After a winter of discontent (with the weather at least), New Jersey's vintage base ball clubs got the season underway with a vengeance on Saturday with four teams in action. Down the shore, the Monmouth Furnace Club took on some Monmouth University students while in central New Jersey, not ten miles apart, the Liberty Club and the Flemington Neshanock got their seasons underway with matches against the New York Mutuals and the Eckford Club of Brooklyn respectively. Completing the day's action was the Hoboken Nine who paid a visit to the Atlantic Club of Brooklyn at Smithtown, Long Island. With the Elizabeth Resolutes, the state's senior club, set to play their first match next Saturday, New Jersey has five vintage clubs, probably an all time high - a tribute to those who do the behind the scenes work necessary to make it all happen. The Neshanock's match at the Somerset Patriots home ball park was once again part of that organization's fan fest, played in July like temperatures before a good crowd including families, some getting their first exposure to the 19th century game.
As per usual for this popular match, the Neshanock had a full complement of players while the Eckford were somewhat shorthanded missing their leader, Al "Rocky" Belbol and the one and only (thank goodness) Eric Miklich. "Rocky" was reportedly busy with family activities and there so many possible explanations for Eric's absence that it's probably better not to go down that road. Being shorthanded, however, didn't mean the Eckford were necessarily at a disadvantage. Play was called at 12:32 with the Neshanock in the field having won the toss and electing to strike second. The Brooklyn club quickly got off to a strong start with the first three strikers securing their base and ultimately making their runs largely due to well struck balls by the second and third batters. Fortunately, for Flemington, the damage was stopped by Brian "Spoons" LoPinto who charged in from center field to take a well struck ball on the bound for the third out. In the bottom of the first, it appeared the Neshanock would replicate the Eckford's performance as Jeff "Duke" Schneider, Tom "Thumbs" Hoepfner and Rene "Mango" Marrero each got on, loading the bases with Neshanock. However the rally was cut short when Daniel "Lassie" Loscalzo, the Eckford catcher, made a fine diving/sliding catch of a foul ball on the bound and when the next batter went out, Flemington was retired without scoring.
After the Eckford's three run first, the Neshanock defense improved over the next four innings, holding the visitors to just two runs due to the pitching of Danny "Lunch Time" Shaw and Bobby "Melky" Ritter plus some solid defense behind them. Scott "Snuffy" Hengst at catcher, made a fine sliding catch of a foul ball in his own right while also making a difficult catch of a foul fly. Another defensive contribution came from "Duke" who caught a fly ball on the bounce while running with his back to the plate. The Eckford broke through with three tallies in the sixth largely due to hits that were either well struck or well placed. Once again, however, the bleeding was stopped by a fine defensive play this time at first by Dave "Illinois" Harris who dug out at errant throw to end the inning. After a three run seventh for the visitors, Ken "Tumbles" Mandel contributed a defensive gem to end the eighth. Shuffling across the greensward, the Neshanock second base man eschewed the bound catch, manfully sticking out his hand to pluck the ball from the air like an apple from an imaginary tree. All told, Flemington made only three errors on the day, not bad at all for the first game.
Unfortunately, Flemington's defensive efforts were more than matched by the visitors. Demonstrating masterful control while changing speeds regularly and effectively, Eckford pitcher, Steve "Trousers" Krauss made the Neshanock's visits to the striker's line largely fruitless. "Lassie" followed his defensive gem in the first with some other fine plays while the rest of the Eckford contributed solid defensive especially the routine plays too often taken for granted, but essential to success. In the end, the Eckford did even better than the Neshanock making only two muffs and shutting the home team out for the first eight innings. Down, 11-0 headed to their final visit to the striker's line, the Neshanock broke through with their first tallies of the 2018 season. "Thumbs," "Illinois," and Lunch Time" all made their runs before the Eckford restored order ending the match with an 11-3 win. So strong was the visitor's pitching and defense that Flemington only managed eight hits, led by "Mango" with three and "Thumbs" with two. Making his Neshanock debut in right field was Matt Ayres, welcome to the club, Matt.
Photo by Eve Mandel
In my last post, I mentioned my plan to experiment this season by attempting to report Neshanock games from the perspective of nineteenth century sportswriters like Henry Chadwick and William Cauldwell. As noted in that post, these pioneering writers and their peers emphasized defense more than offense which I realized today requires paying even more attention than is necessary to just record numbers and symbols in the score book. Unlike a home run, an exceptional defensive play like those of "Snuffy" and "Lassie" in today's game doesn't look any different in the score book than the routine foul bound out. Additional notes of some kind are necessary to record such defensive gems, failing to do so means plays that could have had a major impact on the outcome may not appear in a game account. This was especially important from the beginning of competitive base ball until the introduction of radio and then television. For all those decades, far more people learned about games from written accounts rather than actually seeing the game or hearing it described on the radio. For today at least, trying to replicate the 1864 perspective was an interesting experience to be renewed next weekend during the New Jersey/New York Cup at Old Bethpage Village on Long Island.