The Ivoryton Nine Take the Field
ESSEX - It was a perfect day for baseball-sunny, not too hot, a bit of an afternoon breeze. In New York, the Yankees were playing their traditional rivals, the Boston Red Sox. In Ivoryton, there was a ball game, too, but not the one that the major leaguers were playing. The Ivoryton Nine were taking on the Lyme Taverners in a game governed by the rules of 1864, when base ball, as it was then spelled, was a different game.
Even Comstock field, where the teams played, was historic; this is the 100th anniversary of the construction of the diamond in Ivoryton, where a century ago workers from the Comstock, Cheney company team played. Essex resident Taffy Glowac (properly identified for this occasion as Taffy Comstock Glowac), a member of the Comstock family, was one on the honorees at the start of the game.
The other honorees included former Essex first selectman John Johns and two members of the Ivoryton Nine, Strickland (Strick) Hyde III, 70, and former Essex fire chief John Senn, 75. The two septuagenarians were coaching at first and third base-and that pleased Hyde's wife, Donna. "The last time he played, he broke his ankle," she said, adding that accident had taken place some 20 years ago.
"Between Strick and I, we have a few years," noted Senn.
At 80, Otto Finkeldey III took his turn at the plate. He had two hits for the Ivoryton Nine-a solid single, and a short infield squib-but pinch runners took the bases for him.
"It' a long way to first base," he explained.
The crowd was with him, with one shout of "Go on grandpa," ringing out.
Under 1864 rules, the players themselves were supposed to call whether they were out or safe.
"It was a gentleman's game," umpire Jim Wyman explained.
Wyman was dressed in blue pants and a vest with a bowler hat on his head as he patrolled the sidelines at Comstock Field. He didn't need a mask or chest protector, because he was not hunched over the catcher (who, by the way, was referred to in 1864 terms as the "behind"). That's because the umpire didn't call balls and strikes; they didn't exist in the 19th-century game. The umpire's job was only to call fair and foul balls.
And just to show what gentlemen of leisure they really were, at least one member of the Lyme Taverners came to bat with a cigar in his mouth. Not to be outdone Doug Senn, John Senn's son and captain of the Ivoryton Nine, also had a cigar in his mouth on his next at-bat.
The Senn family contributed three generations to the game, with Doug's children John and Juliana also on the team. Several other members of the Ivoryton team explained that a relationship to the Senn family was also responsible for their presence: Matt Herman is dating Juliana Senn. Chance Brockett is John Senn's best friend. He was an easy player to spot at six feet, five inches tall with shiny studs in his ears. In his case, friendship trumped reality: Brockett actually lives in Westbrook.
The Lyme Taverners, so named because of their sponsor The Lyme Tavern in Niantic, play in an established vintage league. Captain Senn put together The Ivoryton Nine for this occasion, which was sponsored by the Essex Historical Society and the town's Department of Parks & Recreation. Ivoryton roots and willingness to play were as important as baseball skill.
With their blonde hair in braids, Jamison Gahran, a sophomore at Keene State College in New Hampshire, and her sister, Hillary Gahran, a student a John Winthrop Middle School, were both playing on the Ivoryton Nine, though they admitted lacrosse was usually their sport.
"Our mom signed us up," Hillary Gahran said.
Their mother, Sarah Higgins, said that when she heard Doug Senn was looking for players whose families had longstanding ties to the community, she thought her daughters fit the bill. They are great-granddaughters of Dr. Victor Higgins, who served the community some 60 years ago.
Logan Burdick, a John Winthrop 8th grader, is the fifth generation of her family in Essex. She was playing instead of her father because he had to drive her brother to a soccer game. Bob Ward was playing because his wife, Susan Malan, vice president of the Essex Historical Society, had organized the event.
Two members of the Nicklous family were on the Ivoryton team: Alison, whose maiden name of Clark identifies her as a member of a family that the late local historian Don Malcarne identified as among the early settlers of Ivoryton, and her husband, Frank, who was the team's first pitcher, or hurler in 1864-terms. The hurler threw underhand, and when asked how long he had been preparing for his stint on the mound, Frank had a quick answer.
"They just told me about five minutes ago," he said.
Other members of the Ivoryton Nine included Dylan DeFrino, Will Doane, Jr., Brendan Kobe, Tim Westerman, and Jay Tonks. Tonks, who only had one at bat, had also ridden his bicycle 100 miles earlier in the day in Smilow Cancer Hospital's Closer to Free bicycle fundraiser. Tonks bought Essex Hardware from the late David Hyde-Strick Hyde's brother-some two years ago, and Tonks said he had ridden in David Hyde's memory.
In the stands, Reverend John Van Epps, pastor of the Ivoryton Congregational Church, said he would be willing to pray for the success of the team, but added a cautionary note: "I'm not sure it will do any good."
At the end of nine innings, in which the score sometimes seemed a haphazardly counted afterthought, Doug Senn proclaimed the Ivoryton Nine winners by two runs, 22 to 20. The Lyme Taverners promised to come back to for a rematch next year.
Perhaps they will be less charity minded next time. When a spectator mentioned to Bill Abbott of the losing team that the Lyme Taverners had seemed purposely to misfield balls to give the rookie Ivoryton players a chance to score, he indicated the game might have been deliberately thrown, so to speak.
"Oh, so you noticed," he said.