River Edge as a Baseball Town
Journeys into River Edge
At first glance we thought it would be just another professional sports power grab. But by the time it was over we admit we were won over by the magic of the Field of Dreams Major League Baseball game involving the Yanks and Chicago White Sox last week in Iowa. It successfully blended popular culture, American lore and the best of what we are and can be about – whether one cares about sports or not.
It got us to thinking about the role of sports in places beyond big league and big money places like the luxury boxes at Yankee and Met Life Stadiums.
Places like River Edge, a good and proud sports town.
Here, we enthusiastically root on the High School Golden Hawks and various youth and community teams.
We also, as a community, can boast of a number of locals who have made us proud in sports – people such as Billy Paultz, a standout basketball player, first at River Dell and then in the pros with the A.B.A. New York Nets (Teammates included Rick Barry and Dr. J, Julius Erving) and later in the NBA ( San Antonio Spurs, Houston Rockets, Utah Jazz and Atlanta Hawks). Charlie Casserle was a local boy who made good as an NFL General Manager and pro football television analyst. Teata Semiz, a professional bowler, was inducted into the United States Bowling Congress Hall of Fame in 1991.
However it is with baseball that River Edge has the biggest sports connection.
Earlier this Summer Historic New Bridge Landing hosted its annual Vintage Baseball Game (A game played by 1860rules).
A ceramic panel in the lobby of the library reminds us that Mickey Mantle was among the many players of the 1950’s & 60’s who called River Edge their summer home. Back then, it was a quick drive down Route 4 and across the bridge to the Stadium for players such as Clete Boyer, Tony Kubek and Joe Pepitone. We are told that a Met, Jim Hickman, also made River Edge his in-season home (He was a Yankee before becoming a fan favorite with Mets).
There is also Jack Lazorko, who grew up in town and then went on to play five seasons in the majors during the 1980’s (for Milwaukee, Seattle, Detroit and the California Angels).
But our roots go even deeper.
Little League has been a fixture in town for over 70 years. But even before that River Edge was considered a good baseball town.
In one of our primary local history books, Musket, Anchor and Plow, longtime resident Ed Herrick was quoted as writing:
“Two of our boys made the big leagues. Harry Van Buskirk was signed by the Brooklyn Dodgers and Fred Andrews by the Boston Red Sox. Before the automobile era, baseball was the big Saturday afternoon attraction, and practically speaking the whole town came out to root for their team”.
“In those days, there was no reaction commission to provide fields and equipment. The players, themselves, constructed and maintained the field. They also bought their own uniforms, baseballs, gloves, and bats. With the coming of World War I, all the players were in the service, so baseball gave way to the serious task of winning the War. After the war, a group of interested players built a field where the Municipal Building now stands. There was a large rock right at the spot where the pitcher’s mound was located, which the boys removed by drilling holes in it, and blasting it pieces with dynamite”.
In those days, New York was considered the center of the baseball universe as it was a place with three major league teams (Dodgers, Giants & Yankees), and they often made it to the World Series. At the same time, for many located there was little need to leave town to get their baseball fix.