A Brief Sketch of Baseball in the Longwood Community
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On any summer evening as you drive around the Longwood Community you can find Little League games being played on fields. At night when the lights come on you can find hundreds of adults playing softball in Brookhaven Town leagues. The story of baseball in our community is long and rich in history. This brief sketch will attempt to tell the history of Baseball in our community.
The origin of baseball in America has long been in dispute. Baseball began as a game called Rounders. The game of Rounders had no formal rules and it had a variety of different rules depending on where it was played.
Although many still claim that it was Abner Doubleday who founded baseball at Cooperstown, little documented evidence can be found to support the claim.
Many people have come to believe that it was Alexander Cartwright who was the true inventor of baseball. It was Cartwright, who in 1845 developed rules that governed play. Teams were assigned players, who played a nine-inning game, with 3 outs to a half inning. The diamond was laid out as a square with the distance being 90 feet between bases.
The sport was already rapidly gaining popularity when the Civil War began. It was the Civil War that that was largely responsible for the explosive growth of the game across our country. The game was played by Union and Confederate soldiers alike. Long duty periods at camps and forts were punctuated by baseball games. These games provided a much needed distraction for the long periods of boredom and were also used to boost the morale of the men.
When General Joseph Hooker took over the Union Army after the disastrous defeat at Fredericksburg, his primary goal was to build up the morale of the army. In Willard Glazier's book Three Years in the Federal Cavalry, he describes how as morale improved the men took to watching a baseball game played between the 14th Brooklyn and the Second New York Cavalry. Several Yaphank men were with the 2nd New York at that time and witnessed the game. Samuel Darrow and Josiah Smith both of the 48th New York Infantry were stationed at Fort Pulaski, where numerous baseball games were played.
In Hilton head, South Carolina, James Nichols, Middle Island resident and member of the 165th New York Volunteers, was one of 30,000 who witnessed a ballgame between his regiment and another Union regiment.
The game of baseball crossed the social, economic and political strata of American life. Once the war ended, returning soldiers brought the game to every community in America. A sport that was used to "pass time" would shortly become a national past time.
Returning Civil Veterans came home to Longwood and baseball fields were built in each community. In Yaphank ball fields were built on the property of the Suffolk County almshouse and on Gerard Blvd. In Middle Island it was on a field of the old Thompson homestead (now the site of the Longwood Public Library.) The field was later moved to what is now Bartlett Pond Park on the Middle Country Road in Middle Island. The Coram field was built on the Davis farm across the street where the Davis home on Middle Country Road is located.
As the men came home teams were formed and challenges were made of other teams from local communities. No formal schedules were arranged and teams just agreed on a location and date to play. These games were well attended by members of the community and a good team was a source of great community pride.
In 1869 the Cincinnati Red Stockings radically changed the complexion of baseball when they paid their players. This allowed them to hire the best ball players of the time, which allowed them to go undefeated. In 1871 other teams realizing that they could not compete under this handicap formed the National Association, which was baseballs first professional league.
The earliest newspaper on microfilm for our area is the Patchogue Advance. Numerous references can be found about baseball in the Longwood area.
On November 24th 1877 an article in the Patchogue advance announced the results of a return game between the Young Athletes of Yaphank and the Liberals of Patchogue. The nine-inning game was won by the Young Athletes of Yaphank. The game was won by "heavy batting" by the Young Athletes including a home run by H. Train and 3 base hits by F. Homan. The game according to the paper was stimulated by outside friends.
The game of baseball was so popular that it was even played during the winter months as the following letter illustrates.
In Feb. 23, 1878
A closely contested game of baseball between the Patchogue nine and the Young Athletes of this place. In all points it was a most interesting game. Through a general indifference baseball has been allowed to flag in Yaphank, and while steady practice won the athletes every game at the beginning of the season, the wont of it has lost them equally as many at the close. The athletes lost the game by a score of 11-8. Mr. Seley of Patchogue officiated as umpire and as he always does, gave entire satisfaction. Honest and impartial, he gives a tone and pleasantness to the game that adds to its other pleasures. The Young Athletes unite in returning thanks to Mr. Seley for his honorable decisions.
"The following officers were elected at the first quarterly meeting of the Athletes ball club, Saturday evening February 23: President, L.B. Homan: Secretary, R.E. Hammond, Treasurer, A.W. Train; Captain E. Nolan; Trustees, F. McCreary and Smith Thompson. The club is improving as a union and the national game increases in interest.
On March 9, 1878 the first and second nines played a match game on Saturday, resulting in a victory for the former, by a score of 54 to 13.
On Tuesday Feb. 26th the Port Jefferson ball club played a match game with the Coram club. Coram won by a score of 80 to 31. The return game was played in Port Jefferson when the Coramites were again victorious by a score of 23 to 9.
These games began to foster healthy community rivalries, and were well attended by the residents of each community.
The earliest recorded meeting between two Longwood teams took place on March 16, 1878 when the Young Athletes played the Atlantics of Coram, on their grounds. The Coram team had a number of substitutes from other clubs. The day was fine and the game terminated pleasantly. The Athletes of Yaphank won the game easily by a score of 21 to 7.
In June the Young
Athletes of Yaphank issued a challenge to any amateur club in Brookhaven
or Riverhead to play a match on July 4th, on grounds to be
mutually agreed on. Address R.E Hammond, secretary. Here is a chance
for Patchogue -Moriches and Bellport included.
" About three weeks ago the Middle Island Baseball club, after defeating nines from Coram and surrounding villages issued a challenge to play any club in Brookhaven Town. This challenge was immediately accepted by a few enthusiastic baseball fans in the village (Port Jefferson), but all attempts to get enough players together for a practice game on the "sand" at the schoolhouse proved to be a dismal failure.
Things were in this sad state of apathy until last Friday evening when L.B. Homan received a communication from Edward Pfeiffer, the secretary of the Middle Island club, informing him that unless Port Jefferson's nine was on the grounds ready to play the following afternoon, Saturday the Middle Island nine would claim victory over Port Jefferson by default.
That was enough. Early Saturday morning Mr. Homan sent his scouts scouring the village for anybody who was known to play baseball and who in addition had interest enough to journey to the far away battleground at Middle Island to decide the question. After climbing the hills and wading through the slush and mud enough players were secured to form a team and Mr. Pfeiffer was telegraphed that Port Jefferson's nine would be on hand at Randall's store at Middle Island at 2 p.m. if the weather was in any way fit for a game.
At 1 p.m. Al Wynne and his stage were in hotel square and all the players loaded on board. The boys having never played together before, the road being long and muddy, all added to the knowledge that in a short hour-and- a-half they would stand on the diamond at Middle Island, pitted against players who were supposed to eat baseball at their meals and sleep on bats, made the boys feel blue.
Once underway, Joseph Burke was elected captain, and he assigned each of the players his position and gave them a few necessary instructions about the conduct of the game. The stage took a route up Main Street, through the Stony Hill road to the North Country road to the Mount Sinai schoolhouse, then taking the lane directly south.
For a while it rumbled along, disturbing the silence through the woods until some of the players broke forth in song, which was kept up until the first houses of the challenging villages were reached. Then the yells and whoops that were emitted sent the chickens and geese scurrying across the road and caused the cows in the barn yards to look up in mild-eyed surprise and brought forth no signs of human life.
Randall's store was soon reached and the stage load was informed that the game was to be played in one of Azel Swezey's lots a mile up the road. Arriving there the Port Jefferson boys found a large crowd awaiting them. All the villages from Yaphank to Lake Grove had delegations to witness the great game.
A spirited game followed with considerable wrangling about decisions, finally resulting in a victory for Port Jefferson 21 to 12. After the game three rousing cheers were given for Middle Island by the victors, which were heartily returned by the Middle Island boys. The Port boys filed into their stage and after a short stop for refreshments were driven rapidly homeward, with song after song lightening the trip, until the depot was reached when the whole stage load took up the chorus of an improvised ditty, the principal line of which ran, And port Jefferson, she got there' and kept it going until the square was reached.
If there is no snow on the ground and the sky is clear Middle Island will return the game and play in Port Jefferson Saturday afternoon February 8, when an exciting and much closer game can be looked for."
Baseball games fostered community spirit and pride. A number of lively rivalries between local hamlets began to develop. In 1889 one such rivalry developed between the Middle Island baseball club and Bellport. Local news correspondents would use newspaper columns to goad opponents into playing games and issuing challenges to a communities pride.
June 13, 1889
Hurrah! The Middle Island B.B. club went to Bellport last Saturday and defeated the Buckeyes 28 to 13! It's no use talking the M.I.B.B. club is too much for the two Bellport clubs. (the stars and the Buckeyes, but don't cry! The superiority of the Middle Island boys is proved by the following details: Play was called at four o'clock. Buckeye stock at par. The home captain having choice of innings chose the field and before the Buckeyes took a turn at the bat the M.I. boys had place 18 runs to their credit and virtually won the game. In the beginning of the fourth inning the score stood 18 to 0 in favor of the visiting club. Buckeye stock 50 per cent below par. Not a Buckeye had yet reached first base safe. After the M.I. boys got reckless and through errors the Buckeyes scored 13 runs during the next 5 innings, when in the ninth inning the M.I. boys settled down to play and retired the side in one, two, three order, not a man seeing first base. Thus ending the hallucinations of the Bellport correspondent and his pet teams.
The Patchogue Advance correspondent wrote about a July 4th contest
The glorious fourth was celebrated in a quiet manner, as becomes our demure village. In the afternoon a ball club from Bellport astonished the natives and themselves by doing up in fine style a club hailing from the classic precincts of Middle Island to the tune of 23 to 3. The game was very entertaining and we hope they will favor the audience again. It was played on the almshouse farm.
The Middle Island correspondent wrote of a second game that took place that day at the Almshouse. I guess we can safely say that they quickly learned about a doubleheader.
There was game of ball in the afternoon between the Middle Island and Yaphank clubs on the formers grounds, but this lacked the excitement from the fact that it was a one sided game from the start in favor of the home club. Joseph Denham, who is reported as being a star pitcher was placed in the box for the Yaphank and was fairly well supported behind the bat by T. Dedham. But the field support was not very good and Denham had apparently lost confidence in his delivery and refused to enter the box, and retired in favor of W. Still who was batted freely and he retired at the beginning of the 4th inning in favor of Woodward. On the other hand their opponents were effective and played a steady game throughout, retiring the side twice with three men on bases. The principal feature of the game was a tripple play in the third inning with 3 people on base. Score 20 to 0 in favor of Middle Island. Umpire, Ruland
Bellport would seek revenge and beat the Yaphank team….
In September, 1889
At the field in Yaphank the Bellport Stars defeated Yaphank by a score of 30 to 15.
On September 30th the Bellport Stars played the Middle Island ball club on the Yaphank field.
"The Bellport Stars after reaching the top of the ladder, were too weak to hold their position when they faced the Middle Island club on the Yaphank grounds last Saturday. The battery for Middle Island; Hawkins and Coleman. Time of game, 2 hours 15 min; umpires, Eaton and Westby.
October 18, 1889
We noticed an article in the Bellport Correspondence last week something like the following: "We understand that a challenge was extended to the Middle Island nine by the Buckeyes to play them a game of baseball which they were too cowardly to accept. Shame" We think the Bellport correspondent a little to previous as the Middle Island nine accepted the challenge by return mail for the day and date named. "By the way." The Middle Island nine requested the Bellport Stars to play a second game on the Yaphank grounds according to agreement of both captains and they positively refused to do so. Shame! But then it is quite natural that they should want to remain as near to the top of the ladder as possible. The day came for the Buckeyes to appear but the Buckeyes did not. Shame! An exhibition game was played and resulted in a score of 12 to 14.
The Bellport Captain had responded to the charge and once again the Middle Island correspondent would answer.
The Bellport correspondent makes a poor excuse for his nine not being willing to come up here and play in the woods. We did not ask them to play in the woods but offered to meet them on the Yaphank grounds which is a lot adjoining the county Almshouse
It would soon become evident to these local clubs that establishing an actual schedule for each team would eliminate all these problems. Baseball was about to enter its Golden Era.
Yaphank Circa 1930
Interest in baseball became active in Suffolk County in the early 1930’s. In the hamlets of Longwood many teams began training their players at the elementary school level. Pat Raimond of Yaphank remembered the Yaphank elementary school principal Mr. Davis encouraging the boys at the Yaphank Elementary School (circa 1923-1932) to practice after school. He remembers Mr. Davis piling the entire team (nine boys) into his Model T Ford Roadster for a ride to play a game at the Middle Island School. This entailed putting several boys on the seat, several atop the trunk and a couple on the running boards,
Discussion between representatives of a number of teams resulted in the formation of an official league to foster competition. In Yaphank the fire department agreed to sponsor a team to represent both it and the community. The league consisted of ten teams with a season schedule of twenty games. As all the players worked at jobs during the week, games were played on Sunday afternoon. At the end of the season an awards banquet was held at a suitable facility, determined by the league officials, to recognize and reward individual as well as team performance. Of interest, although not a member team of the newly formed league, the Suffolk County Giants, an all Black team challenged and played against league teams as schedules would accommodate. They proved formidable opponents.
Gus Neuss remembered how the Yaphank Fire Department team was managed and coached by his father Gustave Neuss, Sr. He was a commissioner of the local fire district. He volunteered to lead the team because of his prior experience in the sport. In the late 1800s, as a member of the Knickerbocker Athletic Club in New York City, he participated in many of the Club’s sport activities. At the turn of the 20th century as a performer with the Ringling Brothers Circus he played the first base position on the circus team. The team, composed completely of show performers, challenged local baseball teams at all cities where the circus played. He had a thorough knowledge of the game.
This was amateur baseball. Players were from the local area and were few in number. The roster of players was usually about twelve. The line-up for a game was as listed below.
Pitcher Mervin Tillinghast
3rd Base Joseph Scesny
Catcher Walter Tillinghast
Left Field Ed [Duke] Glover
1st Base Merv Griffin
Center Field William Neuss
2nd Base John E. Davis, Jr.
Right Field John Glover
Shortstop Louis Johnson
Utility Hub Brown
There was no back-up for positions. When necessary positions were changed to meet the demands of the occasion. The team members were furnished with uniforms. These were rose pink in color and carried Yaphank Fire Dept. across the front of the shirt. It made for a sharp looking team. Laundering of the uniforms was performed in the Neuss’ home laundry as a contribution to the team.
The home team furnished all the baseballs required for each game. A ball had to be lost or so damaged to require replacement before a new ball was put in play. One ball could last an entire game. Also the home team furnished the umpire. He not only called strikes and balls but also made calls on the bases. He was positioned behind the pitcher, as he had no face or chest protection. Needless to say there were many of the umpire’s calls which were questioned but his verdict was final. A game between Yaphank and West Patchogue experienced some fisticuffs because of West Patchogue’s objection to an umpire’s decision. Merton Kinney performed the thankless job as umpire for Yaphank F.D. He will be rewarded in Heaven.
The baseball diamond was located on the south side of North Gerard Road. Around 1935 a number of young men from Yaphank cleared the brush from the land. They cut down several Locust trees and attached chicken wire from one to the other, making a backstop for their baseball field. The John S. Jones farm was across the highway to the north. The third base line ran parallel to and about one hundred feet in from the road in an east southeast direction. Home plate was at the west end of the third base line. The first base line ran south southwest from home plate. These base lines were marked using hydrated lime applied by hand. The batter’s box was similarly delineated. Players benches were located at a safe distance from the base lines. Home team was at the third base line and the visitors’ was located off the first base line. No seating was furnished for spectators. Fans brought their own chairs, viewed
from their automobiles, or stood to observe the play. There was no peanuts and Cracker Jack or beverages. Spectators supplied their own. Drinking water was furnished home team players. No rest room facilities were available. Conditions were primitive.
The infield surface was hard, sand and clay mix. It was periodically smoothed using an eight-foot wide two-blade dirt road scraper loaned by the township highway department. The outfield was grass which was kept under control using a sickle bar hay mower loaned by one of the locals. The level surface of the ground made an excellent playing field. I do not know who owned the property but no one challenged its use for ball playing.
The number of years in the 1930s that the team held together I do not know. The archives of the Yaphank Fire Department may have recorded some history of the team’s longevity. I do know with the advent of World War II the team disappeared. For the years the team played, a goodly number of loyal fans attended the weekly games to give support, win or lose. It was a memorable time for Yaphank.