2021 Season in Review Part 1: Living History

Updated: Jan 10

The Mountain A.C. began it's '21 campaign in the Fall of 2020 leveraging patron's generosity on Giving Tuesday raising over $1,200 for the Historical Society of Middletown. The funds enabled the M.A.C. to erect a historic marker commemorating the 125th Anniversary of the founding of the Mountain Athletic Club and its recent designation on the New York State and National Registers of Historic Places. The original goal of $600 was surpassed in less than a few hours and by the end of the day, the project was fully funded. A week or so later, the order was placed at Catskill Castings - a foundry in Bloomville, NY (less than 10 miles from my house) where all New York State's historic place signs are made.

The M.A.C. came out of the gates red hot in their first appearance May 14/15 at Brewery Ommegang sweeping all four games over the Providence Grays, Brooklyn Atlantics, Boston Union and the Liberty Base Ball Club of Connecticut.It was also the M.A.C.'s first appearance in 1897 replica uniforms purchased in the offseason.

In his first time hitting out of the two spot in the lineup, 1864 catcher and new father, "Shoeless" Dave MacClintock went 15 for 19 (.789 AVG) and ran up 48 total bases over the weekend.

The M.A.C.'s homecoming two weeks later was on a raw and clammy day more well suited for November football. In front of the many Fleischmanns' faithful who had been put through the wringer in the aftermath of rebuilding from Hurricane Irene a decade ago, the new sign was unveiled and live streamed on Facebook to thank the many donors from points near and far who made the project possible. The transcript of the dedication speech follows:

It’s not lost on most of us here today, that later this Summer will mark ten years since Tropical Storm Irene – a 500-year flood, or in other words, a flood with a 2/10th of one-percent chance of occurrence - wiped out this park and its freshly renovated ballfield, as well as parts of this Village and others throughout the region. Lives were lost, communities ravaged. After such devastation, the vintage baseball scene that had developed into a summer tradition in this County for several years seemed trivial.

A couple of years prior to that, I moved to New Hampshire over a couple hundred miles away, but the memories of summer baseball here in Fleischmanns were never far away. We had come back to the area for my wedding and on one of those early September mornings following the flood, my bride and I stopped by this park in the pre-dawn hours on our way to LaGuardia to catch a plane for our honeymoon. It was gloomy, muddy, and ominous. It looked like a scene right out of The Dead Don’t Die (minus all the zombies); I recall that right over there, a sign stood with the words “PARK CLOSED” spray-painted on the back of the same baseball-shaped piece of plywood that the M.A.C. had used to advertise our games.

That morning in the saturated air that draped over the park like a wet blanket, I got all choked up in thinking that it was the end of a great season of my life and yet the beginning of an entirely new one...

Now, many of you know or have become aware in recent years of John Thorn and his connection to Fleischmanns. John has authored over 30 books on sports, countless articles on nineteenth-century baseball and is the Official Historian of Major League Baseball. But long before all of that, as a young boy in the 1950’s he spent summers here with his family like so many other New Yorkers did (and still do). He played on this ballfield first as a child, then years later with his sons. He regrets that he could not be here today but sends his regards…I couldn’t twist his arm too hard though; his son was flying into town and the two are making a much long-overdue trip to Cooperstown today.

So back in 2004, John penned an essay that ran in the Woodstock Times called “Mangled Forms.” It was, in large part, the inspiration to reincarnate the Mountain Athletic Club in 2007 nearly 100 years after the original team disbanded. After spending some time with John Duda in our Museum of Memories in preparation for the article, Thorn’s reflection on Fleischmanns and the M.A.C. sums up perfectly why we are all here today. Thorn says:

“In this somewhat remote place, determined individuals and families who love the old ways are working to be sure of the past; the extent of their success will indeed predict the future of Fleischmanns and so many other communities whose histories, if properly understood and conveyed, are their principal assets.”

Like many of you, I’ve had more time at home than normal over the past 14 months. Apparently, there’s nothing like a global pandemic and no baseball on television to free up some time for research. But, in addition to Thorn’s work, there’s a body of research and writing out there about this place and this team, like for example the talk that historian Bob Mayer gave at the Skene Library back in ’18. After hearing Bob’s talk that night then going back to Thorn’s piece for another re-read, I simply was just a guy that thought we needed to officially put this place on the map. Not just for local baseball history’s sake, but American history as well.

So, I inquired about these signs and how one goes about getting one. It was explained to me that I had to prove with “primary source documentation” that historically significant things happened here and in doing so, that I should seek a special listing on the State and National historic registry; after which time the sign will sort of fall into place. Therefore, I set about to confirm the most prominent professional ball players that played with the M.A.C. or against them here at the “M.A.C. Grounds” as it was called during its period of most significance. I’ll remind you that this project was gestating amid a proposal to dissolve the Village in December of 2019…

Now I am no formal researcher, but I’m learning from good teachers. After all, like I said before, I was treading in the path of several others including our own Former Mayor, Todd Pascarella back when he revived the M.A.C. in 2007. Like Todd, or “Moonshine” as we have nicknamed him on the Club, I turned to places like the Giamatti Research Center at the Baseball Hall of Fame, the Society for American Baseball Research and our local historical societies. (call attention to our new local SABR chapter President, Mike Hauser)

I also contacted Terry Pultz, who’s late father, “Junior,” we owe a debt of gratitude to for several of the M.A.C. and other baseball-related items in our Museum. I did not have the fortune of meeting Junior before he passed, but after speaking with Terry, I had a few great leads to follow up on (more on that later). And naturally, I also turned back to our friend, John Thorn. Very quickly, scores of newspaper clippings started appearing in my inbox to corroborate the connections of so many minor and major league ball players with the Fleischmanns. Within roughly 72 hours, I had nearly all of them confirmed for me. All of the professional ballplayers with time on the M.A.C. (and a few other VIPs including the brothers Julius and Max) are now fixed on our Wall of Fame scoreboard along the third-base line. I encourage you to have a close look at some point today and visit our website for more descriptors on each of them. I’ll be explaining our three newest additions (corrections, really), just prior to our first pitch.

One of my favorite clippings that Thorn discovered for us comes from a column titled “Millionaire Fans” that appeared in the Delaware Gazette on July 26, 1899, during the season when the M.A.C. started recruiting men from the major leagues and its private ballpark was gaining national significance in newspapers coast to coast: The piece recalled that “games were played on the mountainside, where a half-way hit in any direction meant a home run every time.” The story continues:

“Since Julius’ nine began playing a few years ago, baseball has become the rage in every town in Delaware county within twenty miles or more of Fleischmann’s…Church deacons, farmers, country sports and summer sports all became wild over it. So, Charles Fleischmann looked about and finally found a four-acre tract that did not have more than a dozen hills and valleys on it and purchased it for his sons. Many thousands of dollars were spent in leveling this ground and blasting out the boulders, so that in the summer of 1895 the team had a real ball ground to play upon.”

So it is today, with the help of our many friends far and wide that donated over $1,200 in less than 24 hours to the Historical Society of Middletown last November through Facebook’s “Giving Tuesday;” And the continued support of the Village Trustees (really going all the way back to 1914 when they first accepted these “athletic grounds” from Julius and renamed the Village in his honor); And to countless others who’ve invested their time, talents and money to support the revitalization of vintage baseball in Delaware County over the years, that I present to you and all who’ve gathered here today, this formal acknowledgement of the M.A.C. Grounds’ place on the New York State and National Registers of Historic Places.

M,A.C. Grounds at Fleischmanns Park - State and National Registers of Historic Places