Sunday, August 26, 2012

VBBA: Vintage Base Ball On Historic Governors Island

Dedicated to the glory that is the game of Baseball and the fine men who preserve and masterfully recreate its history.  This also goes out to New York City, the American way of life, and to our men and women still in harms way defending it.

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The modern day vessel ferrying passengers from Brooklyn to Governors Island is more like a time machine.  The wait while everyone boards seems longer than the mini voyage through New York Harbor itself.  But once ferried to your destination, stepping foot on Governors Island is akin to walking into 19th Century America.  Back then, this country was still a young burgeoning but troubled Nation, delving in and out of war.

A century earlier, General George Washington traversed these very waters, successfully ferrying his entire army out of Brooklyn in full retreat of British troops.  Today, Governors Island is a National Monument standing as a quiet, and relatively unexplored testament to America's earliest military endeavours towards achieving and securing independence.  Governors Island continued serving when called upon to help reaffirm the Nation's principles during a time when brother took arms against brother, and beyond.

A turbulent nineteenth century America leading up to, and through the Civil War served as a backdrop while the pastoral and more importantly, amateur, games of Rounders, Old Cat, Goal Ball, the New England Game, the New York Game, and other variations of Base evolved.  The final offshoots were  then codified into the game of Base Ball.  That in turn, laid the foundation for the game of Baseball we know today.  Comparatively speaking, the way the game is played has changed little in over 160 years.  Although, everything surrounding the game has.

The story of the New York Knickerbockers credited with being the first official social organization of amateur base ball players formed in the 1840's is well known by now.  One-hundred and sixty-five years ago, this gentleman's social club from Manhattan also ferried across these very waters to play their famous first match in Base Ball history on the Elysian Fields in Hoboken, New Jersey.  Then over the next twenty years, Brooklyn effectively became the center of the Baseball universe.  It was in the Borough of Kings where Base Ball became great, and where the art and practice of documenting and preserving Base Ball history was born.  Only then did Base Ball spread throughout the land, and go on to become the National Pastime.  But some of the earliest road trips in Base Ball were not road trips at all.  Prior to the game's westward march into a Nation, metropolitan area teams from Brooklyn, Manhattan, and New Jersey, ferried across the waters of New York Harbor.


Today, Governors Island serves as a floating monument to New York City, and Gotham's role in all of this.  Retired from military service long ago, the island is being transformed into a destination for civilians, and more suited for the recreational interests of the people.  There is an old saying in the Army: Blood makes the grass grow.  Ponder that for a second.  Our country fought for its right to be free and exist as an independent Nation.  Appropriately, it was originally in the spirit of a Nation's newly found freedom and resulting recreational time that the genesis of Base Ball was inspired.

Even though Governors Island floats center mass between the Statue of Liberty, the lower tip of Manhattan Island, and Brooklyn's remaining shipping and container industry, for too long, the island has gone ignored and unspoken, until recently.  New York City purchased the island from the government some years ago and eventually welcomed the public to venture in.  And Brooklyn's redeveloping East River waterfront is now taking them there.  After laying in ruins for so long, the pier where the time machine picks up and discharges passengers exists because of a major effort to rescue, and revive the downtown shoreline.  Brooklyn's waterfront reached its zenith as a glorious shipping and industrial power well over a half century ago.  Today, as part of the greater Brooklyn Bridge Park project, Brooklyn's old dilapidated waterfront, like Governors Island, is being recovered in the name of recreational spaces.

If you're like most native New Yorkers, you've never been to the Statue of Liberty, much less Governors Island.  Many Noo Yawkuz even claim to have never visited the Empire State Building.  The thinking is it's there and we can go any time.  To most, Governors Island is that curious little inconsequential plot of land they see when crossing either the Brooklyn or Manhattan Bridges on their way to and from work.  Or it might be that place commuters glance over while driving in traffic on the BQE.  Others just look at it curiously while strolling along the Promenade above the expressway.


There is now Base Ball being played on Governors Island.  No, not Baseball, I meant Base Ball.  In time for the 2012 regular season, and exactly one hundred sixty years after their forefathers took to playing on a base ball field, the modern day Gothams Base Ball Club of New York began calling Governors Island home. They are New York City's only vintage base ball team, and represent the New York Gothams Club established circa 1852, in Manhattan.  And when the home team is scheduled to play, you can visit the island via the free ferry service, and take in a match played between skilled competitors who adhere to authentic 1864 era rules.  The member teams wear authentic style uniforms, use era style bats and balls.  And in their most realistic representation, they do not use gloves.  These gentlemen play Base Ball quite literally the way it was originally designed.  I speak about all the playing members of the Vintage Base Ball Association.

As was the case in the 19th Century, their modern rivals are the Brooklyn Atlantics Base Ball Club who represent an organization established circa 1855, in the Bedford-Stuyvesant/Williamsburg sections of Brooklyn.  However, today's Atlantic club plays their home games in Bethpage, Long Island.  This past Saturday, the Gothams hosted a pair of matches against the Atlantics.  I, along with the Brooklyn Atlantics, were making our first ever visit to the island.  By day's end, both teams had the satisfaction of at least winning a game each.  And I had the benefit of going back in time.
Find out how the games went in my next post.

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