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Author recreates era of Border League

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The months following the end of World II were among most euphoric in American history.

Just a matter of years after recovering from the Great Depression, America carried the standard in the vanquishing two immense military powers in Third Reich of Germany and the Japanese Empire.

Thousands of servicemen and servicewomen were returning home to crazed celebrations from New York City to the smallest hamlets.

The nation returned to normalcy in triumph and unbridled optimism as families were reunited, industry shifted from war to peacetime and Americans enjoyed their status as citizens of the major power in a new world order.

Baseball, America’s Great National Pastime, continued to mirror the fabric of the nation as it blossomed after a time of semi-dormancy.

At the major and minor league levels.

The big leagues reorganized, reassembled and expanded their talent pool to the cheers of massive fan bases.

While following their favorite teams on the radio and the newspaper, smalltown baseball fans flocked to minor league ballparks.

On Dec. 9, 1945 a meeting was held at St. Raphael’s Catholic Church in Heuvelton chaired by Father Harold Martin, Ogdensburg’s famous “Padre of Baseball”, to bring minor league baseball back to Northern New York.

Fr. Martin had served as the President of Can-Am League, which had disbanded in 1942 as a casualty of the wartime years. On Jan. 6, 1946 the Border League was formed at a meeting at the Hotel Woodruff in Watertown with Father Martin serving as an advisor.

In May of 1946, the Ogdensburg Maples, the Watertown Athletics, the Auburn Cayugas, the Geneva Robbins, the Ottawa, Ont. Nationals and the Kingston, Ont. Ponies began the first season of the Border League with John G. Ward of Ogdensburg serving as president.

On July 10, 1951 Ogdensburg and Kingston played a game before 200 fans, disbanded and the league was history in a rapid-wire last gasp. The league opened the 1951 season with five teams but Cornwall, Geneva and Watertown all folded in the month of June.

Once again the lower levels of baseball reflected a national trend. In 1949 the growth of Minor League Baseball peaked at 59 leagues and then went decline. Today there are 25 minor leagues. In 1949 Ottawa topped the Border League attendance figures at 78,557 and Watertown (61,026) and Ogdensburg (58.749) ranked third and fourth behind Geneva (67,259).

Two years later the league was gone.

The age of television was dawning and the stage lights began to dim in all areas of live entertainment.

But like other long gone leagues, the Border League crammed a lot of history into its five-year life span. A history featuring talented players headed by a group of future major leaguers, rabid rivalries, exciting wire-to-wire races and playoff series, top flight facilities, hot stove rumor mills, crusty old-school managers, animated umpires and colorful owners.

Dave Stoodley of Adams Center, has captured the short-lived but well-lived glory days of the league in a book entitled The Watertown Athletics and the Border League1946-1951.

“These were top flight organizations and players. They went to Florida for spring training and played spring training games in Pennsylvania, Virginia and West Virginia”, says Stoodley who saw his first Watertown Athletics game with his dad in 1949.

“The league was vital to the history of the area and it is important to have a permanent record.”

Stoodley has amassed statistics, all-star teams, interesting stories and sidebars and information from wide ranging sources which included: personal interviews, the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, newspaper archives and reverently preserved items from the baseball memorabilia collection of Chuck Ladouceur of Heuvelton which will adorn the cover of the book.

The book is illustrated with photos from the archives of the Watertown Daily Times through the courtesy of Publisher John B. Johnson Jr.

Stoodley hopes to have the 56-page soft cover volume on sale by Christmas. His manuscript currently contains photos of every ballpark in the league except for Ogdensburg’s Winter Park which was located at what is now Father Martin Field. Anyone who has a photo of the park which they would be willing to loan to Stoodley can contact the author at 583-5286 or write to him at Dave Stoodley, 12956 Country Route 56, Adams Center, N.Y. 13606.

“The league did very well for a time but never recovered after losing Ottawa. Horace Stoneman, the owner of the New York Giants, bought the minor league rights to Ottawa and moved the Jersey City Giants there, says Stoodley, a lifelong Boston Red Sox fan.

“Tom Gorman moved his Ottawa team to Cornwall (Ont.) but they didn’t draw at all. That cost the league a lot of money and things just went downhill.”

The Watertown Athletics and the Border League 1946-1951 is Stoodley’s second book on NNY sporting history.

His first was a well-received hardcover work on the Watertown Speedway. In the future he hopes to publish a history of Frontier League Basketball.

“I sold every copy of the Watertown Speedway book that was printed and I hope people like the book on the Border League. It was a lot of work but I really enjoyed doing it,” says Stoodley.

One person who plans to enjoy the book is Chuck Kelly who is the Editor Emeritus and retired Publisher of the The Journal-Advance News of Ogdensburg.

As a youngster he served as a batboy for The Maples and do-it-all assistant at the three-story clubhouse which was built by team owners: Arthur and Dan McConville, Dr. Leo Fortune and Clarence W. Skelly.

“I am really glad Dave Woodley wrote the book because there is a lot of history involved with the Border League. When The Maples were in Ogdensburg it was really big stuff. Everyone followed the team and knew the players. The team drew well and the players were very good,” says Kelly.

“The owners put up lights and in the winter there was a big skating rink which used the clubhouse. When I played football at St. Mary’s we played under the lights at Winter Park.

Kelly recalls the feeling of loss in Ogdensburg after The Maples disbanded and years later when the clubhouse was torn down, because of liability issues, by St. Mary’s Catholic Diocese which owned Winter Park. The diocese later renamed the park in honor of Father Martin.

“A lot of kids hung around the park. I was a batboy, ball-shagger and washed a lot of uniforms in the clubhouse,” said Kelly. “George Swan I spent a lot of time there. George was really a good catcher and he caught batting practice for the team. It was a big deal when The Maples were in Ogdensburg.”

NOTE: The legacy of The Maples continues in the Ogdensburg Maples and Junior Maples youth summer baseball program which was founded many years ago by the late Jay Cole and Steve LaRose who coaches the 18-under team. The Watertown Athletics’ tradition continues at the Alex Duffy Fairgrounds. Watertown featured a franchise in the New York Penn League for many years and the fairgrounds is now the home of the Watertown Wizards of the Perfect Game Collegiate Baseball League.

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