Once Upon a Time in Keene, New Hampshire
by John Delach
The Keene Swamp Bats are one of thirteen teams belonging to the New England Collegiate Baseball League where undergraduates hone their batting and fielding skills in a short summer season from Mid-June until early August. Players come from schools as far away as Ohio, Kentucky, Georgia, Texas and Washington though the majority come from Northeastern colleges, schools like St. Johns, Franklin Pierce, Southern NH and Central CT. They live with local host families and hire out to local businesses as part-time workers to earn some spending money.
The thirteen teams are scattered from Saratoga, NY (the Brigade) to Sanford, ME (the Mainers). On July 5, a hot Friday evening we decided to take in the game between the Swamp Bats and the Holyoake Blue Sox at Alumni Field adjacent to the Keene High School. Our family has had a summer place in Marlow; a town about 22 miles outside of Keene for 29 years and this summer was the first time that we thought about taking in one of their games. In fact, the main reason for our decision came about because we were given 30 passes to their games by a local retailer, Sid’s Carpet and Snooze Room, when my wife, Mary Ann, bought some new furniture.
We picked that Friday as our family was at the Marlow house for the 4th. Eleven of us; two seniors, four adults and five kids, schlepped into Keene first for dinner at Ramundos, a local pizza restaurant, and then on to Alumni Field. We arrived at the ancient ball park halfway through the first inning and found that the home team had attracted a good-size crowd for a Friday night. As we entered, we passed a sleek Peter Pan bus idling off to the side, the driver preferring its cozy A.C. to watching his charges before he’d wisk the Blue Sox back to Holyoake once the contest had ended. We handed in eleven passes to the senior volunteers saving $4.00 for each adult and $2.00 for each senior and kid. In return the gate keeper stamped the top of each wrist with a purple blob that kind of resembled the Swamp Bats logo.
We made our way past food and concession stands to the seating areas. We had a choice of small rickety bleacher stands behind the home plate cage, a sizeable covered grandstand along the first-base line that resembled the ball parks of yesteryear, only much smaller, and an old open bleacher along the third-base side. This last was mostly empty so we headed there. Our chosen nest turned out to be behind enterprising local fans who knew better and sat on the field in all manner of lawn chairs placed in a row along a white line drawn on the grass about ten feet from the third-base foul line. From these perches, they called encouragement to their favorite players and serenaded them with cow bells and tin horns.
Our grand kids participated in a couple of staged events between innings,; a sack race and a balloon sitting contest while the 11 year-old, Matt, spent his time unsuccessfully trying to retrieve foul balls being out hustled by local boys who knew the lay of the land.
The game moved along in typical baseball fashion when out of nowhere, a man shouted Mary Ann’s name and came over to see her. He was a fellow we knew from back home in Port Washington, William, a computer geek who has helped us through years of computer problems. Unbeknownst to us, he was in the process of moving from Long Island to Keene and he decided to attend this game on a whim never having seen a Swamp Bats game previously himself.
How crazy was that? So crazy that it eclipsed the unusual outcome of the game. The Blue Sox lead 6-3 with three innings to play when a foul ball struck the home plate umpire’s wrist fracturing it. Poor ump! PoorSwamp Bats, the game was terminated at that point allowing Holyoake to secure a victory to savor on their early bus ride south.