With the Mets’ and Yankees’ seasons in full swing, and thousands of Brooklyn children experiencing the joys of Little League, this Saturday—and again on May 10—Gotham SideWalks will present Bike Brooklyn Baseball Tour, an intimate journey through the formative century of 1850 to 1950 when professional baseball was dominated by New York teams and our beloved borough played a leading role.
Advertised by Rich Garr of Gotham SideWalks, as “100 years of baseball in 10 miles,” Bike Brooklyn Baseball Tour takes a leisurely three-hour trek through the seminal sites and historical record of Brooklyn’s unprecedented place in baseball history.
“Our tour uses the 50s as a bittersweet endpoint,” said Garr in a recent e-mail. “It marks the end of NYC’s dominance in baseball and coincides with a moment in American history when turmoil and controversy took a backseat to patriotic contentment.”
Garr takes participants back to an earlier time—the mid-19th century—when Brooklyn was both a suburb to Manhattan as well as a working class haven packed with industry. According to Garr, then as now it was space that separated the two boroughs, as Brooklyn’s open, underdeveloped spaces set it apart from it’s densely populated neighbor.
Describing the first baseball clubs as “amateur business men organizing and playing against other businesses or industries,” Garr states that the sport now beloved by millions was once a “niche gentleman’s game… similar to what tennis or racquet ball are today.”
With Brooklyn Heights teeming with young men of upper class leisure, in 1854 a gentlemen’s club named the Jolly Bachelors created Brooklyn’s first “base ball club” dubbed the “Excelsiors.” Garr says the Excelsiors “were really good… one of 71 teams from Brooklyn in the first baseball league formed in 1858.” Tweaking our brethren on the other side of the East River, Garr states that “only 25 teams were from Manhattan.”
Starting from the Old Stone House in Park Slope, the Bike Brooklyn Baseball Tour is an excursion deep into the heart of Brooklyn’s past. Beginning in the 1850’s the Old Stone House was the site for informal baseball games, and later in the century early ballparks there housed what would eventual became the Brooklyn Dodgers.
“Christy Mathewson began his pro career [at The Old Stone House],” said Garr. “So did Dodger-Yankee-Met legend Casey Stengel. Cy Young pitched his last game here. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.”
From there the group will bike to the Prospect Park Parade Grounds, described as an “incredible repository” of amateur baseball history.
Whenever Brooklyn is referenced in with what has been called America’s pastime, the beloved Dodgers—untimely ripped from our borough by the villainous Walter O’Malley—are usually the beginning and end notes in any story. No exploration of our borough’s illustrious baseball history would be complete without a visit to the location of legendary Ebbets Field.
The tour travels to Crown Heights, where the former home of the Dodgers was razed in 1960 and replaced by the aptly-named Ebbets Field Apartments. Even though the stadium no longer exists, clues to the site’s former life remain scattered about. While searching for historical markers of Brooklyn’s first and most beloved professional team, Garr will lead a discussion about the Negro Leagues, the first black pro ballplayers in the 1880s, and what he describes as “the eventual triumph of Jackie Robinson.”
According to it’s founder, Gotham SideWalks offers more than just baseball history. Garr, a visual artist who started Gotham in 2008, has an affinity for art-centric adventures. Capitalizing on the notoriety generated by street artist Banksy’s self-proclaimed “NYC residency” last year, Garr’s “Street / Art, Lower East Side” walking tour has been in much demand. Gotham also offers “Coney Island’s Talking Boardwalk,” an extremely popular summer excursion.
Bike Brooklyn Baseball Tour, Saturday, April 26 and May 10. $40 (bikes not included); approximately 3 hours
Meeting Place: the Old Stone House in Park Slope: 336 3rd St. in Washington Park (11215). Trains: F/R train to 4th Ave.
Discounted bike rental available from the nearby Ride Brooklyn bike shop (347-599-1340). Calling to reserve at least one day in advance and mention Gotham SideWalks. 9th Street Cycles (718-768-2453) is also close, though bikes cannot be reserved
For More Information: contact 718-938-1400 / firstname.lastname@example.org
PHOTO: A mural a few blocks from the old stadium in Flatbush is all that remains of Ebbets Field