Chesbro scores big in Conway
Adam Caron photo
A blindfolded player takes a swing when prompted by his teammates at the Chesbro Challenge in Conway Thursday.
Rope pull captain Shane Prusak, 7, of Conway leads his team to victory during games held as part of the Chesbro Challenge festivities in Conway on Thursday. Recorder/Trish Crapo
Abigail Patterson, 7, of Conway winds up a toss during Thursday's egg toss held as part of the Chesbro Challenge in Conway. Patterson and friend Josie Schwartz, 7, also of Conway, won the event. Recorder/Trish Crapo
The members of victorious team the Mountain Mamas pose with their trophies after Thursday's wacky baseball tournament, the Chesbro Challenge, held in Conway. Recorder/Trish Crapo
A batter takes a swing at a red rubber ball with his broom during the Fourth of July Chesbro game in Conway.
Sandy Habel of Conway takes a swing at a tennis ball during the Chesbro Challenge ball game.
CONWAY — Sure, you might be an ace hitter with a baseball and a Louisville Slugger, but can you score a run with a broom and a beachball?
That’s what the 78 players who signed up for the first-ever Chesbro Challenge “Crazy Baseball” wanted to find out.
The Rag Shags and Maple Honeys, the Mountain Men and Mountain Mamas, the Splitters and Skillets filled the Conway Ballfield on the Fourth of July. And each who got a turn “at bat” (so to speak) had no idea of what kind of ball they would hit with what kind of bat.
Mike Haley was calling the shots and giving commentary from the sidelines: a batter might be asked to hit a tennis ball with a frying pan, or a Wiffle ball with the business-end of a broom. Some lucky batters got “player’s choice,” but the rest had to take whatever he dished out.
Katryna Nields sang “The Star-Spangled Banner,” and 12-year-old Amelia Chalfant punctuated the game with old-timey baseball refrains on a organ-sounding keyboard.
The many raffle prizes offered throughout the day included autographed baseballs signed by Robert Downey Jr., Madonna and Tom Hanks.
“It’s been a star-spangled day,” said Kate Van Cort, who was serving up iced tea on the blistering hot day. “When they threw out the first pitch, the people cheered and blew their car horns — which really connected with the past.”
This new game is named for baseball hall-of-famer Jack Chesbro, who moved to Conway soon after pitching 41 wins in the 1904 season for the New York Highlanders.
“Haley put this together,” said Tom Pleasant, one of the players. “This is the first year. It’s for fun, but the real reason is to raise money for our 250th (anniversary celebration) in 2017.”
Pleasant said the players couldn’t “practice” in advance because, “you don’t know, until you walk up what you’re going to get. It’s pretty unique. It’s a great way to spend the Fourth.”
David Barton, a town historian, said baseball’s roots run deep in the hilltowns, where some form of the game has been played since 1865.
“Baseball was a tradition in Conway, but there was never a Little League in town until 1958. And when the team started, it was penniless.” The uniforms, Barton said, were pants from Deerfield Academy and T-shirts on which the children’s mother’s wrote “Conway” on. Their ball caps had a “C” stitched on them for “Conway.”
“This was known as ‘Hicksville’ by the Deerfield crowd; these were rough-and-ready kids up here.”
Barton said the first Little League Coach, Walter Kurkulonis, would “pass the hat” during each home game to raise money for uniforms and equipment for the kids to play other Little League teams “He would get $35 to $40 a game, and they got what they needed,” he said.
“It’s a rural town, and their entertainment, in the summer, was this.”
Barton said that during its first year, the Little League only won one game, yet the ballfield parking area and the roadway above it were filled with the cars of those who came to each game. “Each time they got a hit, the whole hill of cars would erupt with cheers and horn-honking,” Barton said.
Barton said “the baseball theme” will be part of the town’s 250th commemoration.
He noted that Kurkulonis, now in his 80s, was at the ballfield Thursday to watch the game — along with other older residents. “Years back, this was their entertainment,” Barton remarked. “And to have it all come back is really fun.”
“It’s so American that you can’t get over it,” he said.
You can reach Diane Broncaccio at:
or 413-772-0261, ext. 277