There are some places that need no modifier. No adjectives, no state abbreviation, no explanations—the name immediately conjures a host of images and memories. Demons and heroes. Passion, in all its forms. For race-car fanatics: Daytona. For horse folk: Churchill Downs. For any kid who grew up playing baseball: Cooperstown. The Mecca. The Petra. The Notre Dame of American ball-and-stick games.
Tucked away on County Route 33, just south of the most hallowed place in baseball lore sits a Belgian-style farmstead. Last weekend Brewery Ommegang—with it’s feudal-era, monumental styling and imposing grain towers—awakened from its winter slumber and watched as 100 baseball pilgrims toiled the manorial fields below.
Colors flashed and laughs came easy as the black and white of the Bovina Dairymen mingled with the blue and red of the Connecticut Liberty. The understated ensembles of the Providence Grays drifted through the crowd, swirling around the newsboy look of the Boston Union Vintage Base Ball Club. The New York Mutuals and Brooklyn Atlantics wore their trademark chest shields, and the Fleischmanns Mountain Athletic Club debuted their brooding, dark blue uniforms emblazoned in scarlet with “MOUNTAIN.” The Brewery Ommegang Vintage Base Ball Weekend was back, and the cousins of northeastern baseball clubs reunited after a pandemic-induced year off.
All matches were played by the rules of 1864, where the pitcher throws underhand, there are absolutely no gloves, and a ball caught on one hop is an out. The Dairymen began Saturday with a match against the New York Mutuals. In the first-ever meeting between the two clubs, the Dairymen fell behind early but scored seven in the fifth frame behind a leadoff double by Dan “Hands” Kehrer and singles from Alex “AT” Taylor and Gary “Burnsie, Sr.” Burns. The Dairymen would not relinquish the lead. With a solidifying defense, Bovina stifled the Mutuals and scored nine more times to cruise to an 18-9 win.
Saturday’s second game came against a youthful yet experienced Boston Union. Over eight innings, the Dairymen battled Boston to an 8-7 advantage. Unfortunately for Boston, the fifth inning had already spelled their demise. Sending 13 strikers to the line in a single frame, the boys from the hills tallied a whopping nine runs behind a double from Alan “Nickname Pending” Scarpa, singles from Justin “Juice” Betterley and Ben “El Gamero” Denison, and three Boston errors. As in game one, Dairymen trickled across the plate in the late innings to pad the Bovina lead. The final score was 17-7.
Sunday dawned warm and sunny, and the teams stretched and worked out the kinks from day one. Bolstered by a few new arrivals, each squad hoped to take day two: some to even their records, others to stay perfect. But Bovina started slow on Sunday and miscues allowed the Brooklyn Atlantics to build a 9-1 lead after three innings. In an attempt to recreate the single-frame magic of Saturday, Bovina scored seven in the eighth inning behind a double from Captain Nick “Roughtcut” Frandsen and singles off the bats of “Jack-rabbit” Stanton, Luke “Burnsie, Jr.” Burns, and Joey “the Kid” Yambor. But the Dairymen rally was too little, too late and Bovina took their sole loss on the weekend by a score of 14-12.
In the last contest of the festival, the suspendered squad returned to form against the Providence Grays. Plating eight in the first inning, Bovina never looked back. Leading the charge in game four were Ben “Diesel” Cairns (2-4) and John “Chico” Finn (2-4, 2 SF). Although Providence attempted to claw back, the Dairymen offense was simply too high-powered for the Grays, and Bovina took the match by a score of 25-12.
As the players and their families filed past the manor house to eat and drink elsewhere, backs were slapped. Hands shook and caps tipped. Rivalries budded and feet barked. Smiles flashed. Buggies rumbled and the ballplayers of northeastern vintage base ball returned to their lives, to meet again in some other corner of a shared experiment. Thanks for a great weekend, boys.
Weekend Notes. In 1914, George Herman Ruth played for the Providence Grays, before he became “The Babe” playing for the Yankees. “Chico” Finn led the team with four productive outs on the weekend as the Dairymen improved to 5-1 on the season. NEXT GAME is the HOME OPENER: May 30th at Noon in Bovina, versus the Olneyville (R.I.) Cadets. Admission is free.