Hankering for some baseball circa 1895? Teams like Mountain Athletic Club and the Bovina Dairymen are playing vintage "base ball" right here in the Catskills. Spectators and players welcome! We spoke with the M.A.C.'s Collin Miller during spring practice on Creamery Field in Bovina, NY. Collin's team is "fashioned after the original team established in Griffin Corners, New York in 1895 by yeast magnates Julius and Max Fleischmann. Thanks to M.A.C., the Bovina Dairymen, and the Delhi Base Ball Club for inviting us to practice.
Thanks also to our sponsors: Roxbury's WIOX and the Catskill Mountains Scenic Byway.
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Transcribed by Jerome Kazlauskas via otter.ai
Brett Barry 0:01
Welcome back to Kaatscast, the biweekly podcast featuring local interviews, arts and culture, and history in the Catskill Mountains and Hudson Valley.
Collin Miller 0:10
Brett Barry 0:12
This week, we joined Collin "Stumpy" Miller of Mountain Athletic Club Vintage Baseball for spring training with the Bovina Dairymen and Delhi Baseball Club in Bovina, New York.
Collin Miller 0:25
So I'm Collin Miller. I'm the captain of the Mountain Athletic Club Vintage Baseball out of Fleischmanns, New York and here we are today at our first practice of the season at Creamery Field in Bovina Center. Today, we're going to have a three team practice with the other vintage baseball clubs in Delaware County: The Bovina Dairymen and the newly-formed Delhi baseball. We replicate 19th century baseball and what a lot of people don't know is that it was evolved over time over really millennia ... and so we basically play by the rules as they were written in 1895 because that is the year of the max founding. However, we play other clubs throughout the northeast, and in some cases, the country where we play 1860s rules and we'll play 1880s rules and the game really just evolved every few years, the rules would change.
Brett Barry 1:16
The original Mountain Athletic Club was founded by Julius and Max Fleischman in Griffin Corners, New York. Today, Griffin Corners is Fleischmanns, New York.
Collin Miller 1:26
Julius and Max Fleischman. They were brothers. I think they were 24 and 18 years old. Their father, Charles Fleischman, had established sort of family compound of estates (very stately places in on a hill overlooking the village of Griffin Corners at the time). They were all from Cincinnati. Charles founded the Gaff and Fleischmann Company, which was the predecessor to Fleischmann's yeast ... and so Cincinnati had its heyday in baseball, the first professional baseball team was the Cincinnati Red Stockings ... and so they attribute the ... the start of professional baseball is 1869 in Cincinnati. So fast forward to 1895, these kids have been brought up Julius and Max (the brothers had been brought up around professional baseball) and they really just started playing baseball to pass the time on their summers while they were here from Cincinnati and they would grab any townspeople or anybody looking to play. Some older newspapers purport that they brought baseball to Delaware County that's not necessarily true, but it is very possible that they introduced the game to some people who hadn't really played it yet. But baseball and Delaware County goes all the way back to 1825 in the village of Hamden, but that's really where it all began was 1895. They had bought some land from the Lashers. Alan Lasher Platt was what it was called. It's on a flat along Wagner Avenue in Griffin Corners at the time. I think that prior to that the newspaper accounts suggest that they had been playing on some pretty rough fields. If I can quote the article, I think it said, "a hit in any direction would yield a homerun." And so the story goes in 1895, they bought this four acre patch of land along Wagner Avenue that sits nestled along the Bushkill stream, and they leveled all the boulders so that they would have a place to play, and you know, and that's kind of my theory is that they had been accustomed to playing on some pretty, pretty lavish grounds in Cincinnati ... and so they come out here and play, you know, on hillslopes on farms and they really want a ballpark of their own ... and so the ... the brothers really were interested in doing that, so that they could play not so much. They could, you know, stock a team or anything but that they just wanted to play baseball. But really in that early five years of the club, they started to develop a thirst for some more competitive play find some more teams outside the Catskill region, not only to come to Fleischmanns by the rail, but we would also travel two teams down in let's say, New Jersey, Metropolitan New York, Albany, alien ... anywhere that the railroad would take us we would travel, we really started to develop some serious talent around that time and Julia started paying his players. He paid his players and treated them better than most major league players at the time ... and so he developed some really top shelf talent and I'll just rattle off a few names that come to mind. Miller Huggins (famous as the manager for the New York Yankees) during the murderer's row era of Ruth and Gehrig and that's what put him in the Hall of Fame in 1946. However, he was a second baseman, and he played for the Mountain Athletic Club in 1900. When it's believed that they went 56 and 4, 56 wins and four losses. Another player of no Doc White, Guy Harris, Doc White, he was a dentist in the offseason, but he was from Georgetown University, and he ended up going on to pitch for the Chicago White Sox throughout the early 1900s and was the third winningest left-handed pitcher from 1900 to 1910. He played for the M.A.C. Another person of note would be Red Dooin. Charles "Red" Dooin played for the Philadelphia Phillies and managed for them as well and he held a 91-year franchise record for games caught in the Philadelphia Phillies organization. He also played for the Mountain Athletic Club in 1900. Another gentleman by the name of George Rohe. He factored heavily in the 1906 Chicago White Sox World Series over the Cubs, which was the first series of its kind where it pitted one team versus another from the same city. There's a lot of Hall of Famers that played in that series as well as Mordecai Brown and some others. Nick Altrock was another gentleman on the M.A.C. that year. Nick ... he's most famous as his ... his post baseball career as a baseball vaudeville clown. He also holds I think still holds the record for the oldest major leaguer to hit a triple. He did it when he was 47 years old, I believe. There are several other major leaguers. We know that at least a dozen played for the Mountain Athletic Club, but the one that I've been really interested in of late is Jay Kirk and Jay Kirk actually grew up in Albin. Jay Kirk actually had a 23-year career in the minor and major leagues. He had spent seven seasons part of seven seasons with the major leagues. Apparently, he was a phenomenal hitter. He had a career 315 average and amassed over 3,500 hits. One of the neat things about our field in Fleischmanns (The M.A.C. Grounds at Fleischmanns Park) and I call it the wall of fame and it's our scoreboard, but actually has a fixed on it. All those folks that I mentioned and more, but Jay Kirk is ... is somebody that I neglected to put on when we first built it, but that he will be getting his part of that scoreboard later this summer. We're carrying on a legacy here in Fleischmanns. I mean our ... our banner is, you know, continuing a baseball tradition and Fleischmann since 1895 and I really believe very strongly. All these clubs that we play with here in Delaware County do that. The Bovina Dairymen ... there may not have been a team called the Dairymen, but you'll bet you're butt. There was baseball here in Bovina in the 1890s; the same with Delhi. Delhi baseball goes all the way back to at least 1870s. We really try to keep the history alive because we're doing something very, very different from conventional baseball. We don't have all the talent that the original Mac did, but we'll get there.
Brett Barry 7:17
After the break, Collin Miller takes us through three distinct eras that define this historic team, but first a word from our sponsors. Kaatscast is supported by WIOX Community Radio. Live and local in the Catskills. Reflective responsive, and supportive at 91.3 FM, MTC cable channel 20, wioxradio.org, and with any smartphone radio app (Alexa, Play WIOX), and by the 52-mile Catskill Mountains Scenic Byway; following New York State Route 28 through the heart of the Central Catskills including Fleischmanns, New York. For maps, itineraries, and links to area restaurants, shops and accommodations, visit sceniccatskills.com. And now, back to spring training in Bovina, New York.
Collin Miller 8:13
There's three sort of distinct eras of the Mountain Athletic Club. There was the 1895 to really 1914; Julius Fleischmanns was real passionate and a lot of other things besides baseball. He was a yachtsman. He's into boxing, horse racing, a lot of these things and he got probably more busy with his running his company. Fleischmanns Yeast was the largest yeastmaker in the world and they were the largest employer in Peekskill for 75 years (right on Charles Point on the Hudson River). I surmised that he was very busy doing other things. He was not vacationing in Fleischmanns anymore; and by that time, that section of town had turned into what people called Fleischmanns and actually the train depot was right in front of their estates and it actually was Fleischmanns Depot. It wasn't officially changed from Griffin's Corners, however, until he donated the ballpark to the village; and at that point, the village incorporated in May of 1914 as Fleischmanns. So that's very important distinction, especially in getting the site on the national historic registry. So that's why it kind of takes you to 1914, and then fast forward nearly 100 years, and you have 2007. Todd Pascarella launches the Mountain Athletic Club to play against teams like the Roxbury Nine and some other vintage clubs in the region, and then that goes until about 2011. The flood hit. Hurricane Irene pretty much wiped out the village of Fleischmanns and took the ball field with it, which is really sad because when I had played on that team. We had raised significant grant money to put in a new infield at Fleischmanns Park. It was actually done by the same crew, the same dirt anyway that was done at Citi Field for the ... for the New York Mets. It's fantastic infield surface and they'd all just got wiped out in the flood ... and so really vintage baseball went dormant for the most part; few games here and there, but it went dormant for the most part from 2011 until about 2017, which is just after I moved back to the region ... and so I said about trying to, you know, put this whole thing together and first call I made was to the Dairymen and the Roxbury Nine, you know, hoping we'd have some other teams in the county to play ... and so here we are, you know, four or five years later, we're hoping for a wonderful season this year and I should ... I should say, "One of the highlights of this last era will say the 2017 to the present was in 2019," Founders Day was celebrated with about a thousand people at the ... at the park in Fleischmanns and it was really a tribute to the 150th anniversary of Fleischmanns in the town that bears its name. We played a baseball game there and got some fantastic attention. John Thorn, the official historian of Major League Baseball, he came and read a proclamation to the village on the advent of this for the village of Fleischmanns and it was really just a testimony to the perseverance of people to rebuild after the flood because six years later (after that flood), there was still remnants of a ballpark, but really, we had to rebuild it and ... and so we have. And now, we spun off. There's another team here coming today (The Delhi Baseball Club). We hope that in future years, we'll have many more teams to play in Delaware County and really make this a Delaware County vintage baseball association of clubs in the future. Hey, go get one.
Chris Brown 11:38
My name is Chris Brown. I moved here almost three years ago to work with the Watershed Agricultural Council and (kind of) shortly after I started a colleague of mine, Andrew Krutz, who happens to be our catcher was like, "Do you play ball?" And I was like, it's been a long time. But, you know, I'd love to get back into it. And he's like, you should come on out and give it a try. I'd never played old time baseball before. I rarely had played with a wooden bat even so it was kind of different for me, but everyone's been really welcoming and I haven't stopped coming back since then. So ... so that's how I kind of got started. We do hang out outside of baseball a little bit. But I'm kind of like ... in a ... we don't even have to it's just like a couple months might go by like over the winter where we haven't connected, but we can come right back and ... and, you know, it's ... it's easy to talk to everybody because we have a common bond and in baseball, playing against the Dairymen and Bovina. They're kind of our rival and I'll say they usually get the better of us. They're a little bit more polished team, for sure. But they're all classy guys and girls do it. We've got a couple of women that have played for us in the past and still do so. It's great. Yeah, the whole thing is awesome.
Collin Miller 12:57
Andrews, second base. We have folks that hadn't played since middle school and they picked it up and, you know, it just we played for the love of the game. You know, this isn't a league. There's no trophies. We all go back to work on Monday. I'm sure, you know, in our inner child, we'd all like to be aspire to be major leaguers someday, but those days have since passed ... and so we really come out here and it's about community. We try to do something for the community; and last year, especially with COVID, we were able to pull off like four or five games, the Dairymen and the Mountain Athletic Club and, you know, we had some wonderful opportunities to showcase what we do right here where we stand on Creamery Field in Bovina. We gave birth to this field last year and we had ... we had a great crowd. Everybody did what they're supposed to stayed safe. We get everybody under the sun that wants to come play, they come find out what we do. We tell them to leave the gloves at home. Gloves really didn't come on until the 1880s, and even then they were not really much of a glove. They didn't have the webbing that you see on conventional gloves, you know, so people have to understand it's a different kind of game and I always get a kick out of somebody trying to feel the ground ball and it goes right under their hand because you'd think they're the webbing would have been there, right? So it just sort of slips by and you'll get used to it. I mean, it's really open to whoever is willing to put forth the energy and the effort. We do a lot of travel because we are in Delaware County, which is fairly geographically isolated. There are over 200 clubs all over the United States, and just in the northeast, there's at least 50 or 60 clubs. So we try to really get them here and then we interchange and go to their place to play and, you know, so willingness to travel is really key, too.
Brett Barry 14:39
The team prides itself not only on preserving its history, but also on keeping good relations with local partners. Bats are turned in local sawmills and uniforms are custom made to replicate 19th century styles.
Collin Miller 14:54
Our bats are turned by Archie Biruk. He and his father run a sawmill in Halcottsville behind Alta Log Homes. They're off of route 30. Archie turns all of our bats. Bovine is bats, they turn quite a bit of their own; and there are guys that will manufacture a vintage style bat. So for example, I have a bat that I purchased from the Cooperstown Bat Company (that's in a replica of an 1880s bat). The stuff can be purchased. Our uniforms are all custom tailored by a woman in K&P Weaver's in Hartford, Connecticut, and she's done a great job. She's actually did all the uniforms for "A League of Their Own." So she does all of our replica uniforms as well. Other equipment, you know, we kind of just have to find it where you can, you know, I was able to get a catcher's mask from, you know, 1910 or something like that, and it was actually in decent shape. So we're using that. There are some purveyors of vintage baseball equipment out there, but it's definitely a cottage industry and I always view this as sort of a baseball subculture. So people have sort of risen to the occasion to provide, you know, historically accurate balls, bats, and equipment. I should mention that we are funded by the O'Connor Foundation. We have grants coming from Delaware County Promotion and Tourism Board. We have funding from the Fleischmanns Yeast Company, which is parent company is AB Mauri. They've been super helpful and supportive with they actually funded a tobacco card set reminiscent of the turn of the century tobacco guards that are featured on our website in our souvenir shop. All of our administrative supports done by the MARK Project out of Arkville. Vintage baseball in Delaware County wouldn't be here without some of the work of Peg Ellsworth and the ... the MARK Project.
Brett Barry 16:36
If you want to take in some vintage baseball of your own, check out macvintagebaseball.org. Here are some highlights.
Collin Miller 16:45
On May 29th, the Mountain Athletic Club will celebrate its season opener in Fleischmanns at the M.A.C. Grounds and we will be working with the historical society of the town of Middletown, unveiling a new historic roadside marker to commemorate the listing of M.A.C. Grounds on the national and state historic registries. So that's very exciting. Another thing that's happening this year, we'll be traveling to Cincinnati to play in the national showcase of vintage baseball. Now this will be the first trip of the Mountain Athletic Club to Cincinnati. Since Julius Fleischmanns took his club (they're in 1900) on one of those trips, they actually beat the Cincinnati Reds in their own home park four to three. So that's a testament to how good the club was back then, but we're very excited on that trip. They're going to be rolling the red carpet out for us. We'll be getting free tours of the Reds Hall of Fame, which I'm told is one of the best Hall of Fames in all of baseball and probably tried to take in a Reds game while we're out there, but we're very excited about that. One of the other things that's happening new this year, Delaware County is going to host our own overhand, you know, 1890-style baseball tournament right here where we stand at the Creamery Field, and that'll be the first weekend in October, which is about the best time of the year to be in the Catskills, so we're really looking forward to that.
Brett Barry 18:07
Scriptwriting and editing on this episode by our production intern (Steven Harris). "Take Me Out to the Ballgame," courtesy of E's Jammy Jams. Please be sure to subscribe wherever podcasts are found and give us a rating to help other listeners find us. Until next time, follow us on Instagram @kaatscast. I'm Brett Barry. Thanks for listening.