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Dairymen Dazzle at Gettysburg

Updated: Jul 26

Once a year, Gettysburg’s Schroeder Farm Reenactment Field hosts a different type of event: the Gettysburg Vintage Base Ball Festival. 32 teams from Michigan to Florida gather to pitch underhand, catch the ball on one hop for an out, and don an assortment of historically accurate uniforms. These rules of 1864 govern the tournament and the code of gentlemanly conduct.


For many, Gettysburg is just a name. For others, perhaps an image: an old couple—he in a veteran hat; her in simple pearls, squeezing his hand. For a few, it represents a set of ideals in which words like duty, sacrifice, and loyalty play starring roles. Those who know that 10,000 men died at Gettysburg for ideas, and ultimately, for each other.


These are the dreamers—those of deep conviction. The lovers, fighters, selfless strivers, never-give-uppers. The Lincoln acolytes for whom a 272-word speech unearths a jumble of intensity they can’t quite explain.


In 1884, Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, said of his Civil War service: “Through our great good fortune, in our youth our hearts were touched with fire. It was given to us to learn at the outset that life is a profound and passionate thing.”


Last weekend the Bovina Dairymen were touched by fire.


In game one, Bovina cruised to a win over the Brandywine Base Ball Club (PA), but held their collective breath as shortstop and all-around stud Luke “Burns-eye” Burns came up lame early in the contest. Rookie Jesse “Tibbs” Winn, playing in his first-ever game as a Dairymen, filled the hole at shortstop without incident, giving Burns much-needed rest. He would need it for the heroics to come.


In game two, the Dairymen faced tournament host Elkton Eclipse (MD). It was the age-old battle: Elkton’s cunning and experience versus Bovina’s youthful exuberance.


Trading defensive gems, after seven innings the score sat at 3-2, Bovina. But the Dairymen began to wilt, and three errors in the eighth allowed Elkton to tie the game and put runners on second and third with no outs. A fly ball to left fielder Ben “Gamer” Denison looked sure to tally another “Ace” for the hosts.


Denison made the catch and heaved to home plate. The ball, and the game, hung in the balance for an eternity. Catcher Nick “Roughcut” Frandsen waited, praying he could hold on. In 1864 play, there are no gloves.


Frandsen held. The tie was saved! The game went on.


Scoreless frames passed in the afternoon heat. The ninth. The tenth. The eleventh. But in the bottom of the twelfth, slugger “Burns-eye” Burns tripled to lead off the inning, putting the win just a fly ball away. On the very next plate appearance, Denison singled to lift the Dairymen to a 4-3 victory. Both sides could do little more than tip their sweat-soaked caps at the opposing bench, and nod hard-fought respect. Tournament officials called the game “one of the best games ever played not just in Gettysburg but in all of 19th century base ball.” This writer could not agree more.


After two hard-fought wins day one, including their own 12-inning masterpiece against the Diamond State BBC (DE), day two saw the Fleischmanns Mountain Athletic Club fall to eventual tournament runner-up Rising Sun (MD). The MAC then moved to festival play, where they would win their fourth game against the Addison Mountain All-Stars (PA), returning to Delaware County with three winner’s coins for the weekend.


In the first game of day two, Bovina advanced to the semi-final, besting the Mohican BBC of Kennet Square (PA), 6-5. The game was again close as dehydration and fatigue crept on both teams, and the back and forth play gnawed on everyone’s nerves. Tempers and cooler heads traded blows both private and public, but in the eighth, with the game on the line, singles from Alan “Silky” Scarpa and John “Chico” Finn plated the decisive tally, winning another nail-biter for Bovina. This set up a match with Bear Clan BBC of Flat Rock (MI), who have never been beaten at Gettysburg.


The Dairymen started strong, and a two-run double from Dan “Oh” Kehrer in the top of the first put Bovina up 3-0. But the Dairymen defense, nearly flawless to this point, stumbled early. Flat Rock plated three in the first and six in the second to force the Dairymen to play from behind for the first time in the tournament.


Both defenses stiffened, and after seven innings, Flat Rock led by six. Clawing back in the eighth, Troy “Honey” Tucker—playing despite a broken pinky—tripled to pull the Dairymen within two.


In the top of the ninth, two quick outs and a single from “Iron” Mike Brown brought Burns to the plate representing the tying run. Was there enough magic left for one more storybook ending?


Crack! The ball sailed over the right fielder’s head, and the Dairymen bench urged, pleaded, and cheered as Burns stumbled around third. The ball made it to the cutoff man and sailed towards the plate. Burns dove headfirst, beating the tag and tying the game. The crowd looked around with collective incredulity. The Dairymen faithful, making the trip in numbers, erupted. His exhaustion pushed to the background by pure adrenaline, Burns leapt up to bear hugs from the Bovina bench, and a sea of gaping jaws in the crowd. Smiles, hand-slapping, and cheers could be heard all the way on field six, a half mile away.


Unfortunately for Bovina, the game continued. In the bottom of the ninth, with two outs, Flat Rock tallied one to win, 11-10.


The Dairymen collapsed, exhausted but proud. They played three one-run games over two days in the Mason-Dixon heat, advancing to the final four. The handshakes, knowing looks, and brotherly hugs could be heard all the way back to Delaware County.


NEXT GAME is 2PM Saturday, July 30 at the Bovina Bicentennial, versus the Fleischmanns Mountain Athletic Club. Admission is free.


GAME NOTES. With three wins and one loss, the Dairymen improved to 11-2 on the season. Iron Mike hurled all four games for Bovina, and the Dairymen defense behind him gave up a stingy 22 runs over four games. In a style of play that regularly sees teams score 20 runs in a game (Flat Rock scored 40 in their second tournament win), this is an incredible achievement. The tournament featured 32 teams from 13 states: New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Maine, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, Michigan, Tennessee, Florida, Ohio, and Massachusetts. The Final Four were: Bovina Dairymen (NY), Flat Rock (MI), Rising Sun (MD), and Walker Tavern Wheels (MI). Flat Rock bested Rising Sun in the championship, 23-13.


































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