GOTHAMS AND SANDY HOOKS SPLIT
Sandy Hooks9 NY Gothams 8
The Newtown Sandy Hooks and New York Gotham celebrated the coming of fall in grand fashion on Sunday when they met on a makeshift field behind Fairfield Museum and History Center in front of a group of attentive spectators to demonstrate the finer points of 19th Century base ball. The event was the much heralded Fairfield Fall Festival and though the forecast predicted showers, the rain never appeared and all activities came off as planned.
As is typically the case when these two veterans of the vintage game meet, the match turned into an entertaining battle of exhilarating play and high heroics that kept cranks captivated and demonstrated why this game beats strongly in the hearts of all sports-loving Americans.
A growing contingent of cranks and family members convened on the parched, overused turf that frames the museum grounds in historic downtown Fairfield and gray skies greeted the two teams as they took the field; both determined to take home all the gold in the penultimate match of the 2010 season.
The Gotham club had cobbled together a formidable team of regulars and professionals from the Brooklyn Atlantic club while the Newtown nine countered with a strong selection of regulars who had played most of the season for the Sandy Hooks.
Due to the unique location of the real estate, its proximity to neighboring homes, a deep man-eating swamp in center, and abundant trees on most every corner, the field of play was expected to provide many challenges to hitters and fielders alike.
‘Shutta’ Shaw, the founder of the Sandy Hooks and designated umpire for the day, instituted a list of definitive ground rules which were expected to impact play. The trees would be counted as ‘air’ – a benefit to the fielders in a ‘bound-out’ game. Fly or thrown balls to the parking lot would be called ‘dead’ – a benefit to fielders in metal spikes. Balls hit over the fence in short right field would be declared ‘doubles’, and the batter would be required to walk the perimeter of the adjoining yard, ask permission to retrieve the ball and return with the ball. And, all fly balls to the deep swamp would be called ‘outs’ – a benefit to the fielding team and decided disadvantage to the batters who pride themselves on smashing long fly balls out of reach of all parties. The impact of these ground rules proved to challenge team strategy but eventually made little difference in the outcome of either match.
Captain ‘Crash’ Wheat designated ‘Hoboy’ Norwich, coming off an ankle injury that sidelined him early in August, to the role of hurler for the Newtowners while Gotham captain ‘Wickets’ Garcia assumed the same role for the New Yorkers in the 1864 rules affair.
The first match kicked-off at the stroke of eleven in hopes of getting the second game in before the projected rains arrived. Each side took little time to get to know their opponent with the visiting Gothams slugging sure hit after sure hit to rack-up three quick runs in the first inning. The Sandy Hooks, looking less sure footed then their adversaries in the early going, answered with two aces of their own. As hits and runs were scored it was clear to all in attendance, the day was sure to bring an adequate dose of excitement to keep the cranks involved.
As the innings passed, both teams tried to anticipate each other’s tactics while adjusting to the severe irregularities of the ill-maintained Fairfield pitch which made the Sandy Hooks home grounds at McLaughlin Vineyard’s seem like a putting green. In spite of that fact, many hard hit grounders and potential sure hits found their way to the ‘out’ column due to the diligence of the fielders on both sides.
At the same time, many of the sluggers attempted to take advantage of the deep left field corner, which seemed to beckon like a whirly gig to a child. Lured by a replica of Gustave Whitehead’s 1901 aeroplane (which is said to have flown long before the Wright brothers initial Kitty Hawk excursion) resided nearly 450 feet from home plate, many batters chose to pull the ball in that direction only to find an accommodating fielder waiting to capture whatever appeared on a single bound. ‘TC’ Cannino, the Gothams sure handed left fielder who plies the same trade in the Atlantic garden and is known to make spectacular catches in non-bound out affairs, made no less than twelve putouts (four innings worth) of Newtown batters who used this ill-advised approach.
As the Gothams continued to add to their lead and Newtown batters jeopardized go-ahead possibilities with ill-timed pop-ups and long range bound-outs, the Sandy Hooks went into the ninth and final at bat with a three run deficit.
Ryan Toomey having little to show for his previous at bats kicked off the ninth with a safety. Norwich, looking down the barrel of a certain loss, laced a safety of his own giving new hope to the faltering nine. ‘Lefty’ Scarinzi lashed a sure single to right center and the bases were juiced for ‘Iron’ Miller, who had yet to find a safe hit for his day’s work. Miller, taking little time to size-up the situation, crushed a single to the gap, which drove Toomey and a gimpy, but determined ‘Hoboy’ across the silver platter to put the Sandy Hooks within one run of the helpless Gothams.
Anticipation filled the air as leadoff hitter ‘Bison’ Friedman sauntered to the line. Friedman had been on base on two previous occasions and scored both times. With nobody out and a productive hitter at the line, there seemed little reason to believe ‘Bison’ couldn’t knot the score or better!
As the exhilarated cranks buzzed with emotion, the solid lefthander took Garcia’s initial offering and drove a double to right center that cleared the bases and gave the exuberant Sandy Hooks a come from behind victory.
Hearty huzzahs erupted from the sidelines as the Sandy Hooks treated the crowd to a heartwarming storybook ending.
Gothams 11 Sandy Hooks 6
|After a short lunch break, the elation of game one quickly evaporated as the Gothams took charge in match number two scoring five aces in the second and two in the third innings using the long bats supplied by the Newtown club.
As shown in previous weeks, these forty inch behemoths can transform a sure hit into a multi-base opportunity, and the Gothams had no problem making good use of their potential. At the same time, some of the skeptical Sandy Hooks with their overzealous approach extinguished any hope of a repeat of match one.
Even though they amassed nineteen base hits, including crowd-pleasing triples by Newtown’s captain ‘Crash’ Wheat in the second game, it seemed that with every run scoring opportunity, the Sandy Hook hitters skied a lazy pop-up to an anxious Gotham fielder to end the threat.
In the eighth inning, a little big city skullduggery caught the Hooks unaware as ‘Lefty’ Scarinzi earned his place on first sack with a leadoff basehit for the Sandy Hooks. Next batter ‘Iron’ Miller chopped a foul ball to the left side of the infield that veteran backstop ‘Scratch’ Alexander gathered up and quickly threw toward first base appearing to double-up Scarinzi, who had edged closer second base.
The pick-off throw went well over the first sacker’s head at which time Scarinzi broke for second as pandemonium reigned from the Newtown sidelines. A confusing crescendo of ‘Go, go, go!’ equally matched with ‘No, no, no, go back!’ buffeted the field as the runner gyrated between first and second and the ball caromed off the right field fence.
As the errant sphere made its way back to the infield a bewildered Scarinzi stood at second base. Garcia, the New York hurler, took the return throw and flipped it to first sacker ‘Bugs’ Klansman who tagged the base and rendered the forlorn baserunner ‘out’ as a self satisfied smirk passed over the Gotham catcher’s face.
Many of ‘Lefty’s Sandy Hook teammates had been on the receiving end of this quirk in 19th century rules at the hands of other clubs but, since no base coach is allowed by the rules, little could be done to communicate the facts to the befuddled runner.
In the early days of base ball, a base runner was required to retreat to the bag from which he came on a foul ball or be put out on the equivalent of a force play (ball passing from the pitcher to the baseman). He could not advance to any base until the ball had traveled through the pitcher’s hands. In this case, the retrieved foul ball had traveled in a circuitous path never touching the pitcher’s hands so, even though a wild throw had been made, the ball did not become ‘live’ until the pitcher had touched it, therefore the base runner earned no right to assume second base.
The experience of the aforementioned play helps to emphasize to one an all the uniqueness of the ‘vintage’ game and why so many base ball historians and students of the game find playing it so appealing.
The excitement of this incident appeared to take the collective wind out of any hope of a Newtown comeback win and, though they scored a single ace in the ninth so did the Gothams, and the game ended in a well-earned 11 to 6 triumph for the visitors.
The Gothams and Sandy Hooks toasted each other and the cranks as they promised a renewal of good-natured hostilities in the coming years.
Special thanks goes to all the participants and the Fairfield Museum and History Center for planning this stunning base ball event and making everyone feel at-home.