is a solid club and they battled back to tie the game at 6-6 after four innings and then went ahead 7-6 going to the bottom of the sixth. However, the Neshanock were far from done and scored four times to take a 10-7 lead.  Rockingham quickly got back to work tying the match at 10-10 and then shut the Neshanock out over the last two innings (the game was limited to 8 innings due to time constraints) while scoring two in the top of the eighth for a hard fought 12-10 victory.  Flemington did well at the striker's line throughout the match, led by Chris "Sideshow" Nunn, Dave "Illinois" Harris and Ken "Tumbles" Mandel with three hits apiece.  They were ably supported by one of the Neshanock's two father and son acts, Brad "Brooklyn" Shaw and Danny "Batman" Shaw each with two hits.

Photo by Mark Granieri

After a very short respite, again due to time limits, Flemington took the field for a match with the Lowell Baseball Nine of Boston, a team that was founded in 1861 and named after John A. Lowell, one of the founders and a top ball player of the time.  According to the Association's web site, the team played their matches on Boston Common and were one of the top New England clubs at the end of the decade.  The modern re-incarnation was certainly worthy of the original as they quickly got off to a 3-0 lead.  Flemington came back just as quickly to tie the game and the two teams settled down for another back and forth affair.  Lowell led 5-4 going to the bottom of the fifth, but another Neshanock big inning plated four runs and an 8-5 lead headed to the top of the sixth.  Unfortunately teams that live by the big inning sometimes die by the big inning and that was the case in this match as Lowell scored seven times in the sixth on their way to a 14-9 win.  It was another good offensive performance for Flemington with "Sideshow" repeating his three hit performance, joined this time by his dad, "Jersey" Jim Nunn and Brad "Brooklyn" Shaw.  Further offense came from"Batman," "Illinois" and Mark "Gaslight" Granieri with two hits each.

Photo by one tired Grandfather

As on the Neshanock's 2012 trip to  Massachusetts, the Sunday games were at Fort Warren on George's Island, a short ferry ride into Boston Harbor.  However, since grandchildren outrank almost everything, Carol and I didn't make the Sunday games, but instead spent the rest of our visit in on-the-job training in watching a three year old and a two month old simultaneously.  If I'm lucky I'll recover by the time of our next visit in October.  Fortunately, as always, Mark "Gaslight" Granieri, having successfully found Georges Island, was kind enough to provide pictures and a brief recap.  Sunday's games were scheduled against the Lynn Live Oaks and Newburyport Clamdiggers.  The Lynn club recreates a team from Lynn, Massachusetts which played in the International League in 1877 and 1878.  Regardless of the team's talent levels in 1877, their pitchers got plenty of guidance as the team was managed by Hall of Famer, Candy Cummings, whose plaque credits him with inventing the curve ball.  Newburyport, which if I understand the geography correctly, is the adjoining town to Newbury, the site of the farm, was home to the Clamdiggers Club, a team which played in the New England League in 1885 and 1886.

Apparently, Newburyport only had a few players available, but there is strength in the numbers of having four different teams so the Neshanock with the help of players from the other two teams, played the Lynn Live Oaks twice.  In the opener, Flemington got off to an early lead and held it for a 17-8 win behind the pitching of Danny "Batman" Shaw.  Reportedly a key part of the Neshanock attack was a three run home run by Ken "Tumbles" Mandel which is hard to visualize, but since the New York Mets scored two runs on Sunday on back-to-back wild pitches, I suppose nothing should surprise me about base ball.  The second match was limited to six innings to allow both clubs and their fans to catch the 2:00 ferry and it was a relatively easy win for Lynn which prevailed 12-2.  Although the overall record was only 1-3, it was an enjoyable weekend and it's clear that the Essex Base Ball Association has a good approach that works well.  While I'm sure many people make it happen, special mention should be made of Brian Sheey, president of the Association and his brother, Chris, captain of the Lowell Club.  On October 17th, the Association's final event of the year will be the third annual Jan's Pitch, a fund raiser for breast cancer research and the arts, in honor and memory of Brian and Chris's mother, Jan, an art teacher, who died from breast cancer in April of 2013.  It is an event and a cause well worth the support of the entire vintage base ball community.

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