A cool rain falls. Mercifully at first—everyone remembers the scorching, swampy summer of just a few days ago. But as it continues, we enter a strange headspace: with plenty of warm days to come, the good times are not quite over yet. But the rollicking dog days of excitement, when then heat rolled on and on, and the boys of summer got by on a dream and a song, are past. Everyone knows it, but more importantly, everyone feels it. The hogs have just been butchered. The hay is almost all in the barn. Autumn whispers in the evenings, and offers a crisp embrace in the morning.
Summer still holds the high ground. Yet, is a reflective time. For although the warm-weather trials and triumphs are past, those who made it through did just that: they made it through. They really took those trips, woke at dawn, offered a hand in a time of need. They laughed together, learning both from and about. They exchanged knowing glances, broke bread, and pooled money. They moved from handshakes to hugs. Those things really happened. And it was good.
Last weekend in Rhode Island, it was good. And the memories of the year’s last summer baseball still cut through the first damp of late August.
Playing for the first time at the Rocky Point Historic Base Ball Festival, eleven Dairymen gathered to represent Bovina Valley against teams from Massachusetts, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Connecticut, and Maine. Rocky Point—famous for the amusement park that once stood—is also hallowed baseball ground: Babe Ruth hit his last home run as an amateur there in 1914, before being picked up by the Red Sox. Back then, the Bambino played for the Providence Grays.
Over 100 years later, the reconstituted Grays team, playing in their 25th year of vintage base ball, hosts an annual celebration of the last gasp of summer ball before real life again takes the reins.
Day one began with an 1886-rules rematch (overhand pitching) against the Westfield Wheelmen (MA), who handed Bovina one of their two previous losses on the season. Further, it would be the first time in two seasons the Dairymen played without veteran left fielder Ben “Gamer” Denison, out with a knee injury. In his place, the Dairymen welcomed two newcomers into suspenders: cousins Ian “Rats” and Alex “Burger” Stanton. It would be a trial by fire, and they would not escape unscathed.
Westfield lept to a 7-2 lead after two innings on a couple hits and a couple errors, as rookie Jesse “Tibbs” Winn got his pitching legs back after a long baseball hiatus. But Tibbs settled in and the defense stiffened, and he would not allow another run until the seventh. Still, Bovina sputtered on offense against a platoon of excellent Westfield arms, and a two-run homer by Dylan “Dilly T.” Tucker was the only bright spot for innings. As the ninth dawned, the Dairymen trailed 11-5.
But…the Dairymen summer was not quite over, and the offense kicked to life. Four singles in a row plated three runs, but two strikeouts left Bovina down to their last out. Then a walk. A dropped third strike. Another single, an error, and two more singles followed as Westfield watched their lead disappear. One could almost hear the air run from the Massachusetts bench, and by the time the error came around to score, Bovina had turned a six-run deficit into a two-run lead. A scoreless bottom of the ninth by Dilly T. sealed a deflated Westfield team, evening the season series at one apiece.
In game two by the rules of 1864 (underhand pitching; catch on one hop is an out), the Dairymen offense again struggled to string hits together against a scrappy Connecticut Bulldogs squad. Bovina led early, but the Bulldogs plated four in the eighth. After “Iron” Mike Brown singled to start the bottom of the ninth, the New York bench again looked for their magic bag of comebacks. Alas, they were left groping in the dark. Connecticut held to win, 10-8.
On day two, Bovina faced off against tournament hosts the Providence Grays. With a budding relationship, the Grays-Dairymen dynamic is already one as old as time. The Grays are a storied organization, with banners in the rafters and their fingerprints everywhere on northeast vintage baseball. They are the Lakers of the 1980s. But unfortunately for Magic and Kareem, the year is 1991 and the young Bulls have stormed the league. The Lakers remain dangerous, for sure…but the 80s are a few years gone. A young MJ has arrived.
Bovina pummeled the Grays. Plating a whopping 13 runs in the first inning, every Dairymen hit twice in the first frame alone. The top half of the first inning lasted almost half an hour, and the game—shortened to an official, merciful 4.5 innings—produced some silly stat lines: “Iron” Mike (4-4, 3B, 5R); Luke “Burnsie” Burns (3-5, HR, 5R); Dilly T. (4-5, 2B); Nick “Chopstick” Frandsen (5-5, 2 2B). Alan “Silky” Scarpa dded three hits and Jason “Hot Santa” Pardee added two more. Bovina’s team slugging percentage for the game was .833. The final score was Bovina 26, Providence 5. Dilly again got the win in this game played by the rules of the 1880s, pitching all five innings a day after throwing three innings of relief in the win against the Wheelmen.
The last game of the weekend featured a return to the 1864 pitching mound by Gary “Burnsie, Sr.” Burns. Senior would also smack a single in the second inning and combine with catcher Chopstick to get two runners stealing – no easy feat in 1864 ball. Luke Bursnie again put up a foolish line at the plate, going 5-6 with a home run, two triples, and four runs scored. Alex “AT” Taylor continued his resurgent second half, raising his batting average 57 points over the weekend. Coming home 3-1 on the weekend, the Dairymen improved to 16-3 on the season.
As they shared hugs, a final meal, and warm goodbyes, the Dairymen filtered back to whence they came. Away from the cool breeze of Narraganset Bay , and back to the crisp Catskill Mountains. And although high summer is gone, the warmth of the memories created there still glows through the cool Catskills rain.
A SPECIAL THANKS goes out to all our families who make this all possible. Although they don’t make the writeup nearly as often as they should, a warm smile and a strong hug to you, especially to Susan Burns and Leah Rinaldi. XO.
Silky and AT each had two hits in the 8-run ninth inning against Westfield. Chopstick finished the weekend 14-20 at the plate, and took the lead in career games played (69) from Gamer (67). Bovina and Westfield will play a season-ending rubber match in Bovina on October 1st. Out of eleven Dairymen, six were related: father Gary Burns with sons Luke Burns and Nick Frandsen; first cousin Jesse Winn; and second cousins Alex “Burger” and Ian “Rats” Stanton. Ian broke his arm on Saturday night, sleep-running from a dream in which he was covered in rats. Ian watched and cheered from the bench on Sunday, earning a nickname in his very first weekend in Dairymen uniform. True story.
NEXT GAME is Sunday, September 11th in Bovina against the Delhi Polecats. Game starts at 2pm. Admission, as always, is free.