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05/28/2008 2:27 PM ET
Hoboken grows 'staches for baseball
Local bar raises whiskers, funds to restore historic plaque
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HOBOKEN, N.J. -- Surrounded by foliage and overlooking an intersection on 11th and Washington, a very weathered stone plaque in Hoboken commemorates one of the city's most famous claims. The small New Jersey city, located across the Hudson River from Manhattan, asserts that the very first official game of baseball was played there on the Elysian Field on June 19, 1846. It's a part of the area's history that a local bar/restaurant is honoring with a fundraiser, a restoration plan and a lot of facial hair.

The Elysian Cafe is a long-running Hoboken establishment on 1001 Washington St., with 1920s-style decor and a soft spot for America's pastime. Bartenders Ames Crawford, Steve Schneider and Vito Lantz offer customers a novel "baseball-tini" drink, don hats and jerseys representing favorite teams and can be seen crushing the ingredients of various mixed drinks with a baseball bat. Recently, the bar's male employees have grown mustaches inspired by the Handlebars and Fu Manchus exemplified by Reggie Jackson, Catfish Hunter, Thurman Munson and other Yankees stars portrayed in the ESPN series "The Bronx is Burning." The latter action has created a new trend among Hoboken citizens, which is just what the restaurant needs to draw attention to their newest cause: raising money to restore the historic baseball plaque.

"It's caught on like wildfire," marvels Cafe manager Crawford, who states that male customers have started growing mustaches as well and that women, children and even dogs have been spotted with fake mustaches. "We're asking anyone who wants to be a part of it to be a part of it." The restaurant's staff has complied enthusiastically in bringing back the art of the 'stache, and customers are following suit, giving donations to restore the plaque and grooming their upper lips in honor of the game. "We thought it was really important to reclaim the mustache for good, since for so long it's been affiliated with evil," chuckles Lantz. "I'm hoping Mohawks are next."

Hobokonites participating in the mustache craze may be rewarded with various prizes in a mustache contest that the Cafe has arranged for June 17 at 7 p.m. The contest, which honors both real and fake mustaches, will coincide with a fundraiser for the plaque. Extra proceeds will be donated to an MLB-sponsored Little League RBI (Rejuvenating Baseball in the Inner Cities) program in Jersey City.

On June 19 at 3 p.m., the Elysian Cafe will celebrate the 162nd anniversary of the historic game by reinstalling the newly renovated plaque at 11th and Washington. Fans can partake in the time-honored tradition of "running the bases" at the intersection's four corners, which are marked "1," "2," "3" and "H" in honor of the area's contribution to baseball history.

Hoboken is one of several towns claiming to have initiated the sport of baseball, and the game's true inception will probably be debated over for generations to come. But the pride and spirit that Hobokenites show for their pioneering contribution to the sport is truly uncontestable. Currently, there may be no better example of the city's fanaticism than the mustachioed men at the Elysian Cafe, a must-visit restaurant for any baseball fan in the area.

Ben Apatoff is an Associate Reporter for MLB.com/Entertainment. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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