By Sally Deering
Hoboken gave birth to baseball? That’s right. Just take a stroll over to 11th and Washington Streets and you’ll be standing where Elysian Field used to be and where first, second, third and home bases were designated on June 19, 1846. That’s the day the first game was ever played and its cemented in Hoboken’s history and as well as those street corners – just read the plaques in the sidewalk.
Some folks disagree with baseball’s Hoboken origins, especially those affiliated with the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, New York, which throws its own curveball claiming the first game was played in Cooperstown in 1839. To most Hudsonites, though, Hoboken is the birthplace of baseball. The city even has its own vintage baseball team.
They call themselves the Hoboken Nine Vintage Base Ball Club and they play baseball the way it was originally played – by 19th century rules. They wear uniforms designed like the ones worn in 1846 and their balls and bats are replicated from that period, too. The Hoboken Nine competes against other vintage teams to promote the history of baseball and for the sheer pleasure of playing baseball as a gentleman’s sport.
Their next game is Thurs, Aug 22 at 7:30 pm, where the Hoboken Nine plays the NY Gothams at Richmond County Bank Ball Park at St. George in Staten Island. This is the first full season for the team – they’ll play about 60 games this year – and for team founder Frank “Walnuts” Stingone and team Captain Chris “Lucky” Lutkin – there’s a learning curve as they compete with other vintage ball teams who have been doing it a lot longer.
“So far we’re 6 wins, 15 losses,” Stingone says. “Some teams have been doing it 15 years; we’re still getting the hang of it.”
Last year, the team played exhibition games and this year, the team joined the Mid-Atlantic Vintage Base Ball Association (www.mid-atlanticvintagebaseballassociation.com) and the Vintage Base Ball Association (www.vintagebaseballassociation.com).
“We play a gentleman’s game,” Stingone says. “You’re not supposed to question the ump. If we’re really out on base, we’re supposed to admit that we’re out. It’s more gentlemanly than competitive.”
Stingone describes it as “baseball with a twist”.
“It’s a good time,” Stingone says. “It draws a lot of fans. They get a kick out of the 1864 rules and fans seem to like the ump. He’s dressed as a 19th Century gentleman in a black suit, black top hat and cane.”
Along with the 19th Century rules, uniforms and gentlemanly behavior, there’s also the lingo the players use. The team’s pitcher is called a “hurler”; an out is a “hand” and the hitters are called “strikers”. Nicknames are also a team tradition and the Hoboken Nine has some doozies: Here’s the roster:
Louis “Pig Pen” Crocco, Tony “T-Bone” Peters, Todd “Wrong Way” Montgomery, Martin “Hay Bale” Josefski, Dave “Double D” DaCosta, Pat “Corned Beef” O’Leary, Henry “Falcon” Falconi, Dan “Grit” Jacobson, , Jake “Snake” Scott, , Jeff “IP” Radlin, Eric “Money” Feldmann, Jason “Q” Kulak, Damian “Devil” Nash, , Dave Nelkin, Rafael “Riff” Badagliacca, Mark “Mad Dog” Gasper, Luis “Sweet” Melendez, Ian Heller, Mike “Cabaret” DiMasi, Frank “Walnuts” Stingone, Chris “Lucky” Lutkin, and Dale Lawrence – the only team member without a nick.
“There are hundreds of teams that play different year’s rules,” team captain Lutkin says. “We play 1864 rules. That game is played without gloves and you’re allowed to catch the ball on a bounce – on the bound – and if you catch it on the hop the batter is out.”
The balls back then were home-made, Lutkin says, and players couldn’t throw them very far and it was harder to catch a ball on the fly, so the game was more about fielding than hitting.
“Back then you had to make the ball available to hit,” Lutkin says. “The guys in the outfield were playing the running game — stealing bases – and the fielding game – the fielders try to field the ball or throw the ball back to someone to tag them out – and all with no gloves.”
One of the main aspects of vintage baseball is historical accuracy, which is maintained by the umpires who are aficionados of the rules and the behavior of the players of the day, Lutkin says. All of the baseball clubs were social clubs back when it started and it wasn’t until the 1870s that they started charging admission and paying players. There’s a reenactment to the proceedings, Lutkin says, but the teams play a real game of baseball, and to be historically correct, teammates maintain a gentlemanly style of play.
“If a guy slides into second and a tag is applied, but the Ump calls him safe, the pitcher can ask the player ‘were you tagged sir?’” Lutkin says. “If the player says, ‘yes I was,’ he will walk off the field in good sportsmanship. It happened to me and it happened to end a game against us. This aspect brings a lot of people to the game. In the modern game there’s a lot of competitive animosity.”
Lutkin’s father was a WWII veteran and a Civil War re-enactor who made military-style muskets. An amateur history buff, Lutkin researched his father and grandfather’s history and how baseball affected their lives and America’s history.
“Baseball was a game used by a community of people to help them heal from the Civil War where 700,000 men died,” Lutkin says. “Baseball was a way to engage people, get them outside and moving on from the devastation of war. That’s such an interesting connection and why it’s so ingrained in the culture of America.”
For more info, visit: www.hobokennine.jimdo.com.
The Team’s August Schedule:
|8/31||11 am||Eckfords of Brooklyn||Hoboken Nine||Hoboken, NJ (Field TBD)|
|8/31||12:30pm||Hoboken Nine||Eckfords of Brooklyn||Hoboken, NJ (Field TBD)|
|9/7||1:pm||Hoboken Nine||Union Mills Nine (MD)||1600 Park, Hoboken, NJ|