Finding Zimmer, looking for grandpa's diamond

* Pitchers have been throwing off the mound at Shuttleworth Park in Amsterdam, N.Y. for almost 100 years. ....  MLB, Brewers open workouts 2014 Canadian draft list 2013 Canadians in the Minors  2013 Canadian collegians playing summer ball 2013 Canadians in College  Letters of Intent


Tom Cheek series

By Bob Elliott

AMSTERDAM, N.Y. _ We may break the ‘I’ key on the key board on this one.

Columnists were not supposed to use the word I, 40 years ago.

It was a look-at-me moment, a no-no.

But we have to tell you how we ran across this story ...

After going to the Field of Dreams park in Milford, N.Y. to see some ball, I took off in my rental to Albany. Then, I was going to hand in the car and take the train into the city for the Futures Games, the Home Run Derby and the All-Star Game.

On the way to Albany I saw a sign:


It wasn’t a partial score, but a sign showing where the burgh of Amsterdam is located.

Most people would see the sign and think of wooden shoes, windmills and tulips.

I saw the sign and thought of an obit I recall reading on my grandfather, how he had played for Cambridge-Lowell and Concord in the New England League, Toronto, Oswego in the Empire State League and Amsterdam in the New York State League ... maybe 100 years ago.

Should I?

Should I try to find the park?


A mile or two up the road I turned around and being geographically-challenged as I am, it took two hours to find Shuttleworth Park after crossing the Mohawk River (a few times).

The park had a Wrigley Field-style brick wall behind home plate, a snow fence down the left field line and a huge grove of trees down the left field line.

The park looked about 10 years old.

“So, how old is this park,” I asked a guy carrying a keg of beer on a cart prepping for that night’s game.

“Next year is its 100th anniversary.”


I waited a couple of hours, phoned a historian in town, told him I thought maybe my father had played for Amsterdam and Gloversville and Johnstown or maybe he played for one team based in the three cities ... like Minneapolis-St. Paul, or Dallas-Ft. Worth or Scranton/Wilkes-Barre?

Indignation was the best tone to describe the historian’s reply:

“We’d never be associated with those little towns,” he said, like on the Simpsons when they discuss Shelbyville.

The historian told me to check out, but I couldn’t do that without wireless.

Players from the Amsterdam Mohawks of the Perfect Game summer college league began to arrive.

There wasn’t any clubhouse so on this hot, humid afternoon they got out of their cars, dressed and came out of the shade from the trees, like players leaving a corn field.

As I was about to leave I asked, as I often do, “so any Canadians on this team?”


* * *


And that’s how I ran into Shane Zimmer (St. Albert, Alta.) of the mighty Mohawks.

Zimmer is entering his senior year this fall for Mike McRae’s Canisius Golden Griffins and there ought to be a rush to see who gets to be his roomie in Buffalo.

A few days earlier his close pal and roomie Jon Fitzsimmons had signed as a free agent the Kansas City Royals after being scouted in the Coastal Plains League all-star game, earning a berth throwing strikes for the Wilson Tobs. The reliever had been ignored through 40 rounds of the June draft, despite winning conference honours but Royals scout Casey Fahy was impressed.

“Jon deserved it, he’s worked so hard,” said Zimmer sitting under a tent set up for in-game promotion behind the first base dugout. “He was disappointed when he didn’t get drafted. He didn’t know he could sign as a free agent. He thought he was headed back to school for his senior year.”

When Zimmer played for Les McTavish’s Vauxhall Academy Jets he was on the same high school team as infielder Adam Nelubowich (Stony Plain, Alta.) selected in the 18th round by the Houston Astros from the Washington State Cougars this June.

Zimmer hit .222 in 37 games with five doubles, a triple, a homer, 14 RBIs and a .668 OPS for Canisius Mid Atlantic Conference winners.

The Zed man also was on the same team as LHP Jay Johnson (Sussex Corners, NB) who attended the Prairie Baseball Academy and is now at triple-A Lehigh Valley in the Philadelphia Phillies system and RP Steven Inch (Edmonton, Alta.) at single-A Clearwater.

“The Canisius hockey team won the Atlantic League and gained its first NCAA bid,” said Zimmer of the Griffs who had 14 Canucks: Doug Jessey (Langdon, Alta.), Ben Parker (Port Perry, Ont.), Stephen Farrell (Ottawa, Ont.), Mitch McCrank (Haileybury, Ont.), Taylor Law (Markham, Ont.), Torrey Lindsay (Grosse Isle, Man.), Preston Shupe (Weyburn, Sask.), Cody Freeman (Toronto, Ont.), Mathew Backhouse (Thompson, Man.), Adam Harris (Penticton, BC), Tony Capobianco (Mississauga, Ont.), Tyler Wiseman (Burlington, Ont.), Braeden Rigney (Singhampton, Ont.) and Ralph Cuddemi (Concord, Ont.).

“And then we won, so it was a big deal on campus, it pretty exciting, after we won in Trenton, N.J.,” said Zimmer. Canisius beat the Marist Red Foxes 2-1, the Rider Broncs 18-7 and the Siena Saints 12-11 with a run in the bottom of the ninth in Trenton.

TV crews showed at practice and then filmed the Griffs watching the NCAA selection show on ESPN.

The good news for Canisius was that it had a berth in the NCAA regionals at Chappel Hill.

The bad news was that Griffs would face the North Carolina Tar Heels, one of the top programs in the nation.

“Fans were emphasizing ‘Canada eh’ when they were jeering us, but that made us play better,” said Zimmer. “We went in on a high. We knew the pressure was on them. We knew everyone expected us to lose. Everyone expected us to lose -- except us.”

North Carolina scored a pair in the eighth for a 6-3 win, as Canisius left 14 runners on base, including 10 in scoring position.

“We had the bases loaded when it was a one-run game in the top of the eighth,” said Zimmer. “We gave them a scare. The place was sold out, it was difficult for parents to get tickets.

The Griffs had four Canucks in the starting lineup: Mike Krische (Langley, BC) in centre, Brookyln Foster (Langley, BC) behind the plate, Conor Panas (Etobicoke, Ont.) at third and at second was Jose Torralba (Mississauga, Ont.), who had two hits and an RBI against North Carolina. Krische, Foster and Panas had one hit apiece, while Fitzsimmons worked in relief.

RHP Devon Stewart (Maple Ridge, BC) started the second game, a 14-6 loss to Florida Atlantic. Zimmer was the DH and had a pair of hits, while Foster had three hits and knocked in a run. Krische singled and Billy Martin (Mississauga, Ont.) worked in relief.

Add RP Jason Rubinstein (Thornhill, Ont.), Brett Siddall (Windsor, Ont.), RP Tyler Soucie (Cambridge, Ont.),  Mike Booth (Lakeshore, Ont.) and RP Iannick Remillard (Valleyfield, Que.) and McRae (Niagara Falls, Ont.) had 13 Canucks on his roster.

* * *


On the field a charity softball game was going on ... then the Albany Dutchmen and Amsterdam would finish a game suspended in the 10th and then a regularly-schedule game.

We didn’t have time to stick around -- that rental car was already late -- didn’t even have time to say hello to right-hander Alex Gagne (Ottawa, Ont.) who pitches at Maine. They’re just two of the 280 Canadian collegians playing summer ball on George Farelli’s comprehensive list.

Taking a look around one final time we wondered if our grandfather had hit balls towards the water tower in centre ... the way people told us my father had hit balls into the fountain at the Court House in deep left at the Cricket Field in Kingston.

Or maybe he chased passed balls to the backstop.

Shuttleworth opened Memorial Day 1914, but according to the historian was known as Crescent Park and Jollyland, and was originally an amusement park in the west end of the city for Mohawk Mills employees. Trolly cars took people to the park.

A stadium worker told us how the park burned down in 1942, eight days before the New York Yankees were set to play the Amsterdam Rugmakers an exhibition game.

The locals re-built the stadium in time.


* * *

crowd 2

Amsterdam won the suspended game 5-4 in 11 innings and then lost 4-3 as Zimmer singled in three trips.

With one game remaining in the regular schedule, Zimmer is hitting .284 with three doubles, two homers, 19 RBIs in 41 games with a .762 OPS.

Playing for Amsterdam is a short trip from Buffalo, compared to playing for Auburn Wildcats in the Pacific West summer league in California last year.

Gagne is 0-1 with an 8.36 ERA, walking 15 and striking out 12 in 14 innings.

The first place Mohawks (31-16) host the Mohawk Valley DiamondDawgs (26-18) Friday in the opener of the best-of-three division final.


* * *


Back at the ranch after turning in the rental car, we cranked up the google to check out my grandfather. We looked at:

_, where we found 1,626 mentions of Chaucer Elliott, but mostly from Oswego and Ogdensburg newspapers when he played and managed Oswego, right across the lake from Kingston in 1906-07 ... and even one about him coaching football. But not too many from Amsterdam. It didn’t look like he played there.

_ Baseball-reference didn’t show him playing  Amsterdam.

But Baseball-reference is a growing, breathing operation thanks to the good folks at SABR. We remember few minor-league stats being posted ... then they went all the way back to 1978. I e-mailed a friend who pitched in 1977-78 with the link.

“Ah, they got my bad year, they’re missing my first year,” he said.

A couple of years later the 1977 season was posted and it was a better ERA.

Still, I awaited word from Ray Nemec, the guru of minor league numbers to e-mail back.

And he did.

My grandfather hit a lusty .182 average in seven games at Concord with a double and three stolen bases in the class-B New England League.

Zero statistics from Brantford in 1905 and Oswego in 1906.

The next year he hit .275 at Oswego as a playing manager with 71 hits and seven steals in the class-D Empire State League.

Then, 1908-1910 are blank.

And in 1911 managing St. Thomas in the class-D Canadian league he batted .287 with 75 hits, 19 doubles, three triples and five stoles bases in 87 games.

But no Amsterdam.

I did find the name of the 1904 team.

Remember the historian who said “no way we’d be aligned with such smaller cities?”

From 1902-to-107 there was an entry in the class-B New York State League known as Amsterdam-Gloversville-Johnstown, for four years the nickname was the Jags and for two years it was the Hyphens.


* * *

So a wasted day searching for an old diamond my grand father never played on, maybe never ever saw as a visiting player?

No way.

I had the pleasure of meeting Shane Zimmer.

“Growing up I always respected Larry Walker,” Zimmer said, “but after pinch hitting a lot last spring, I have a lot of respect for what Matt Stairs did coming off the bench.”