Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Pictures on the Wall - Gettysburg 2016

Vintage base ball games typically conclude with the recreation of a traditional practice of  the 19th century game, brief (hopefully) speeches by both captains, followed by cheers for the opposing team.  Almost without exception the speeches include praise for the umpire (hard to visualize today at any level), thanks to the fans, regardless of the number, and praise for the opposition.  If there is a host organization, they too receive the thanks of both teams.  While I didn't see all of the matches at the 2016 Gettysburg National Base Ball Festival this past weekend, one thing I can say with complete confidence is that the thanks offered to the Elkton Eclipse for arranging and managing the event was heart felt and in no way perfunctory.  First played in 2010, the festival has become what I suspect many, including myself, feel is simply in a class (the highest) by itself, an opinion in no way intended to find fault with many of the other fine vintage festivals and tournaments throughout the country.

Schroeder Farm early Saturday morning 

Since the Neshanock were fortunate enough to be part of the inaugural six team event, I've had the opportunity to observe the growth of the festival, growth far beyond just the number of participating teams - 18 in the 2016 version.  Opinions about what makes for a great vintage event are, of course, subjective, but what stands out to this observer is the initial vision of holding the event in Gettysburg, the shift from a tournament to a festival and the change in local venue.  Six years later the choice of Gettysburg may seem obvious, but for all it's historical importance (more about that later), the small village in southern Pennsylvania isn't particularly significant in terms of base ball in the Civil War period.  Originally the event was a tournament played to determine a champion, there's certainly nothing wrong with that approach, but it makes scheduling more complicated and uncertain, while also limiting the number of participants.  The festival format with each team playing four games scheduled well ahead of time is not only efficient, it facilitates setting up enjoyable and competitive contests.  All of these factors along with the move to the far larger Schroeder Farm, which allows five games to be played simultaneously, facilitates two things enjoyed by almost every vintage base ball participant, the chance to play teams from other parts of the country and to see old friends from the clubs we play more regularly.

Photo by Mark Granieri

So like the other 17 participating clubs, the Neshanock club wholeheartedly thanked the Eclipse Club at the end of each of its four matches which began with an early Saturday morning contest against one of vintage base ball's best clubs, the Old Gold BBC of Saginaw, Michigan.  Both teams tallied in their first at bat, but for the next four innings none of the Neshanocks touched home plate while Saginaw tallied seven more times.  Like most superior vintage clubs, the Michigan team played sound defense, not just in terms of difficult plays, but in simply making the routine, but no less important play.  The Old Golds also proved very consistent in scoring, never putting more than three runs across the plate, but scoring in all, but one inning.  Down 10-3 headed to the eighth, Flemington rallied for four runs, closing the gap to a manageable 10-7 margin, setting up the opportunity for a come behind win, if Saginaw could be held in check in their half of the eighth.  That looked feasible when, after allowing a lead off hit, the Neshanock retired the next two batters, but the Michigan team was not to be denied bunching two hits and a Flemington muff to tally three more times and a 13-7 victory.  Although limited on offense, the Neshanock were led by Dave "Illinois" Harris with three hits, followed by Chris "Sideshow" Nunn, Dan "Sledge" Hammer and Jack "Doc" Kitson with two apiece.

Special thanks to Stormy Banschbach of the Belle River Club for the use of two of his fine photos

Playing early on what promised to be a hot day (this is after all, Gettysburg in July) was a plus and Flemington was fortunate enough to play two straight finishing the day's work before 1:00.  In the second Saturday contest the opposition was again provided by a Michigan team, this time the Richmond Bees.  The first half of the game was another low scoring affair with the Neshanock holding Richmond to just three runs through five innings, but able only to score four tallies of its own turns at the striker's line.  Fortunately, Flemington scored seven more times over the second half of the game while shutting out the Michigan team the rest of the way for an 11-3 win.  Leading the Neshanock offense was "Sideshow," Flemington's lead off batter who not only had four straight hits, but scored each time.  Unfortunately his bid for a clear score fell one short when he was retired in his last at bat in the eighth inning.  Chipping in with two hits each were "Sledge," Mark "Gaslight" Granieri, Ken "Tumbles" Mandel and Chris "Muffin" Smith, the latter making his first, but hopefully not last appearance in a Flemington uniform.  Departing from standard practice,the post game speech omitted the customary praise of the umpire which may be because the speaker was Danny "Batman" Shaw and the umpire, one, Brad "Brooklyn" Shaw.

Photo by Stormy Banschbach

After an afternoon and evening of sampling what Gettysburg has to offer, the Neshanock returned to the Schroeder Farm on another hot day under a pristine blue sky spotted with picturesque white clouds.  The first Sunday game brought another Midwest opponent, the Belle River BBC of Rising Sun, Indiana, not to be confused with the team from Rising Sun, Maryland which was also a participant.  Sometimes the story of a base ball match is not the game itself and such was the case in Flemington's 19-4 win over the game and gentlemanly Indiana team.  After "Sideshow's" flirtation with a clear score in the second Saturday game, three members of the Neshanock attempted to meet one of Henry Chadwick's highest standards, playing an entire game without making an out.  Under Chadwick's criteria, getting on base on an error is as good as a hit and even hitting into a force play doesn't disqualify the striker.  The latter exception, however, is a two edged sword as under Chadwick's system, the out on the force out is charged to the runner.  Successfully meeting the test was "Sledge," with four hits including a triple and a home run hit into the right center field gap.  Also on the clear score quest was "Gaslight," working for the somewhat less than stylistic variation of one of the ugliest clear scores in history, reaching base twice on muffs before being retired in his last at bat.  Finally there was "Tumbles," doubtless Flemington's favorite player who after two singles, followed "Sledge's" example by doubling into the gap.  With the pressure on in the bottom of the eighth, "Tumbles" came through with another well placed hit, only to be denied the clear score when he was forced out at second - "sic transit gloria."

Photo by Mark Granieri

After the high drama or low comedy of the clear score quest, the Neshanock still had one match left, against a more familiar opponent, the Lewes BBC of Delaware.  Back in 2014, the two clubs met twice at the Ommegang Brewery in Cooperstown, splitting two close contests and the Delaware club remains a worthy foe.  Low scoring was once again the order of the day, but taking a page from the Saginaw's book, Flemington scored at least once in the first six innings and led 8-4 at that point.  Lewes rallied for two in the bottom of the seventh, but the Neshanock got those back to lead 10-6 heading into Lewes' last time at the striker's line.  In an inning reminiscent of the last game of the New England Festival three weeks ago, the Neshanock made it a lot harder than necessary, but retired the last striker with the tying run on base to finish the festival with a 3-1 mark, Flemington's best performance in the seven years of the event.  Excelling for the Neshanock was Tom "Thumbs" Hoepfner with four hits, featuring two doubles and a triple plus some fine work in the field especially throwing a Lewes striker out at first from his knees.  Joe "Mick" Murray contributed three hits (after two in the first game) with "Gaslight" and "Illinois" coming up with two each.  Now 15-6 on the season, Flemington plays an exhibition game of sorts in Princeton on Saturday followed by a Sunday match with the Atlantics of Brooklyn at MCU Park at Coney Island in Brooklyn.

Commemorative coin used for coin toss and awarded to the winning team
photo by Mark Granieri 

That Gettysburg National Park has tremendous drawing power is evident by just looking at the license plates in the parking lot, seen this time, for example, were cars from as far away as Nevada and the state of Washington.  Some of the appeal is based on the premise that the battle of Gettysburg was the decisive event of the war, but that is certainly an arguable proposition.  One of the things that stands out about Gettysburg, I think, is it is one of those few places where the words ultimately matched the deeds, the place where some 272 words by Abraham Lincoln did indeed hallow the ground for all time.  The scope of what happened at Gettysburg is so vast that its natural to focus on the big picture historical debates such as the decisions of generals like Lee, Longstreet and Meade.  Equally, if not in some ways more important, however, is putting a human face on the ordinary soldiers, particularly those who made the ultimate sacrifice  Christ Lutheran Church in Gettysburg, just off the square, does just that through its Candlelight at Grace concert offered most Saturday evenings in the summer, http://candlelightatchrist.org/.  Drawing on the church's experience as a Civil War hospital the program features songs and readings that honor those who there "gave their lives that that nation might live."

Candlelight Service at Christ Lutheran Church Gettysburg

The musical selection includes well known songs like the "Battle Hymn of the Republic" and "Dixie," but also some songs perhaps less well remembered, that give a sense of the personal loss and suffering.  Especially noteworthy this year was Henry Clay Work's "The Picture on the Wall," a sad message of irretrievable loss which is perfectly captured in the refrain:

"Among the brave and loyal,
How many lov'd ones fall!
Whose friends bereft, Have only left
A picture on the wall."

If life is unfair, war is the unfairest part of life because some die before they have ever had the chance to live.  Nothing can recover those lost lifetimes, but everything can and should be done to be sure what they did in the time they had, is remembered and honored, and it's never too late to do that.  A case in point is that of  Alonzo Cushing, who was born in Delafield, Wisconsin and grew up in New York state before attending West Point.  

Alonzo Cushing

On July, 3 1863, the 22 year old Cushing was the commander of Battery A, 4th U.S. Artillery positioned on Cemetery Ridge near the copse of trees and the stone wall known to history as the High Water-Mark of the Confederacy because it represents the Confederates deepest penetration of the Union line.  Cushing used his battery to fill a gap in the Union lines at that crucial place and while commanding his troops received a wound in the shoulder, a horrific wound in the groin in addition to burning one of his fingers to the bone on a cannon.  Yet in spite of being urged to withdraw to seek treatment for his wounds, Cushing refused and was finally killed by another Confederate bullet.  His  place was taken by Sergeant Frederick Fuller who was later awarded the Medal of Honor, the country's highest military award.  No such award was forthcoming for Cushing, due to a hard to believe army regulation that the Medal of Honor could not be awarded posthumously.  When that regulation was wisely changed, Cushing's feats were somehow overlooked until over a century later in 1987 when Margaret Zerwekh, no relation to Cushing, of Delafield took up the cause.  Interested in local history (her house was on land once owned by the Cushing family), Zerwekh researched Cushing's story and then spent 27 years (five more years than Cushing lived) striving to do justice to this young man.  Medal of Honor awards more than five years after the person's death requires a special act of Congress, but finally the necessary legislation was passed and on November 6, 2014 President Obama presented the medal to one of Cushing's distant relatives with the 94 year old Zerwekh in attendance.

Monument to Battery A, 4th U. S. Artillery at Gettysburg 

Ensuring Cushing's actions were appropriately recognized and honored took more than a quarter of a century of work by a very committed and tenacious woman, something few of us could or would undertake.  But the contributions of programs like Christ Church also matter because they raise up the individual sacrifices that explain why the Union prevailed not just at Gettysburg, but ultimately in the war itself.  And by starting and developing a vintage base ball festival near that hallowed ground, the Elkton Eclipse help attract even more people from all over the United States to visit Gettysburg and hear those stories.  In the theater's there's a saying that "there are no small parts, only small actors."  The same thing is even more true of remembering the past, no contribution is too small and for all these contributions we should be truly grateful.  I, for one, am already looking forward to the 2017 festival.

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