President Abraham Lincoln had been re-elected, Ulysses S. Grant was named commander-in-chief of the Union Armies and the Gotham Base Ball Club of New York was captivating area sports fans long before Ruth, DiMaggio and Gehrig became legends.
It was 1864 and instead of the subway series between the Mets and the Yankees, New York City baseball fans were choosing sides between the Gothams, the Knickerbockers, the Eagles, Empires and Unions. The rules were different and the players didn’t wear gloves in the field, but it was essentially the same game being played today by mult-millionaire players in corporate-named stadiums.
And now the New York Gotham Base Ball Club has been brought back to life in Bayside and is helping to bring this early version of America’s Pastime back to baseball diamonds across the East Coast. Their inaugural season started in May and runs through September 22nd.
Drew Frady, a Forest Hills resident and the captain of the Gothams, formed the team after playing on one for five years in Smithville, Long Island. Before that, Frady organized a team in Colorado and served as the treasurer of the Colorado Vintage Base Ball Association where he used to live.
After putting his time into the club in Long Island for five years, Frady decided it was time to bring the vintage game back to the city where it was born.
“There are about 75 teams around the country and it just behooved me to start a team here,” he said. “We are the only team in New York City.”
Of course, Frady would like to see that change. He hopes that vintage baseball fever catches on in the Big Apple and more teams are formed around the boroughs.
For now, the Gothams will play teams from Long Island, New Jersey, Connecticut and Rhode Island.
Vintage baseball leagues started popping up around the country about 20 years ago, mainly in Long Island and Ohio. The teams are comprised of a mixture of different people, from ex-athletes to history buffs to people who used to participate in Civil War re-creation but wanted to get away from the violence associated with that hobby.
The bottom line for this game is not that the players necessarily be the best athletes, but they must have a love for the game.
“It allows people to play the game they love and to enjoy the game in a manner that is not necessarily competitive,” said Frady, a 10-year veteran of the hobby.
The Gothams have 12 players on their team from Queens, Brooklyn, Manhattan, Long Island and Westchester. “I had two requirements when I put this team together and that was everyone had to enjoy the game and they had to enjoy each other,” Frady said.
The last player to join the Gothams saw the team while walking his dogs at Crocheron Park in Bayside. After talking with members, he took his dogs home, put on a uniform and played the second game of a doubleheader.
When he got the idea to start up the vintage team in Queens, Frady spent “hundreds of hours” at the New York Public Library poring over the “Chadwick Files,” which is a collection of newspaper articles and essays written by Henry Chadwick, the premier baseball writer of the 19th century.
“I wanted to portray the team as authentically as I could,” he said.
To comply with the rules of the 1864 game, the players wear replica uniforms, with square hats, farmer’s pants and shirts with bibs in the front. No gloves are worn and the teams are modeled after ones from the 1840s to the 1920s.
The terms are also different for the vintage game. A “run” is called an “ace,” an “out” is a “hand dead” or “hand down,” a “pitcher” is referred to as a “hurler” and a batter is called a “striker.”
Frady had tried to get funding through the city’s Council for the Humanities, but the team did not fit the requirements. The grant request was filed with the help of the Queens Historical Society.
As the team moves along and gets more established, he wants to have an association with a historical society. “I love baseball and I’ve been a historical buff for as long as I can remember, so this is just a great way to combine the two.”
The teams draw different size crowds to their games, depending on the advertising for each one. At some games 25 people will be in the stands, while at others, like the one in Tarrytown, there will be an estimated 10,000 fans packing the stadium.
The Gothams will be traveling to Hartford, Connecticut this weekend for the annual 4th of July Tournament.
The team’s home field is Crocheron Park, located at 33rd Road and 215th Place in Bayside. All home games are Saturday or Sunday and start at noon.
For more information on the New York Gotham Base Ball Club, visit their Web site at www.zyworld.com/gothambaseball/home.htm.