Sunday, June 19, 2022

Summer Blooms on Liberty Tree

 This week's game summary by Mark "Gaslight" Granieri is based loosely on Clement Clarke Moore’s poem “Twas the Night Before Christmas” and was inspired by the Liberty Base Ball tree. All pictures by“Gaslight”except for the team picture by his father George Granieri.


Cranks and rooters inspect Base Ball Blooms on Liberty Tree

Twas the Saturday before Father’s Day

At East Jersey Old Town Village in Piscataway

Where they came by horse, carriage and cart

To display manly skills of the Base Ball art

"Jersey" Jim Nunn and sons Chris and Matt

They came to play two on the Liberty’s home field

Where the New Brunswick team promised not to yield

Arbiter Sam was all in black including coat and top hat

Fairly calling balls and strikes on each player’s bat



Neshanock watch as Dave "Illinois" Harris strikes


When out on the field the Neshanock were up by three

But by a final score of 8 to 4, a victory they did not see

The Flemington captain swore there would be a change next game

Lowball juggled the lineup and called the team out by name



Captain Chris "Lowball" Lowry on the Liberty Field


 “Now, Sideshow! now, Hawk! now, Thumbs and Lefty!

On, Jersey! on Mick! on, Illinois and Melky!

To the striker’s line! To the diamond to play Base Ball!

Now hit away! steal away! field manly all!”



Danny "Lefty" Gallagher strikes three ground rule doubles


The Neshanock sprang to their bats, and they took to the field

Where an error or a dropped ball they did not yield

This time victory 8 to 0 and as they left you could hear the call

Happy Father’s Day to all, and next weekend let’s play ball!



New Brunswick Liberty and Flemington Neshanock


 


Sunday, June 12, 2022

"Such a State of Perfection"

This past Saturday, the Elizabeth Resolutes and the Flemington Neshanock once again renewed New Jersey's oldest vintage baseball rivalry - a friendly and respectful competition, dating back over 20 years.  The game was played at the Howell Living History Farm, near Lambertville, for the fourth time since 2018, although this time on a different field.  Howell is a working farm and since last year's field is now used to graze cows, it seemed prudent, for what should be obvious reasons, to shift to another part of the farm.  While the old field was somewhat hampered by a tree in right field, the new location not only had one in left, but also others throughout the outfield.  As a result, the pre-game discussion of the ground rules took longer than it usually takes to play an inning.  Thanks to flexibility on both sides, however, all the details were worked out satisfactorily.  With those issues resolved, the Resolutes won the coin toss and opted to strike second, sending the Neshanock to the striker's line.


All pictures by Mark Granieri

Flemington got off quickly with two tallies in the first and four in the second, but Elizabeth more than kept pace and led 7-6 after two innings.  The Neshanock could only manage one run in the top of the third which was bad enough, but, in the bottom of the inning, Flemington muffs set the stage for four runs and an 11-7 Resolutes lead. The inning could have been worse for the Neshanock, but Flemington escaped a bases loaded jam when Ken "Tumbles" Mandel turned a double play in his own unique style. Scoring on both sides was limited after that. The Neshanock chipped away at the Elizabeth lead scoring at least once, but never more than twice, over the next five innings.  Flemington also tightened its defensive significantly allowing only three Resolute tallies including blanking Elizabeth from the sixth to the eighth.  This included another double play, this time by Joe "Mick" Murray, who made a fine catch of a bound out and then tagged a runner who had ventured too far off third.


Laying out the field was easy when someone else was doing it

The net result of all this activity was a 14-13 Resolute lead as the Neshanock came to the striker's line in the ninth.  Although Flemington had scored at least one run in every prior inning, it was not to be and the Resolutes held on for a hard fought - well earned one run victory.  Much credit for the win goes to the Elizabeth defense which made only three muffs over the course of the game.  Flemington hit relatively well throughout, but stranded nine runners, any one of which would have at least tied the game.  The Flemington attack was led by Jeff "Duke" Schneider with four hits, followed by six other Neshanock strikers with two apiece.  Included in the two hit column were Chris "Sideshow" Nunn (while celebrating his birthday), Rene "Mango" Marrero, Mark "Gaslight" Granieri, Dave "Illinois" Harris, Jim "Jersey" Nunn and newcomer Ernie Albanesius.  We were glad to have Ernie with us and hope he will join us again.  Flemington also got solid pitching from "Illinois" and Bobby "Melky" Ritter. 


The only thing that took longer than setting the ground rules was explaining them

The Resolutes displayed a very handsome new banner, commemorating their 1870 New Jersey state championship.  That achievement as the best team in New Jersey is perhaps also symbolic of how the original Resolutes and Neshanock were part of different facets of baseball's early development.  Elizabeth competed at the highest level within the state and then, in 1873, joined the National Association, the country's first all professional league.  While they were unsuccessful at that level, the Resolutes were part of what ultimately became major league baseball.   Although the Neshanock were founded not long after the Resolutes, they took a different path, one which continues today albeit in a very different form.  This came to mind because Saturday's game was played in Lambertville, the home of the Logan Club, formed in 1865 about the same time as the Neshanock.  The two clubs played that same year and the Logan Club prevailed 28-10. It was a productive offensive day for the Lambertville team, but nothing compared to what happened the next two times the Neshanock and Logan clubs met.  


Game action with the troublesome tree in left field

When the two teams met again in 1866, the Logan Club trounced the Neshanock by a hard to believe 77-35 score.  The Flemington players, however, were no quitters and came back for more the following year.  They had apparently improved, at least relatively speaking, since they cut the margin of defeat from 42 runs to a mere 24, falling 71-47.  While scores like these were not totally unheard of at the time, it's difficult to understand how a team could score that many times. The most runs the modern Neshanock have ever tallied was 49 last year, breaking an earlier mark of 35.  Yet when the original Neshanock scored at that level, they still lost and by a lot. Nor was the margin due to the Logan Club being a top team.  Just about a week before the 1866 game, they lost to the Athletic Club of Philadelphia, 120-17 in a game, that, for some equally unfathomable reason, lasted 12 innings.  Unfortunately little statistical information survives that might give some explanation of these high scoring contests.  An article in the Hunterdon Republican, about the 1867 Neshanock - Logan game, did suggest the Neshanock defense, or a lack thereof, had a lot to do with the Lambertville Club's 71 runs.

The Howell Farm game is usually well attended and Saturday was no exception

Neither the Logan Club or the original Neshanock had any lasting impact on baseball, but they were still an important part of the game's early development.  While there was plenty of baseball activity in New Jersey before the Civil War, the game didn't reach more rural areas like Hunterdon County until the postwar period.  Teams like the Logan and Neshanock Clubs were baseball pioneers in their communities and set the stage for the days when almost every town had a team competing against their neighbors.  Sadly, those teams and leagues have also gone by the wayside, but inter-community competition continues, indeed thrives, at the high school level. Early baseball clubs like those in Flemington and Lambertville are important because they were the first teams that people in small towns cared about. Perhaps the Hunterdon Republican reporter had this in mind when he hoped "the Neshanock will soon arrive at such a state of perfection" that they would be more competitive against their peers.  Even in those early days, the players and teams represented something beyond themselves. 



Tuesday, May 31, 2022

"For the Union Dead"

Baseball and Memorial Day share a common history dating back into the late 1860s.  Initially called Decoration Day, the first systematic effort to honor the Union dead took place in 1868.  While the game of baseball has been around far longer, the organized version was still relatively young.   Although not recognized by major league baseball, the National Association, the first professional league, held a game on Memorial Day during its 1871 inaugural campaign.  Just five years later, also in its first season, the National League continued the practice.  Playing on Memorial Day became such a regular part of major league baseball that at least one game was played every year from 1880 until the pandemic intervened in 2020.  For over a decade now, the Flemington Neshanock have visited Newtown, Pennsylvania on Memorial Day to take on the hometown Newtown Strakes.  Although the Strakes play only one game a year by 1864 rules, they have been at it so long they consistently play at a high level and could more than hold their own against any vintage team.  


Grave Marker for Alexander McGill, 33rd New Jersey - Marietta National Cemetery

One of the reasons the Strakes have enjoyed so much success against Flemington is they've learned the nuances of the 1864 game which vintage teams usually use to take advantage of less experienced teams.  In the top of the first, however, it seemed like the Neshanock might have recaptured that advantage since they secured outs on a hidden ball trick and by catching an unsuspecting Strake runner trying to advance on a foul ball.  Flemington then took a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the first, thanks to a triple by Danny "Lefty" Gallagher and a single by Tom "Thumbs" Hoepfner.  Newtown quickly recovered, however, and tallied twice in the top of the second to take a 2-1 lead.  Neither team scored in the next two innings and headed to the top of the fifth, the game was an unusually low scoring affair.  The final out of the Newtown fourth was secured by Flemington's Sam Ricco's fine reflex catch of a batted ball that bounced off the Neshanock first baseman.  Sam has rejoined Flemington after a long absence and we hope he will be a regular going forward.


Just part of the large crowd that typically attends the annual Memorial Day game in Newtown - this and all remaining photos by Mark "Gaslight" Granieri

Did you ever wonder why there are three outs per inning in baseball?  Why has it always been three, instead of, say, two or four?  After all, other baseball numbers changed multiple times before being finalized.  At one time, for example, it took eight balls for a walk.  I remember reading contemporary newspaper criticism of Hall of Famer Cap Anson for swinging at a 7-1 pitch.  Richard Hershberger in Strike Four, his excellent history of baseball rules, writes that no documentary information survives as to why three outs has been the norm since the early days of organized baseball.   According to Richard, other early bat and ball games used as few as one out to as many as 11 - the number of players on a team. Since one was too few and 11 was clearly too many, three was somehow determined to be just right.  Regardless of how the number was established, in the top of the fifth, the Neshanock demonstrated why allowing a team more than three outs is contrary to how the game should be played.  With one out and none on, Flemington muffs gave the Strakes a five-six out inning. Needless to say, the baseball gods were not pleased and before order was restored, the home team tallied six times for a 8-1 lead.


Bobby "Melky" Ritter pitches to the awaiting Newtown striker

Flemington got one back in their half of the fifth and loaded the bases with none out in the sixth, but could only put one tally across the plate.  Ahead 8-3 going to the top of the seventh, Newtown quickly ended any Neshanock hopes of a comeback with a four run inning.  After that it was just a matter of playing out the game which ended in a 13-4 victory for the home team.  Flemington couldn't muster much offense all day, but Joe "Mick" Murray did record a clear score with three hits in as many trips to the striker's line.  "Lefty," "Thumbs" and Dave "Illinois" Harris each had two hits, after that there were only four Flemington base hits.  That along with muff-free defense by Newton made it impossible to even come close to scoring enough runs.  Robert Colon and Matt Nunn also joined us today and we hope, that like Sam, they come back as well. 


Joe "Mick" Murray about to strike one of his three hits

Monday's game was preceded by the customary Memorial Day ceremony, on a day dedicated to remembering those who lost their lives in the service of our country.  The most important thing about such ceremonies, in my view, is they force us to pause from holiday activities and remember all those who, in Abraham Lincoln's timeless words, "gave their lives that that nation might live."  Remembering is crucial because in most cases, it is the only thing we can do for the dead, especially the Union dead, in whose honor Memorial Day was created.  My first book was a history of the 33rd New Jersey, one of our state's 40 regiments to serve in the Civil War.  Early on in the process, I decided to include the names of each of the 163 members of the regiment who lost their lives either in combat or from disease.  In addition to listing their names, it would have been nice to tell their stories, but the tragedy is that most of them didn't live long enough to have a story.  

Oh where, oh where has our offense gone?"

One exception is Alexander McGill, a Paterson man who died from wounds suffered at the battle of Peachtree Creek on July 20, 1864. Earlier in the war, McGill enlisted in the 2nd New Jersey and received a terrible head wound at the second battle of Bull Run.  Offered a medical discharge, McGill refused and rejoined his regiment.  At the battle of Fredericksburg, however, the effects of his wound made it impossible for him to stand the noise of battle.  McGill returned to Paterson, but volunteered again when the 33rd New Jersey was formed in July of 1863.  The key word in each case is volunteered.  There was a draft during the Civil War, but of the over 70,000 New Jersey men who served in the Union military, less than a 1000 were drafted.  McGill effectively volunteered three times. He may have been na├»ve about the reality of war the first time, but after that he could have had no illusions about what he was getting into.  His example may be extreme, but McGill and the vast majority of the Union dead served by choice. For that alone, they should be remembered, as Shakespeare put it, until "the ending of the world."     

Tuesday, May 24, 2022

Our Money's Worth

If a baseball fan from the 1920s was somehow magically transported to a 2022 major league game, he or she would be shocked by many things, beginning with the staggering difference in the cost of admission.  Regardless of the disparity between ticket prices then and now, however, the cost of attending a game has been an issue for fans probably since admission charges were first introduced.  That leads to a question which may not get a lot of conscious thought, what do fans expect to receive in exchange for parting with their hard earned money?  Clearly the atmosphere and experience is part of it, but there is almost always a hope, if not an expectation, that our team, usually the home team will win.  As we mature as baseball fans, however, most of us realize, if not accept, that no matter how weak the opponent, there is no guarantee our team will prevail.  At the very least though, we want a competitive game, one that makes us feel we've gotten our money's worth.       


The point of no return for fans debating the likelihood of getting their money's worth

By that standard any Cleveland baseball fan considering spending his money for the June 15, 1929 game with the Philadelphia Athletics should have given the matter careful thought. Cleveland was two games under .500 and that mediocre record was unlikely to improve against Connie Mack's Athletics on their way to the first of three consecutive American League pennants. To make the outlook even more bleak, Cleveland had just lost three straight to the Athletics in Philadelphia, while being outscored 20-3. The intimidating Athletics lineup was led by three future Hall of Famers, Al Simmons, Mickey Cochrane and Jimmy Foxx with a solid supporting cast.  While Cleveland didn't have that kind of talent, they did have Charlie Jamieson, possibly the best player you've never heard of and definitely the best New Jersey player in that category.  Throughout his decade in a Cleveland uniform, the 36 year old Paterson product was not only a .300 hitter, but also, according to Cleveland sportswriter, Henry P. Edwards, the best left fielder of the last 30 years.  


 The 1929 Philadelphia Athletics

Baseball fans are, however, optimistic by nature and 20,000 made their way to Dunn Field to see the pitching matchup between Philadelphia's Rube Walberg and Cleveland's Walter Miller.  After Miller set down the Athletics without a run, Jamieson singled and scored the first Cleveland run in 15 innings against Philadelphia on Earl Averill's home run.  Philadelphia got one back in the top of the second and trailed 2-1 going to the top of the fifth with many fans likely settling down for what they thought was going to be a pitcher's duel.  That proved to be a false notion, however, as consecutive hits by Cochrane, Simmons and Foxx drove in five Philadelphia runs.  It was only after Foxx's single that Cleveland manager Roger Peckinpaugh brought in Wes Ferrell who retired the side without any further damage. With their lead gone and their money apparently wasted, Cleveland fans had to wonder why Peckinpaugh waited so long to make a pitching change. Having seemingly restored order, Athletics took the field with a 6-2 lead, but quickly discovered that the home team was far from done. 


Better known as League Park, 1929 was the last season the park was known as Dunn Field

Three straight hits drove in a run and Mack replaced Walberg with the alliteraly named Ossie Orwoll who retired the next two Cleveland batters, but then walked two in a row to force in another run.  Orwoll was relieved by Bill Shores who continued the pedestrian parade by walking Jamieson to force in another run and cut the Philadelphia lead to 6-5.  Shores didn't fare much better when he finally got the ball over the plate. Lew Fonseca "whaled a double" that drove in three runs to give Cleveland an 8-6 lead.  Averill, a future Hall of Famer in his own right, followed with his second hit of the inning and third of the game to drive in the home team's ninth run.  In just one inning, Cleveland fans had gone from the depths of despair to renewed hope for a win against the league's top team.  Prudent home fans, however, knew the game was far from over which was established beyond any doubt when Philadelphia cut the lead to 9-8 in the seventh inning.  Fortunately, in the bottom of the eighth, Cleveland scored an insurance run, thanks to a three base error by Philadelphia's Mule Haas. 


Jimmy Zinn

While the Cleveland fans had gotten a competitive game for their money, few at this point would have been satisfied with just coming close.  They became more than a little nervous when Simmons singled to begin the ninth and Foxx hit a long drive that appeared headed for the center field bleachers.  But they relaxed, at least for the moment, when Jamieson caught the ball with his back to the wall, supposedly, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer, just two feet short of a game tying home run.  It was only a momentary reprieve, however, as Bing Miller doubled putting the tying runs in scoring position with only one out.  Perhaps having learned from waiting too long to make a pitching change earlier, Peckinpaugh brought in Jimmy Zinn (no relation) in relief.  Zinn got Jimmy Dykes to hit a high bounder in front of the plate and when Simmons tried to score, the pitcher threw him out at home.  But then, only one out away from a memorable victory, Zinn, who normally had good control, walked two straight batters, forcing in a run, to narrow the gap to 10-9.   


Charlie Jamieson - Bergen Record - 8-13-1968

With two out, the bases loaded and their team clinging to a one run lead, any Cleveland fan who wasn't standing, was probably kneeling in prayer.  Zinn threw Max Bishop a fast ball which the Athletic second baseman "laced low and on a line toward left field."  "Tearing twenty feet" after it on his "ancient legs" was the 36 year old Jamieson. "Ancient legs" or not Jamieson dove "through the air" and made "a spectacular shoe string catch" to end the game and save the day.  It was a fitting conclusion to a day at the ballpark that gave the fans far more than they could have ever dreamed of when they paid for admission. And they didn't hesitate to show their appreciation, pouring onto the field "to hammer old Jamie on the back."  As disappointed as any Athletics fans in the crowd might have been, they had to agree with the Inquirer that they had pretty much seen everything baseball had to offer.  Understandably caught up in the emotions of the day, Gordon Cobbledick of the Plain Dealer called it the "rip-roaringest ball game every played."  Be that as it may, one thing is for sure, as the drained, but happy crowd left the park they knew they had gotten their money's worth and then some.

Tuesday, May 10, 2022

Black and White

Back in the 1950s, multiple daily newspapers were a regular feature of life in my parents house.  However the one that stands out for me is the New York Daily News because it was read for only one reason - its sports coverage, especially baseball.  And while the primary attraction was the acerbic, yet entertaining, writing of Dick Young and Joe Trimble, the pictures in the New York paper always seemed superior.  I didn't realize it at the time, but Daily News was a pioneer in the use of sports photographs.  Just one example is the below picture taken of the end of Bill Wambsganss' unassisted triple play in the 1920 World Series.  While only about 27,000 people saw the play in person, the picture enabled countless others, then and since, to get a sense of a feat that has never been repeated.   The picture is, of course, in black and white. In honor of those early days of sports photography, this post shares some of Lauren Marchese Nunn's photos, also in black and white, of the Neshanock - Hoboken match a few weeks ago in Clinton, New Jersey.


 The completion of the only unassisted triple play in World Series history - New York Daily News - October 12, 1920

All of the remaining pictures were taken by Lauren Marchese Nunn Optimal Photography - all rights reserved.  See Lauren's web site (https://www.lmnophoto.biz) for more information about her work.


Viewed through the wire screen on the Gebhardt grandstand, Danny "Lefty" Gallagher awaits the next pitch.


Dan "Sledge" Hammer tallies a run while keeping on eye on the action at first



Manfully playing for the shorthanded Hoboken team, Ken "Tumbles" Mandel makes the long throw from third to first.


Bobby "Melky" Ritter throws a strike to a Hoboken batter.


Joe "Mick" Murray at the striker's line


The Neshanock cheer a worthy adversary.


A picture of the two teams - a vintage base ball tradition


Monday, May 2, 2022

Neshanock & Co.

On October 2, 1867, the Eureka Base Ball Club of Newark traveled to Brooklyn's Union Grounds for a match against the Mutual Club of New York.  The trip was simultaneously long and short.  Short because the distance was only about 20 miles, but long due to the multiple means of transportation required to travel that short distance. After taking the train from Newark to Jersey City, the small Eureka party boarded a ferry to cross the Hudson River.  Upon arrival in lower Manhattan, they took some kind of horse drawn conveyance to the East River where another ferry ride awaited them. Once in Brooklyn, the Newarkers still had to take another horse drawn vehicle to reach the Union Grounds where a crowd of paying customers awaited them.  As they made their way, the Eureka party must have been glad the trip was almost over, but, at the same time, weren't looking forward to getting there.


All photos by Mark Granieri

The mixed feelings were due to the prospect of being shorthanded for a match against one of the country's best teams.  Although the Eureka had been New Jersey's premier baseball club, by 1867 their fortunes had declined largely because they consistently had a hard time fielding a team.  On this early fall day, the Eureka arrived with just six players for a game the fans had paid for and expected to see.  Although the Eureka offered to forfeit, the offer was declined probably because the Mutuals knew they had an obligation to their paying customers.  Instead, the home team agreed to play a "scrub game" and allow the Eureka to fill out their lineup with Patterson and Swandell of the Eckford Club and a man named Kelly from their own ranks.  Although both men from the Eckford were considered competent players, "everyone supposed that the Mutuals had a sure thing" against what the New York World dubbed "Eureka & Co."  Then as now, however, overconfidence is never a good thing and the "& Co." boys earned a come from behind 21-18 victory.


Dave "Illinois" Harris awaits the pitch from Craig Combs, Resolutes field captain

Arriving at a game shorthanded is a feeling every vintage baseball team knows all too well.  On Sunday, it was the Neshanock's turn when the email and text responses indicated many of Flemington's regulars weren't available for two games against the Elizabeth Resolutes at Ringwood Manor State Park.  The park has been a long time supporter of vintage baseball and the game regularly attracts one of the largest crowds of the season.  As a result, just like that long ago game in Brooklyn, canceling was not an option.  Fortunately, Flemington was able to form "Neshanock & Co., by adding Tino Vega, grandson of Flemington's Dave "Illinois" Harris who acquitted himself admirably.  This is believed to be the first time that a grandfather and grandson played together for the Neshanock (Huzzah)! The first game was played by 1864 rules and the Neshanock got off to a quick start, tallying four times in the top of the first.  Elizabeth responded with one in their half, five more in the second and one in the fifth to lead 7-5 after five innings.


Just a portion of the crowd that took in the games

Flemington was not done however, rallying to tie the game in the top of the sixth and keeping the Resolutes off the scoreboard in the bottom of the inning.  When the Neshanock put runners on second and third with none out in the top of seventh, things looked good for Flemington.  Sadly, however, the Neshanock didn't score and, as is almost always the case in baseball, failing to take an advantage of an opportunity proved fatal.  Elizabeth wasted no time scoring the winning run in the bottom of the seventh for a hard earned 8-7 victory.  Flemington's offense was led by Dave "Illinois" Harris with three hits, followed by Chris "Sideshow" Nunn, Dan "Sledge" Hammer and Tom "Hawk" Prioli with two apiece.  In the process "Sledge" earned a clear score.  "Hawk" also distinguished himself with a series of outstanding defensive plays at third.


It was great to have Neshanock founder Brad "Brooklyn" Shaw and his wife Phyllis at the first game.  On request "Brooklyn" even performed "Casey at the Bat."

After a short break the two teams returned to the field for a second seven inning game, this time by 1870 rules.  The good news for the Flemington was the Neshanock offense put together a nine run inning.  Unfortunately, the bad news was that it came after the Resolutes had an 18 run lead and were well on their way to a 24-11 win, the Neshanock's nine run eruption notwithstanding.  Flemington was led on offense by Kyle "Rundown" Refalvy who had four hits.  Nino, in just his second vintage game, earned a clear score by reaching base three times without being put out.  Also noteworthy from the Flemington perspective was a three hit game by Bobby "Melky" Ritter along with two hits each from "Sledge" and Mark "Gaslight" Granieri.  In the end, however, unlike the Eureka so many years ago, the "Neshanock & Co," didn't come away with a victory.  But like their 1860s counterparts, they gave the fans what they came to see.



Sunday, April 24, 2022

"Field of Memories"

As noted in the last post, vintage baseball teams, unlike the original 1860s clubs, plan their entire season in advance and then publicize the schedule to attract fans to their home games.  Marching to their own drum, the Neshanock, while setting the season's schedule in advance, don't have a home field, thanks to a wise decision by club founder Brad "Brooklyn" Shaw. Recognizing the challenges in attracting fans, "Brooklyn" decided it would be better to take the game to the fans instead of hoping they would come to us.  As a result, in lieu of home games, Flemington plays events, most of which are at venues that have no special connection to baseball history.  There are, however, a few games each season where the venue has a baseball history of its own.  Prominent examples are Cameron Field in South Orange and Babe Ruth Field in Delanco, fields, where as the latter name suggests, the Bambino hit a home run.  That's obviously noteworthy, but other New Jersey fields also a long and distinguished baseball history, such as Gebhardt Field in Clinton, the site of yesterday's game against the Hoboken Nine.


All photos except that of Buck Leonard by Mark "Gaslight" Granieri

Hoboken arrived with only seven players, but two members of the Neshanock, Ken "Tumbles" Mandel and Jeff "Duke" Schneider gracefully agreed to play for the Hudson County club.  Thanks to them for acting in the true spirit of vintage baseball.  Flemington won the coin toss, but in the first inning it looked like the toss might be the only thing the Neshanock would win.  Hoboken tallied five times in the top of the inning and played solid defense, holding Flemington to only two runs in the Neshanock's first four times at the striker's line.  Fortunately, the Neshanock defense also tightened up and kept Hoboken off the scoreboard for the next four innings.  Down by three in the bottom of the fifth, the Neshanock combined five hits and a walk, to score five times and take a 7-5 lead.  In the top of the sixth, however, Flemington lost its way on defense and Hoboken tallied twice without the benefit of a hit.  Fortunately the bottom of the Flemington order added two more runs in the Neshanock's turn at the striker's line, but once again Hoboken tallied twice to tie the game.


Chris "Lowball" Lowry in front of the Gebhardt Field grandstand 

The Neshanock weren't done, however, scoring five times in the bottom of the seventh for a 14-9 lead.  At that point the Flemington defense rallied behind the pitching of Bobby "Melky" Ritter, retiring the next six Hoboken strikers in order to finish off the win.  It was Hoboken's opening match and they played a solid game in the field with some timely hitting.  The Neshanock offense was led by Danny "Lefty" Gallagher, Renee "Mango" Marrero and Dave "Illinois" Harris with three hits apiece, each in their first game of 2022.  Right behind them were Dan "Sledge" Hammer, Joe "Mick" Murray, Gregg "Burner" Wiseburn and Kyle Refalvy with two each.  In the process Kyle earned his official Neshanock nickname - "Run Down," based on his skill in getting out of the same.  While it can't be captured in the box score, "Sledge" managed one of the most creative runs in recent Neshanock history.  It began with a tap in front of the plate that was measured in inches, not feet, followed by a "Tumbles" like spill on the way to first.  Undeterred "Sledge" recovered and used his characteristic aggressive style of play to circle the bases.


Gregg "Burner" Wiseburn at the striker's line

While the Neshanock have played at Gebhardt Field before, I wasn't fully aware of the field's historic significance until I began reading Covered Wooden Grandstands, a collection of articles about semipro baseball.  The stories about the Clinton ball field and similar venues illustrate their important role in baseball during the pre-television era.  Before major league baseball teams began regularly televising their home games, fans had only two ways to experience the top teams and players live - listen to the game on the radio or make a trip to the ballpark.  Listening at least allowed one to follow the game while it was being played, but waiting for someone else to describe what happened was no substitute for watching the action.  Going to game was a possibility for people living in Clinton since Philadelphia (60 miles) had two teams and New York (53 miles) had three, but the roads, cars and transportation systems of the day must have made the trip far more arduous than the mileage might suggest.


Kyle (Run Down) Refalvy - the newest Neshanock

Fortunately, there was another option, thanks to those, who like the Neshanock, brought the game to the fans.  Baseball diamonds throughout New Jersey like Gebhardt Field, hosted traveling teams who gave local fans a close up view of players who had been, or should have been, in the major leagues.  In 1948, for example, Clinton fans got to see Hall of Famer Jimmy Foxx, who had only retired a few years earlier, play in person.  Foxx starred for Connie Mack's great Philadelphia Athletic teams and must have been well known to local fans.  Even more interesting, that same year, there was the opportunity to see some of the black stars now slowly making their way to the major leagues.  In September of 1948, Gebhardt Field hosted a game between the Homestead Grays and the local Clinton team.  While Jackie Robinson, Larry Doby and a few other black players had reached the majors, there were still great players on the Grays including future Hall of Famer Buck Leonard and Luke Easter.  Later that season the two helped the Grays win the last Negro League World Series.  The game reportedly drew well over a 1,000 fans, quite a turnout in a small rural community.


Hall of Famer - Buck Leonard 

But watching wasn't the only way young men of that era experienced baseball at Gebhardt Field.  When Wesley Lance founded the Tri-County semipro league in 1936, Clinton was a charter member.  According to Covered Wooden Grandstands, the local team won the championship at least four times including 1948 the same year they took on the Grays.  The local team more than held their own in that contest, dropping a close 9-7 decision to the championship Negro League team.  And while only the best Clinton players may have played in the Tri-County league, local youth at all levels likely also had opportunities to play on their home town field.  It's no wonder Gebhardt Field became a special place for many people - a baseball field with no shortage of fond memories.  When local sportswriter Lowell Snare wrote that "Gebhardt Field is hallowed ground for me," he was speaking for countless others who watched and/or played baseball there.  The Flemington Neshanock and Hoboken Nine are proud to have played on such historic ground.