Upstate N.Y. Sports Lore: Chickens, Tigers & Pirates … Mayfield baseball of course

Over the last few years, much has been documented about Gloversville’s Historic baseball diamonds that once featured big time ball games and brought professional and world class exhibition teams to our area.

A., J. & G Park/Parkhurst Field and Glovers Park are the fields that come to mind, and the JAGS and Glovers are the teams we associate with them.

A few miles to the north, the village of Mayfield and the hamlet of Riceville can also stake early claims to organized baseball here in Fulton County.

A few years ago, a co-worker named Mary Weber gave me a Mayfield Old Home Day Baseball Souvenir program that belonged to her mother (Jeff) Alice Zimmerman Czupryk.

The program advertised a game that was played on Aug. 7, 1920, between the Mayfield Tigers vs. Sacandagas. On the back of the program were roster listings for Mayfield teams called “The Chickens” from 1885 through 1905.

A sampling of some of the player’s names include; Frank Goodemote, Craz Danforth, Marv Fonda, George Hathaway, Louie Jerome, Rube Wilson, Cornie Satterlee, Zeiby Bixby, Fat Warner, Ralph Dingman, Tuddle Wilkins, Fritz Warner, Fred Bennet, and Tommie Donlon.

These “Chicken” teams were town teams made up exclusively of Mayfield residents who played their games against other rural area town teams. They initially received that name because most of the players were less than 20 years of age (spring chickens).

While young, they were not afraid to take on any challenges and were quite successful. The exact location of their first games is not known for sure. There is mention of them playing at the old Riceville and Sam Brown plots. These early teams grew up with the game and its early rules making it a much different game than today. Batters calling their desired pitch zone, restricted pitching motions and fielders using gloves more resembling “batting gloves” of present day resulted in those youngsters nursing red unprotected hands after each game. To get a glimpse of what those games were like one can attend the annual vintage baseball Game that takes place each summer at Parkhurst Field using the rules of Major League Baseball from 1886.

Around the beginning of the 1900s, there is mention of teams using a ball field that was laid out in the “new section” of the Mayfield Union Rural Cemetery. The entire cemetery was initially laid out behind the former Low Dutch Reformed Church that was organized by the Reverend Conradt Ten Eyck in 1793 on Main Street in the village and is now designated by a historical road marker. The field was used until approximately 1918, as the first headstone that appears on the “new section of the cemetery,” where the baseball field was is dated 1919.

In the spring of 1920, the community formally organized a new team called the Mayfield Tigers. A group of officers were selected and Walker (Squaker) LaRowe was named the manager. The team included; Prof. McCausland, Kee Kasagi, Squaker La Rowe, Harv Richardson, Ray Parramore, Rufe Gifford, Uty Eutemark and Dizzy DeGraff.

They also signed Gloversville baseball legend Stewart “Pickles” O’Brien to play for them. They played their games at a new field that was laid out on a lot next to the cemetery where Maple Avenue and Woodside Avenue meet (houses now cover the area). This piece of land was sandy and not optimal to be used as a serious baseball field. As the season progressed, improvements were made and fans began to attend to support the team. The season ran from the end of May until early September and consisted of 31 games against other area “town teams” in which the Tigers went 21-10.

When the 1921 season started, subscriptions (donations) were received from local fans to help front expense money to start the season.

With these funds, plans were made for better exhibitions to please the fans and more “non-Mayfield players” were signed to play. This new formula of using the most talented players from the area proved so successful (better play and drew a larger fan base from both Mayfield and Gloversville) that the team moved to a new field that was built in the hamlet of Riceville halfway through the season. Bearing in mind that this was before the new/straighter Route 30A was built in the 1960s, the field set off the area that is now between Sundaes Ice Cream Stand (Mr. Softee’s) on the corner of Second Avenue/old Route 30A (Riceville Road) and the Rice Homestead.

One newspaper account stated that “the new Riceville Baseball Diamond is one of the finest in this section of the state because of its dry, firm soil”. Dressing rooms and covered bleachers were also added and the team started being referred to as the “Mayfield Bannertown Tigers.”

This fine ball park and larger fan base enabled the team to start bringing in top area teams such as the Danforth’s of Gloversville, the Twin Cities Team of Fonda, and the Johnstown Buckskins. The Tigers went 34-9 that season.

In 1922, the Tigers started recruiting players from the Troy & Albany areas and also secured the services of Gloversville native’s Frank Gill & Russell “Bud” Holmes. Gill was one of the top collegiate players in the country when he played for Princeton University, and Holmes had just finished an eleven year professional career that included being part of the 1915 world champion Boston Red Sox. The addition of Holmes, Gill and other top players enabled the Tigers to compete against top teams from across the Northeast such as D&H Generals of Troy, the Green Island K of C, the Dunns of Albany, Utica Kaysees, Schenectady K of C, the Amsterdam K of C , and teams from North Adams MA and Glens Falls.

Attendance averaged 300 to 500 per game, and special exhibition contests brought in as many as 1,200 spectators. Such exhibition games included contests against world class Negro League Teams.

In September of the 1922 season, the Champion Colored baseball team called the Brooklyn Royal Giants played in an exhibition game at the Riceville Diamond.

This team was famed throughout the country and known to be a Major League Team of color. An added bonus for area fans was that local Major Leaguer and 1921 World Series Champion George J. Burns participated in the game as one of the umpires. Burns, a Gloversville resident in the off season, was currently a star outfielder for the Cincinnati Reds. This marked the first time in many years that he had appeared on an area field.

While he did not play in the game (the MLB season was still underway and it was an off day), he did practice with the teams before the game, which was a big thrill for local fans. The local Tigers squad won a tightly played game by the score of 5-4 thanks to “impossible catches” and a clutch bottom of the ninth inning rally complete with a walk off single by Tigers second baseman Scovic.

In May of 1923, the Cuban Stars of Havana Club (Cuban Giants) invaded the Riceville Diamond as the highest paid colored team and one of the best attractions procurable. The team was led by legendary Cuban/Negro League manager Alex Pompez (inducted into the Cooperstown HOF in 2006) and featured center fielder Alejandro Ohms who was considered the “Babe Ruth of colored baseball teams” at that time. The Cuban team won a pitching duel over the Pirates by the slim margin of 1-0.

By 1925, other local communities saw the success of semi-pro ball in Mayfield and resurrected teams in their own towns. Gloversville, Johnstown and Broadalbin created new teams, which reduced the patronage of games at the Riceville Diamond. The Tigers disbanded, but the field was taken over by the Mayfield Athletic Association “Inter-Shop Baseball League”. This league was made up local glove shops that operated in Mayfield and concluded each season with a “Little World Series.”

In the late 1920s, a new semi-pro team called the Mayfield Pirates resumed high level baseball at the Riceville Diamond. They continued to bring in the top semi-pro teams from the northeast, as well as highly sought after traveling exhibition teams.

On May 27, 1936, the original Cuban Stars of Havana Club returned to play in Mayfield. This time, the Mayfield team got the best of them with a 7-6 victory. Many local Negro teams such as the Schenectady Black Sox and the Mohawk Colored Giants ventured to Mayfield to take on the Pirates throughout the 1930s and 1940s. In 1949, the first Heisman Trophy Winner Larry Kelley (Yale University 1936) played first base for the Pirates for the entire season. Why this historic football player was in the area will be the subject of a future story.

Records show the Pirates playing at the Riceville Diamond up until 1957. But as the television became prevalent in most homes, people began to stay home to watch major leaguers from the comfort of their own couches, rather than physically attend games at local parks to watch semi-professional players play.

While local high school and youth leagues periodically used the diamond in the late 1950s and early 1960s, once the new Route 30A Arterial came through Mayfield in 1966, the original field was disrupted and baseball eventually came to an end at the site.

Today, the site is occupied by the RMF Motor Sports Garage. Home plate is estimated to be where the back corner of the garage, nearest Sundaes Ice Cream stand is and the entire building occupies what would have been most of the infield. Third base is in the culvert next to the Arterial and the left field portion of the field is now paved highway. The center field and right field areas are the still open expanses of the current property.

A special History of Mayfield Baseball Exhibit is currently on display at the Riceville Homestead in Mayfield for the remainder of the summer. The exhibit honors Mayfield’s baseball history dating back to 1884 and up through modern day Mayfield professional players Babe Baldwin and Randy Marshall. The homestead is located at 328 Riceville Road in Mayfield, and is open on Wednesdays and Saturdays from noon to 4 p.m. through Sept. 5.

There will be a special “Riceville Baseball Celebration” taking place on Aug. 16 from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. as part of the museum’s Family Day at the Rice Homestead. The event will feature a history talk on Mayfield Baseball and a pick-up Wiffle Ball game being played on the outfield area of the original Riceville Baseball Diamond. The public is welcome and encouraged to participate.

Mike Hauser is the founder of the Fulton County Baseball & Sports Hall of Fame in Gloversville. If you have story ideas, old articles/photos or would like to nominate someone for the HOF, he can be reached through the organization’s website at www.fchof.com or at 725-5565.