Monday, June 26, 2017

Four Games, Three Teams, Two Venues

When the first pitch of the Neshanock's long base ball weekend was thrown at 11:25 in Princeton on Saturday, Flemington was four games over .500 at 8-4.  By the time the winning tally in the last game crossed the plate in Weatherly, Pennsylvania at 3:18 on Sunday, the Neshanock were still four games over .500 at 10-6, having apparently traveled extensively and labored mightily to finish in the same place they started.  Little could be further from the truth, of course, as the weekend saw two close, dramatic endings and produced no shortage of memorable moments. On Saturday, Flemington took on the Talbot Fair Plays of Maryland, one of the country's top vintage base ball clubs.  Although the game was publicized as an Historical Society of Princeton event, the Neshanock consider our annual visit to Princeton, the Tumbles' anniversary game, this year marking the sixth anniversary of the day Ken "Tumbles" Mandel's first joined the team.  It's safe to say the Neshanock have never been the same.

After winning the coin toss, Flemington elected to bat second, sending Talbot to the striker's line where they quickly scored two tallies.  However, the Neshanock bounced right back scoring four runs of their own to lead 4-2 after one, but Flemington wouldn't score again until the eighth inning.  By that time, Talbot had 14 tallies, due to a combination of some sloppy Neshanock defense which opened the door to timely hitting by Talbot.  Flemington did rally for four tallies in the eighth, but Talbot got two back in the top of the ninth for a convincing 16-8 victory. Talbot's play was marked by solid hitting, especially with two out, and sensational defense particularly on the left side of the infield.  Jeff "Duke" Schneider led the Flemington attack with three hits and would have registered a clear score, but for being thrown out attempting to steal something that proved difficult throughout the day.  Right behind "Duke" in the hit column were Gregg "Burner" Wiseburn, Brian "Spoons" LoPinto, Chris "Low Ball" Lowry and Meshack "Shaq" Desane with two hits each.  "Shaq" was a muffin playing in his first two vintage games and in addition to his two hits, made some impressive plays in the field, hopefully he will become a regular member of the Neshanock.

After a brief break between games, with the once again obligatory "Casey at the Bat," the second contest began, this time with the Neshanock going first to the striker's line and putting two tallies across the plate.  Talbot once again played fine defense, but the Neshanock raised their defensive game several levels and a close contest developed with the score tied 5-5 going to the top of the sixth.  Interestingly, both teams had the top of their orders up in the sixth and Flemington took advantage putting one tally across the plate to lead 6-5.  Talbot's lead off batter hit a blistering bullet towards third which "Burner" grabbed in a sensational stop, followed by an equally impressive throw to retire the striker, leading the way to setting Talbot down in order.  Flemington added two more runs and led 8-6 going to the bottom of the eighth, but Talbot tied the game with the tying tally scoring on a close play at the plate.   Tom "Thumbs" Hoepfner got Flemington stared with a single in the ninth and then scored the go ahead run on "Burner's" double.

No one on the Neshanock bench thought Talbot would go quietly and they put the tying run on third and the winning run on second with two out.  The next Talbot striker beat out a ground ball to third, but when the runner on third tried to score, "Tumbles" appropriately celebrated his anniversary game by throwing the Talbot runner out the plate, assisted by the block and tag by Scott "Snuffy" Hengst.   "Duke" once again got three hits and this time managed to avoid being put out for a clear score, no mean feat against the Talbot defense.  "Thumbs" and "Burner" also had three hits apiece, followed by Dave "Specs" Chamalion with two, all important offensive contributions. However "Tumbles" game saving throw was the day's most memorable moment, at least in the Mandel household.  After an exciting day at Princeton, the Neshanock headed home to prepare for the second half of this long base ball weekend, two games at the Eckley Miners Museum in Weatherly, Pennsylvania.

Photo by Mark Granieri

Located in eastern Pennsylvania, about 2 1/2 hours west of New York City, the Eckley Miners' Village provided housing and other services for coal miners beginning in 1854 through some point before World War II.  Of special note, in 1969 the village was used to film The Molly Maguires.  There wasn't time for a detailed look around, but just the general appearance of the buildings and the location confirmed how difficult life must have been for the miners and their families and that's without even seeing the coal mines themselves.  Sunday's games were the second half of a two day vintage base ball event at the museum with the Keystone Club of Harrisburg playing both days, Saturday against the Brandywine Club and Sunday against Flemington.  After setting Harrisburg down without a tally in the first inning, the Neshanock offense exploded scoring 18 tallies in the first three innings for an insurmountable 18-2 lead.  However, Flemington managed only three more tallies the rest of the game which wasn't a good omen for the second match.  Dave "Illinois" Harris led the Neshanock attack with four hits, followed by Chris "Low Ball" Lowry with three and the well rested duo of Danny "Lunch Time" Shaw and Mark "Gaslight" Granieri with two apiece.

Photo by Mark Granieri

As per usual, the intent was to take a brief break between games, allowing for some rest, food and water, and, of course, "Casey at the Bat," but on Sunday, the break lasted almost an hour because of rain that wasn't predicted or anticipated.  Rain, however, has been a good omen for the Neshanock in 2017 perhaps offsetting the dramatic drop in offensive production in the latter stages of the first game.  Such proved not to be the case, however, and two statistics dramatically illustrate the significant difference in the two games.  While in the first contest, the Keystone club made nine muffs, they played almost flawless defense in the second game with only one miscue.  On the Neshanock end, Flemington left ten men on base in the second contest compared to only five in the first game, interestingly every Neshanock was left on base at least once. Both statistics were bad news for Flemington in a game where every tally mattered.  Even with lower offensive production, however, the Neshanock still led until the sixth when the Keystones tied the match at 7-7 and then took a 9-8 lead as Flemington came to bat in the top of the ninth.

Photo by Mark Granieri

With the Neshanock down to their final out, Jeff "Duke" Schneider drove in "Tumbles" with the tying run and stole second to put himself in place to score on a Neshanock hit which was promptly delivered by "Lunch Meat."  However when "Duke" tried to score the go ahead run (unwisely urged on by the Neshanock bench, especially me), he was out by several miles.  Although Harrisburg got the winning run to third in the bottom of the inning, Flemington survived and the game headed to extra innings, something neither club, having played four games in two days, really needed.  After Flemington went down in order in the top of the tenth, the Keystone Club again got the winning run to third, this time with no one out.  The Neshanock managed to retire the next two strikers, but had no such luck with the final hitter of a long weekend who drove in the winning run, sending the teams home having divided the day's festivities.  "Lunch Time" led the Flemington attack with four hits, followed by "Duke" and "Tumbles" with three each, but it wasn't quite enough to beat the Keystones a second time.  The Harrisburg Club has a fine team who plays the game the way it should be played and it's always a pleasure to meet them on the ball field.  Now 10-6 on the season, the Neshanock will visit Delanco, New Jersey next Saturday for two games with the Elizabeth Resolutes.

Photo by Mark Granieri

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