The first reported baseball game in Chatham was played in 1853, on August 31. It was a pick-up game with a bunch of sailors and a few others, and it was reported in the Gleanor because it disturbed a group of church-goers at St. Mary’s Church. Organized ball appeared in 1879 when Chatham beat Newcastle 19-12 in five innings. Things didn’t really get rolling, however, until 1889 when the Chatham Baseball Club was formed with R.A. Lawlor as President. The team was called the Acmes and they played against teams from Newcastle, Richibucto and Fredericton, winning more often than not.
Since 1892 there had been three baseball teams in Chatham. The Old Stars, The Royal Oakes and the Alerts played each other, and outside teams. In 1907, Daniel Handley of The Stars, had the distinction of striking out 15 while beating Moncton.
The following season (1908) The Stars got themselves involved in a memorable exhibition game in Newcastle against a group of Shiretown boys that added fuel to a running feud between Newcastle’s newspaper, The “Leader”, and Chatham’s “Commercial”. The “Commercial” reported the game in the following manner:
Newcastle – Chatham Baseball Game
The Commercial World July 7, 1908
The baseball match at Newcastle on Dominion Day has caused a considerable amount of ill feeling because of the incompetency displayed by the first umpire selected to referee the game, and because of the ignorance and nastiness displayed by the Leader in its account of the contest. But as writer and umpire were one and the same specimen of loud-mouthed blatency, little else was to be expected.
The dispute arose when Newcastle was at bat, with no men out and a man on first base. The next man up was given three strikes, but because the ball was not caught by the catcher, umpire Joseph Carnett declared him safe. This caused the Chatham men to protest strongly, but the umpire would listen to no protest until Herb McLean clinched matters by taking out Spalding’s Official Baseball Guide and showing rule 51, section 6, under the umpire’s nose. He read, “The batsmen is out, if, while first base is occupied by a base runner, three strikes be called on him by the umpire, unless two men are already out.
This convinced the umpire that he knew less than he imagined and he was disposed. James Watson took his place and umpired the remainder of the game satisfactorily. Owing to the crowd swarming in upon the diamond, the game was much interfered with and no less than five of Newcastle’s seven runs were made off balls lost in the crowd. A return game should be played where visitors will be given a fair deal and the crowd kept within reasonable bounds.
In 1910, the “Old Stars” challenged the New Brunswick Champs, the St. Peter’s nine of St. John. The challenge was laughed at by the New Brunswick daily newspapers. Laughed at until game time, that is. When the dust cleared from the St. John diamond, the crack St. Peter’s squad had met defeat at the hands of Chatham “Stars” and Chatham had its first baseball champions.
In that same baseball season of 1910, a league was formed in Chatham with A.B. MacKinnon as president. The three team circuit consisted of the champion Stars along with Victors and the Y.M.C.A.
The summer of 1914, however, brought on an excellent season of baseball fans. A team was formed from the best players in the town league. On Dominion Day they defeated Newcastle 5-3 and 9-5 in a double header. The second game was won on the basis of third basemen Anthony “Ant” Veno’s two-out grand slam home run. Later in the week the same team traveled to Campbellton where all around athlete, Wally Watling’s grand slam helped Chatham sweep both ends of a double header. Later they became the North Shore Champs.
The pre-1925 era in Chatham’s sports also saw a number of significant individual accomplishments and contributions. Perhaps one of Chatham’s best athletes of the era was Wallie Watling. Watling not only performed the catching duties for Chatham ball teams, played on the local hockey squad, captained a local basketball team, captained the town rugby team and competed in track and field events, but he was also Chatham’s chief athletic contact with outside towns and the number one organizing talent behind a great number of sporting events and teams. Watling was a true athlete. He played a number of sports and played them all well. He was a key player in the successes of the baseball and hockey championship teams of the early twenties. Later in his life he was elected mayor of Chatham.
Another outstanding athlete was Stanley “Shorty” Veno. Veno was an extremely fast skater. Some considered him the fastest hockey player in the Maritimes. In 1921, he received a tryout with the Montreal Canadiens and was on their reserve list for a couple of seasons, playing in several games.
Stan’s brother, the unpredictable Anthony “Ant” Veno, was an excellent baseball player. “Ant” played third base and did some pitching besides. He was the star of Chatham’s baseball teams and had such natural ability that some of his contemporaries feel that today he would be major league material. “Ant” also played some hockey and later on he coached Chatham baseball teams and refereed hockey games.