By Christine Galeone, Town Crier Reporter
With the World Series fast approaching and the WooSox recently ending the Worcester team’s first season, baseball fever is here. But did you know that Upton was once a hub of baseball excitement?
The Upton Excelsiors, which consisted of 14 farmers, storekeepers and clerks, played what was known as the Massachusetts game of “base ball.” Previously called round ball, only one out was needed to end an inning. This was phased out once the New York version of the game became modern baseball. But the team thrived in its day. “Tip” Norcross, one of the team’s players, is believed by some to be the first player to slide into bases. And the newspaper The Massachusetts Spy once referred to the team as “superior in science and skill.”
That praise came the previous year after the team had defeated the Medway Unions, 100 to 56. Because that game was a rematch – due to accusations that gamblers had tampered with a couple of Upton’s players to determine the Championship of the State—the two-day game attracted many fans. Some reportedly walked 14 miles to attend it.
In the book Inventing Baseball: The 100 Greatest Games of the 19th Century, historian Joanne Hulbert wrote, “A parade that included the two clubs, the Grafton and Worcester clubs, along with a huge procession of fans headed up by Fiske’s Cornet Band, arrived at the Worcester Agricultural Grounds, where a crowd estimated at more than 6,000 spectators bought tickets, while another thousand avoided the admission fee and tried to catch a glimpse of the game from outside the gates.”
The 1860 game was played on most days between Sept 25 and Oct. 5 at the Agricultural Fairgrounds and lasted 172 innings with a total game time of 21 hours and 50 minutes. Although 100 “tallies” had been required to win, the game was called complete because of rain and the expiration of the lease on the field. With the winning score of 50 to the Medway Unions’ score of 29, the Upton Excelsiors collected the $1,000 prize and declared themselves the world’s baseball champions.
While many local baseball fans look forward to the World Series, some might want to take a brief look back at early baseball in the area. The Upton Historical Society still has the Upton Excelsiors’ winning banner. And the team’s legacy endures.