August 25, 2008


Wagonmakers step back in time at McGraw Field


Joe McIntyre/staff photographer
Mountain Athletic Club shortstop Adam Hendricks fields a groundball as a Cortland Wagonmaker baserunner tries to beat the throw to first during Saturday’s vintage baseball twin bill at John J. McGraw Field in Truxton.

Staff Writer

TRUXTON — On a sunny Saturday afternoon, nearly 200 people came to John J. McGraw Field in Truxton to step back in time as the Cortland Wagonmakers hosted the Mountain Athletic Club in a vintage baseball double header.
Though a little longer in the tooth than their counterparts from Fleischmanns, the Wagonmakers put on a good show losing a 5-4 10-inning decision in the 1864 contest and coming back to win the 1894 seven-inning game 9-7. The big difference in the 30-year span was overhand pitching and a glove — with a modern-day garden glove that served as a mitt in those days.
The real highlight of the day was watching men and two women play a form of baseball 144 years old and the crowd that came to watch. To Cortland County historian Jeremy Boylan, AKA “Oil Can”, it was the culmination of a lot of hard work and another nice bicentennial event for the county.
“I am really pleased with how it went today,” Boylan said. “We had a really good turnout by the fans and I was glad we could come away with a split in the doubleheader.
“It was really interesting learning the rules because this was our first game,” he continued. “I know our guys had a good time and I think the Mountain Athletic Club team had some fun too. Of course they do this a little more than we do. Our team was a nice mix of guys from all over Cortland County and that’s what we wanted. We wanted as many towns and villages represented as possible. We did get some athletic guys as well so that we could be competitive.”
The youngest member of the Wagonmakers was Sean Caughey. A former Cortland High standout who was also an outfielder at SUNY Cortland, “The Kid” took to the old-time game quite well.
“It was really fun,” Caughey said. “It was great to get out here and play against a team that has really done this a lot. It was almost as much fun as it is to play baseball today. It took some time to get use to the rules, but there was a lot of fun and bantering going on during the game.”
Caughey hit the ball in both games and fielded the ball well without a glove.
“It was still enough like baseball that I just did the things that I normally do,” he replied. “I thought the most fun was being able to ring the bell after scoring an ace (run). I did find it easier to just catch the ball on the fly and not let it bounce first because you never knew about the spin of the ball.
“As far as hitting,” Caughey added. “It was better to try to hit everything on the ground. Even a line drive could skip and you’re out if it was caught on the first bounce.”
Caughey was 3-for-5 with a sacrifice fly in the 1864 game and 4-for-4 with a walk in the 1894 contest.
Tony Kissel, AKA “The Professor”, offered his thoughts on the 1864 game.
“It was hard to get use to the wooden bat and the pitching,” baseball historian Kissel said. “The rules were a little more confusing especially a ball hitting in fair territory and then going foul, that ball is still in play in certain instances.
“I did find it interesting that the younger players on both teams really liked the game,” he continued. “That was good to see and really showed me why baseball was so popular back in the 19th century. It was a good way to start learning the game back then.”
Would Kissel like to see the Wagonmakers stick around and join teams like the Mountain Athletic Club in playing more games during the summer?
“I hope so,” Kissel answered immediately. “We laid the ground work with this game and there is a very nice field right here in Truxton to play on. We would need to get some more players, because some of us won’t play much more after today. It would be nice to get some other team nearby like Dryden, Groton, Ithaca or even Syracuse. I know the Mountain Athletic Club has invited us there next year. I would help the team, but I don’t know how many years I have left in my career. I hope some of the younger players would continue the team.”
For the Mountain Athletic Club team it is the love of the game and the hope of reviving some of the luster to the village of Fleischmanns, a once thriving vacation spot in the Catskills.
“It was a great trip and a nice day for us to come out here,” said manager/player Jesse “Sunshine” Voeks. “We play a lot of Saturday afternoon games with Roxbury, a team just 15 minutes away. We really only started last year with six games. This year, we have played 16 games with trips to New Jersey included. It is a great way to get out and meet new people.
“History is the main reason we do this,” Voeks continued. “Honus Wagner was a big drawing card for this team. I just love the game of baseball and that is way I play. These wool uniforms are hot on a day like this, but I love to put it on.”
Voeks went on the explain how there is some interest in the community with some people getting a couple of the old hotels reopened and they hope that their games will help draw people to Fleischmanns for the weekend.
As for the competition this day?
“They were better prepared than we thought,” Voeks replied. “They have some very good ballplayers and gave us a tough contest today. It was a great game, we had some fun and we pulled one out.”
Boylan’s work is far from done with the Bicentennial Barn Dance this weekend, the Bicentennial Parade on Sept. 13 and the Bicentennial Ball Sept. 20.
Truxton is also celebrating its bicentennial and one event will be the reenactment of the old Truxton Giants baseball team hosting the New York Giants, who were coached by Truxton’s own John J. McGraw for many years, on Sept. 27.