Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Baseball and our Cooperstown Roots



Whether or not Cooperstown was the true birthplace of the game of baseball, where “town ball” was codified into the National Pastime, it is clear that the game was an important part of the social history of the region and of our Col(e)man family at the turn of the last century.

In March of 1924, The Richfield Mercury newspaper reported:

Old Time Ball Team Recalled
One of the early baseball nines of Cooperstown was called the Riverside club, organized in 1878. William H. Michaels was captain, secretary, and treasurer of the club. The games were played on a plot of ground on what was then the Dorr Russel farm now the Iriquois farm of F. A. Clark. The battery was Horace Coleman, catcher; John Coleman, pitcher; William H. Michaels, short stop. Other players were: Charles B. Michaels, Leonard Vunk, Irving Hoose, Hiram Slater, George Way, Fenimore Coleman, and John H. King. At the time it was playing this nine was considered the best in Otsego County and John Coleman was the only pitcher in the county who pitched a curve. As far as can be learned, the only players of this club still living are Hiram Slater of Milford, Leonard Vunk, John H. King and William H. Michaels of Cooperstown.

Dewitt and Mary (Heath/Haith) Colman’s sons John, Horace and Fenimore played together on this field near their home on what was later called Brooklyn Avenue in Middlefield. In 1878 John was 26 and the father of a two year old daughter Edith. Horace and Fenimore, aged 22 and 20, respectively, were still living with their parents. All worked at the nearby sawmill on the river. The twins, Lucius and Lucien, who are not listed in this article were 24. The youngest, Charles, was only 14 at the time. He also grew to be a local ball player whose picture is on file in the archives at the Baseball Hall of Fame.

The 1880 census reveals that Leonard Vunk, 23, lived with his father in Middlefield. Irving Hoose was also a Middlefield resident, living in the household of Helen Eggleston. Hiram Slater, 22, lived with elderly Nancy Hoose in Middlefield. The Hoose and Way families also appear to be related. John King, 25, was an Irish immigrant living in Otsego

In the 1880’s (undated) The Philadelphia Athletics professional baseball team invited John and Horace to come and try out for the team. Family lore says their wives (Horace married in 1881) vetoed that trip.

In the next generation, John Colman’s sons Dewitt and Pierce played together in 1913 in the local Sunset League, made up of the Baptists, Universalists, Methodists, Christ Church and Presbyterians, as reported in the Glimmerglass newspaper. Dewitt pitched and Pierce played first base. They were far from their sunset years, being 25 and 33, respectively. Perhaps the sun set in the outfield. The name was used for an adult league in other towns as well. In another report from June of 1913, W. Coleman was listed at shortstop/second base in the box score, likely Horace's son Bill who would have been 23. Dewitt pitched for the Universalists one year and the Baptists the next, when the Universalists were replaced by the Internationals, so the names don’t seem to represent their religious allegiances.

Can you imagine picnics on the lawn and the sound of the crack of the bat on the lazy summer afternoons?

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