Results tagged ‘ New York-Penn League ’
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This isn’t the first time that I’ve titled a blog post “Back to the Basics,” and it probably won’t be the last. By “basics” I mean a baseball environment largely free of the amenities and peripheral entertainment that have come to characterize the modern Minor League Baseball experience. At a Batavia Muckdogs game, fans will not find a massive videoboard, blaring sound system, corporate suites, 360 degree concourse, a thriving mascot ecosystem and front office members espousing “living the brand” ideology. They will simply find a no-frills ballpark, one that houses a community-owned team whose roots stretch back to the founding of the league in which it still operates.
This is Dwyer Stadium, home of the Muckdogs.
Dwyer Stadium was built in 1996, replacing a structure on the same spot that had stood since 1937 (the playing field remained the same). The facility was called State Street Park when it first opened, with the name switching to MacArthur Stadium during WWII. (It’s too bad that it wasn’t called “MacArthur Park,” as then then the Muckdogs could sell “cake left out in the rain” as an historically apropos signature concession item.) The Dwyer moniker was adopted in 1973, in honor of team president Edward D. Dwyer and all he did for baseball in Batavia.
The facility is located in a residential neighborhood, less than a mile from downtown proper. There is a small (free!) parking lot adjacent to the first base side.
I entered the stadium about an hour and a half before game time, talking to a few folks and getting the proverbial lay of the land. There is a covered grandstand, bleacher seating and a picnic area down the third base side, and a wooden porch group area down the first base side.
Behind the ballpark lurks the concourse.
There are some interesting names on the above list. Many years prior to his (perhaps apocryphal) hallucinogenic no-hitter heroics, Doc Ellis was a member of the 1964 Batavia Pirates. That team posted a horrific 33-97 record, and Doc was the only player on the roster who went on to the Majors. As for me, I’m a Phillies fan, and as such I recognize a lot of these names from late ’90s excursions to a depressingly empty Veterans Stadium. For instance, I once saw Gary Bennett team up with Joel Bennett to form the only same last name battery in Phillies history and the first all-Bennett battery in Major League history. True story.
As I mentioned in a recent “New York State of Mind” post, what is now known as the New York-Penn League was conceived in a Batavia hotel during a concentrated burst of National Pastime passion. Here’s a plaque commemorating this circuit-creating tryst.
The Jamestown Jammers are re-locating to Morgantown, West Virginia next season, which leaves Batavia as the NYPL’s sole remaining charter member. Along with the Auburn Doubledays, who are also community-owned and play in a ballpark nearly identical to Dwyer Stadium, the Muckdogs are the last bastions of the “old” New York-Penn League. Over the past two decades the league has changed dramatically, greatly expanding its footprint and putting a premium on new stadiums. This of course makes sense from an economic standpoint, but in the process the smaller Empire State locales that once formed the heart and soul of the league have been largely abandoned.
During the evening I was aware of a palpable sense of angst among the Muckdogs faithful that Batavia will be next on the NYPL chopping block. I’ll provide more detail on that, and the team’s unique ownership situation, in an upcoming MiLB.com piece. But, in a nutshell: the Muckdogs are community-owned, with an entity called the Genesee County Baseball Club (GCBC) holding legal title. The GCBC have a 25-person Board of Directors, but since 2008 the team has been operated by the Triple-A Rochester Red Wings (themselves a community owned team) who cover all expenses and receive all revenue. Thus, Batavia Muckdogs front office members — led by general manager Travis Sick — are in fact employees of the Red Wings organization. The Red Wings have lost money in this endeavor thus far, but each year that they operate the team the Red Wings receive an additional 5% stake in the MuckDogs ownership. This will be capped at 50%, after 10 years, with GCBC retaining a technical majority. The hope in Batavia is that, economic realities be damned, a new owner committed to keeping the team in Batavia will swoop in and insure a long-term baseball future. What seems more likely is that the team will eventually be sold and re-locate, with the Red Wings recouping their ongoing operational losses via their stake of the team’s ownership. The Muckdogs drew just 33, 376 fans in 2014, averaging 954 a game. The only team in the league with a lower total was the Jamestown Jamestown (24,246) who, of course, are now no longer.
Anyhow, let’s get back to the plaques.
This one details another significant bit of Batavia baseball history: in 1961, Gene Baker became the first black manager of an affiliated baseball team.
The whole write-up is interesting, so I’ll include it in full in the hopes that you read it in full:
In June 1961, Batavia proudly played a role in baseball history when Gene Baker took the reins as manager of the Batavia Pirates. Baker, a native of Davenport, Iowa, thus became the first African-American manager of an affiliated professional baseball team.
After beginning his playing career with the famed Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro League, Gene Baker joined the Chicago Cubs in 1953. Second-baseman Baker and shortstop Ernie Banks dazzled fans as part of the “Bingo-Bango” double-play combination. Baker was traded to Pittsburgh in 1957 and won a World Series ring in 1960.
The next year, the Pirates assigned Baker as player-manager of the struggling Batavia team, which was in seventh place when he was named skipper. Under Baker’s leadership and aided by the pitching of phenom Steve Blass, Batavia made the league playoffs, losing the championship series to Olean. Despite bad knees, manager Baker hit for a sizzling .387 batting average in 1961.
In September 1963, while a coach with Pittsburgh, Baker managed the Pirates after Danny Murtaugh was ejected from a game, thereby becoming the first black man to manage a game in the major as well as the minor leagues.
The popular Baker returned to manage Batavia in 1964, and he spent the next quarter century as a scout in the Pirates organization. Gene Baker died in 1999. He is buried in Rock Island, Illinois.
Plaque perusal is now complete, meaning that wandering shall re-commence.
The team store is a barn; the barn is a team store.
The Muckdogs’ promotion for the evening was that they were attempting to break Dwyer Stadium’s 75-year-old attendance record of 3000. (If they did so, one fan would win $3001). In the end only 1532 fans passed through the turnstiles, but in a stadium as intimate as this it still made for a nice crowd.
A quirk of Dwyer Stadium is that the sun sets in straightaway left field. We’re not talking Sam Lynn-levels of Bakersfield blindness here, but it’s still tough to see the playing field during the early stages of the evening.
I summarily sought some shade at this scenic under-the-bleachers beverage emporium.
“Ladies and gentleman, the Mahoning Valley Scrappers line-up has changed — significantly changed — so we’ll go through the whole thing again.”
Then, during this second spin through the line-up, I heard this:
“Batting seventh…I don’t know, I haven’t looked it up yet…catcher Martin Sevenka.”
I later learned that this rather put-upon sounding stickler for detail was Wayne Fuller, who plies his trade in a press box that has been named after him. He’s a legendary figure in Muckdogs baseball, and next time I visit Batavia (oh, there’ll be a next time) I’ll make sure to meet him and hopefully hear some stories.
Line-ups communicated, anthem complete, it was time to play ball.
Russ and Kellie live, in Russ’s estimation, 20 houses away from the ballpark. He said that he first attended MuckDogs games as a convenient “getaway at the end of the night,” but this casual fandom has since blossomed into something else altogether. The Salways house ballplayers via the team’s host family program, and Russ is a member of the team’s board of directors. He runs a Facebook page called “Let’s Keep the Batavia Muckdogs in Batavia,” works to promote the team in the community, and occasionally does odd jobs around the stadium (staining the deck that he and Kellie are standing upon, for example). He also is an avid record collector, and recommended that I visit the Record Archive and Lakeshore Record Exchange in Rochester and Record Theater in Buffalo (I was unable to visit these establishments for reasons of varying legitimacy, but it it’s the thought that counts and these establishments will be on my radar during my next pass through the region).
But, perhaps most important to this narrative, Russ had volunteered to be my designated eater for the evening (you know, the individual recruited to eat the ballpark cuisine that my gluten-free diet prohibits). We thus began a journey, from the porch to the concession stand.
I requested that Russ get the “Muckdog Chow,” which is an iteration of the regional specialty that is the “Garbage Plate” (which originated in nearby Rochester). “Muckdog Chow” is, per the above menu, “served with macaroni salad, homefries and your choice of Red or White Hot or Cheeseburger or burger topped with Muckdog Sauce.” A “white hot” is another regional specialty, described on Wikipedia as a variation on the hot dog found in the Upstate New York area. It is composed of some combination of uncured and unsmoked pork, beef, and veal; the lack of smoking or curing allows the meat to retain a naturally white color.
A “red hot,” meanwhile, refers to the more standard-issue frankfurters to which we have become accustomed at ballparks. The Muckdogs’ offerings are courtesy of Zweigles, a New York-based company long recognized as one of the pre-eminent purveyors of the white hot. (One thing I learned on this road trip: upstate New York is a hotbed of hot dog production, and people are very particular about their brand preferences.)
For something with “Garbage Plate” aspirations, Muckdog Chow looked a fairly orderly food combination.
— Benjamin Hill (@bensbiz) August 22, 2014
“It’s been a while since I’ve had one of these. What you’ve got to do is cut the meat and mix it all up,” said Russ, who in preparation for his designated eating assignment, had passed on eating a chicken and broccoli dish that Kellie had made. “There are several different flavors all at once.”
Kellie was giving Russ a hard time, saying that the dinner she had prepared was “much better” than a Garbage Plate. She then took him to task for improper food posing technique.
“We should get a plaque or something,” said Russ.
As the Clearwater Threshers could tell you, the proper way to commemorate Ryan Howard-related foul ball damage is to have him sign it. WOB = Watch out, bro:
The above item is the sort that I struggle with at ballparks — the ingredients should be gluten-free, but I didn’t know for sure and, in fact, didn’t want to know. They looked good, so I ate some. I realize I should show more restraint, and often do, but celiac disease is a tough road to navigate sometimes and we’re all going to die anyway.
Designated eating complete, Russ and I walked over to the bleachers so that he could introduce me to Bill Kauffman. Kauffman, a writer of some renown, is vice president of the Muckdogs’ board of directors.
On Kaufmann’s Wikipedia page, his politics are described as “a blend of Catholic Worker, Old Right libertarian, Yorker transcendentalist, and delirious localist.” He has also described himself as an “Independent. A Jeffersonian. An anarchist. A (cheerful!) enemy of the state, a reactionary Friend of the Library, a peace-loving football fan.”
Such leanings could make for all sorts of interesting conversations, but given that I am a baseball writer at a baseball game we talked about baseball.
“We’re the Green Bay Packers of Minor League Baseball, this was passed down to us and we hope to pass it on to the next generation,” said Kauffman, who proudly noted that Batavia is the smallest American city with both a symphony orchestra and a professional baseball team. “This is the soul of baseball, you don’t pay money to park, there are no TV timeouts, and you’re not patted down on the way into the stadium.”
I’ll have a few more quotes from Kaufmann in my previously threatened upcoming MiLB.com piece, but, for now, let me just note that he wrote a book about Batavia called Dispatches from the Muckdog Gazette. I’m gonna have to get a copy.
Speaking of Muckdogs, I believe that this autograph-signing canine was named Homer.
Behind Homer, you’ll can see the Wayne H. Fuller Pressbox (I find it weird that “pressbox” is just one word on the signage).
I spent the eighth inning of the game talking to an autograph collector by the name of Ted Wasko, who was sitting in seats directly behind home plate. This is a great view, but as a believer in the curse of the Bambino my general preference when it comes to ballpark seating is “No, No, Nanette.”
Speaking of the net, there was much speculation regarding whether this wayward foul ball would ever be extracted from its precarious elevated location.
Continuing on with this photo tour of obfuscated views, here’s a look at the Muckdogs bullpen. The reason I’m sharing this photo is to point out the row of bikes lined up against the clubhouse. Virtually all of these guys live with local families, and many of them ride their bikes to and from the stadium each day. It’s a long way to the top if you want to rock n’ roll.
Bullpen, sans link:
Zooming in for a closer look.
Russ was multi-tasking. In addition to waving his rally flag, he was also ringing his rally bell, drinking a beer and, between breaks in the action, using his hammer on non-compliant deck nails. All in a day’s work for an ardent supporter of a community-owned team.
Russ’s rally efforts were for naught, as the Muckdogs fell in defeat to the Scrappers. A fireworks show followed, and while this is by no means a good photo it does make it appear that the town of Batavia was annihilated by a nuclear bomb.
And that, as they say, was that. I said goodbye to Russ, walked to the parking lot, and soon commenced the drive to Rochester. While en route to my rental vehicle, I noticed that the Scrappers’ charter bus company is called Precious Cargo. Aw, that’s adorable, Scrappers. You guys are precious. Do your Mommies ride the bus with you and tuck you in and sing you lullabies?
That’s it as regards blogging from Batavia, but stay tuned for much, much more from this final road trip and, while you’re waiting, go ahead and tell your friends to read this blog as it is the most underrated entity in all of sports media.
So, a proper article on all of this appeared on MiLB.com yesterday evening, but in the interest of redundancy and poor time management let me reiterate: the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre International League entity formerly known as the Yankees (and, prior to that, the Red Barons) are now known as the RailRiders.
That image seen above is, of course, a porcupine straddling streetcar tracks. To explain why, let me quote liberally from an up-and-coming young writer by the name of Benjamin Hill:
The name-the-team contest was conducted online and fans were able to choose their top three candidates. While RailRiders received the most first-place votes, the name that appeared on the most ballots was Porcupines. That helps explain the team’s primary logo, designed by San Diego-based Brandiose, which features a porcupine straddling trolley tracks atop the word “RailRiders” in a stylized cardinal red and gold font.
The team announced the name at a gala open-to-public event that they dubbed “The Big Reveal.” And here’s how they revealed it:
As a staunch advocate for the increased deployment of Black Sabbath in public situations, I love that the team chose “Iron Man” as the soundtrack to their unveiling video. However, this comment on the RailRiders Facebook page showed that there was, in fact, a better option.
Why would you use ironman instead of crazy train for this promo?
The RailRiders have since posted a plethora of “Big Reveal” photos on their Facebook page (which, as of this writing, still lists them as the Yankees). As you can see, the citizenry turned out in big numbers for the announcement:
Here’s SWB president Rob Crain (formerly of the Omaha Royals-turned-Storm Chasers) tossing t-shirts into the crowd after the announcement. When it comes to Minor League Baseball executives looking like hip-hop performers, this is about as close as you’re ever gonna get.
Of course, a lot of the online chatter regarding the new name has been negative. No opinion is illegitimate when it comes to personal taste, of course (unless it involves a continued affinity for so-called “Nu-metal”), but with team re-branding efforts it’s not so much a case of the name itself as it is how you use it. I’ve known Rob Crain since his days with Omaha, and he’s poised to bring an energetic and innovative operating style to a moribund and disconnected-seeming franchise that really needed an injection of personality. Combine that with the massive renovation to PNC Field taking place, and it seems apparent to me that the 2013 season will be one of the most successful in franchise history. More power to you, online commenters threatening to cancel their season ticket plans, but that to me is like breaking up with a beautiful and intelligent woman because you don’t like her new haircut.
As for RailRiders — if it’s good enough for Greg Legg it’s good enough for me! Legg, second from left in the below pic, is a Scranton/Wilkes-Barre baseball legend who suited up for the Red Barons from 1989-94. I was a fan of his throughout, as during that time I regularly attended SWB Red Barons games while visiting my grandparents in nearby Gouldsboro.
If only Jeff Grotewold and Steve Scarsone could have been there to join him!
Legg and his crony on the far left there are sporting the team’s road cap, which references the team’s Red Barons past. It’s probably my personal favorite aspect of the re-brand.
Anyhow, to sum it up, there are a stew of competing forces at work whenever a team unveils a new look and regardless of your opinion, my opinion or anyone else’s opinion it will take several years before one can say whether RailRiders has been a success or failure. Instead of repeating myself more than I already have, I’ll close by referring you to a point-counterpoint I engaged in back in 2010 when the Omaha Royals became the “Storm Chasers.”
Rob Neyer (then with ESPN): the Storm Chasers have joined “the ranks of the embarrassing.”
Rob Neyer never acknowledged this “debate,” and maybe he never even knew it was taking place (he was probably too busy counting his baseball writing-derived fortune in some Scrooge McDuck-like lair), but nonetheless the phrase “ranks of the embarrassing” has since become part of my everyday lexicon and for that I thank him.
And, jeez, I got so caught up in the RailRiders that I forgot to mention this: in celebration of their upcoming 20th anniversary season, the Hudson Valley Renegades have unveiled a new set of logos!
The new home uniforms will consist of a solid white jersey, with Dutchess blue piping and the new Renegades script logo across the chest. The uniform number will also be Dutchess blue, with a white outline both on the front and back of the jersey. The home uniform pants will be white with Dutchess blue piping down each pant leg. The home cap will feature the Renegades mask logo on a solid black cap. The mask logo will be embroidered on the cap adding a raised element to the overall appearance.
Careful, Hudson Valley: a glowering blue-tinted raccoon is watching your every move!
And, oh, hey: since I’m rambling on and on about logos and seem to have a NYPL fixation, here’s one more for you before I go. The 2013 New York-Penn League All-Star mark, courtesy of the Connecticut Tigers.
Okay, that anchor should keep me from drifting any further. I’m quitting while I’m still ahead, even if I don’t know what it is I feel that I might be still ahead of.
Last Friday, just two days after visiting the quiet confines of Staten Island’s Richmond County Bank Ballpark, I once again hit the subway in order to visit a New York City-based Minor League Baseball team. In fact, let me recycle the same photo I used in the last post:
But whereas the route to Staten Island begins with the 1 train, the journey to Coney Island — home of the Brooklyn Cyclones — begins (and ends) with the F. The above is where it starts, and here, some 27 (!) stops later, is where it terminates.
Coney Island, baby! Smell that ocean breeze.
But you know what? 27 stops or not, Cyclones game or not, Coney Island is always worth the trip. Always. The neighborhood has had dramatic ups and downs through the years — and is currently in a state of flux — but its status as New York City’s summertime playground remains intact. As soon as one leaves the subway, you just feel it. This is Coney Island, and Coney Island is like no place else.
The mural below is courtesy of the controversial Thor Equities, who have initiated many development projects in the neighborhood. While it’s hard to argue with progress, to what extent will it obliterate Coney Island’s idiosyncratic charm?
One place that’s not going anywhere is the flagship location of Nathan’s Hot Dogs. 96 years as a neighborhood anchor and still going strong!
The not-so-charmingly named MCU Park is located just down the street on Surf Avenue. Along the way, one walks by this scrappy Nathan’s competitor. From an aesthetic standpoint, this might be my favorite storefront in all of NYC.
This a busy time of year for all involved, and my communication with the team in the week leading up this ballgame was minimal. So, as had also been the case with Staten Island, I decided to attend this game more or less as a civilian. I picked up my tickets at will call, and received my ego boost of the evening when, after looking at my ID, Cyclones account executive Josh Hernandez said “I read your blog!” (I spend way too much time by myself in front of a computer. That kind of thing goes a long way).
Around the corner is the main entrance and — hey — what do you know? There were two people I knew standing there. The woman in the grey skirt, looking at the camera, is my cousin Jane. And the gentleman in the basketball jersey walking toward her is her boyfriend Jesse (who, rumor has it, once won a “best biceps in Brooklyn” competition). Those two will make a more substantial appearance in the “narrative” in just a moment.
Our seats were behind home plate, and when we mistakenly sat in the wrong section a friendly but aggressive usher immediately moved us over. He was just doing his job, but it was annoying to be stuck in the middle of row, disrupting people on both sides, when there was room elsewhere.
“Do you know who I am?” I felt like saying. “I’m a guy who spends most of his waking hours alone and in front of a computer screen!”
But they were good seats.
Soon after sitting down, Jane spotted a squadron of pom-pom wielding young ladies atop the first base dugout and incredulously asked me “Baseball has cheerleaders?!”
Usually, that answer is an emphatic “no.” But, Brooklyn being Brooklyn, Brooklyn has the Beach Bums. Here they are performing between innings.
But we weren’t there just to watch baseball. Or Beach Bums. Upon hearing of my “designated eater” concept (in which others eat the ballpark food that I, with celiac disease, can not) Jane had expressed prodigious interest. Jesse was on board as well.
The Cyclones lean heavily on Nathan’s iconic appeal, as nearly all of the concession stands put the focus on hot dogs and crinkle-cut fries.
My gluten-free options were limited, but certainly not non-existent. But as I was placing my order, Jane and Jesse decided that this was not the concession stand for them. The hot dogs didn’t have toppings!
They re-located to this nearby stand, whose line was far more manageable anyway.
I bade my time by watching this fan enthusiastically join in on another Beach Bums dance routine.
It was a beautiful atmosphere all around.
Finally, Jane and Jesse were ready to go: Nathan’s Dog’s with all of the fixings, with baseball in Brooklyn as the backdrop. It doesn’t get any more American than that!
These two made exceedingly quick work of their delicious frankfurters. And looked beautiful doing it.
Now it was my turn. Celiac disease might have me down when it comes to ballpark food options, but I’m never out! At first I kept things close to the vest.
But soon it was time for the big reveal. I had ordered my first-ever hot dog, sans bun! (An email to Nathan’s HQ had confirmed that the dogs themselves are gluten-free.)
A hot dog by its lonesome is an admittedly pathetic sight, and you don’t get any sort of discount for ordering one without the bun (but it certainly wasn’t a problem, as the friendly woman at the counter simply asked one of her colleagues to pluck a fresh one right off of the grill). But, here’s the thing — it tasted really, really good. I felt like I was eating a premium piece of beef jerky — crispy, salty, and well-spiced.
This led to a realization — the bun only gets in the way, and should one wish to be a true frankfurter connoisseur then it needs to be consumed in its naked state. Just as it would be pure folly to drink a fine single-malt scotch on the rocks, it is an unnecessary dilution of the gustatory experience to ensconce a lovingly crafted tubular meat product within a poorly defined lump of dough.
Am I on to something here, or are these merely the ravings of a poorly defined man ensconced in front of a keyboard? Please let me know!
After dinner, we decided to sit in some seats that allowed more room to move. We ensconced ourselves down the third base line, just in time to see a dance-off between Sandy the Seagull, a random fan, a Beach Bum, and on-field MC King Henry.
The fan won, of course, but it is King Henry that captured my attention.
The King has been a Cyclones staple since 2003, and on the team’s web site one learns that his real name is Guy Zoda and that he “has been a professional entertainer since 1989 specializing in family entertainment, business promotion and marketing.” He keeps things family-friendly, but nonetheless has an abrasive New York edge and always seems like he’s on the verge of going blue. (I could definitely envision King Henry as a cast member on Get A Life, hanging out with chain-smoking cop-turned-landlord Brian Doyle Murray, but that’s an obscure cultural reference for another day.)
The Cyclones do a great job of creating a colorful, anything goes environment (even though the pink gorilla I spotted on previous occasions was nowhere to be found). Here, mascot Sandy throws t-shirts off of the stadium’s second level.
Next up was the “Dime Big Deal” (not to be confused with the dime bag deal one can find outside on the boardwalk), in which a fan guesses which one of the four letters in “DIME” contains $500 in cash.
The fan was wrong.
And oh, wait, what? Pretty soon the game was over! How did that happen?
The Cyclones victory was followed by fireworks…
…which can be viewed both in and outside of the ballpark.
I soon bade farewell to the voracious hot dog eaters whose company had I enjoyed, but not before taking a picture in a most apropos location.
I meanwhile, lingered around a bit longer. For this was an atmosphere worth recording: Coney Island at 9:30 on a Friday night in the heart of the summer. There’s nothing like it.
Sideshows by the Seashore, located on Surf Avenue and West 12th and run by the eminently worthwhile organization Coney Island USA, is an absolute must-see diversion.
Especially if this guy is working the door.
Out of focus fireworks aftermath, taken with a fisheye lens effect. Photojournalism at its finest!
And, finally, there’s a reason that this team is called the Cyclones. Here it is, in all its neck-breaking glory.
As I mentioned in my recent post(s) on the Trenton Thunder experience, I’m going to make an effort for the remainder of the season to visit Minor League teams that are easily accessible from my New York City base of operations. And few teams, if any, are more accessible than the Staten Island Yankees. They’re just a ferry ride away!
So, this past Wednesday, I left the office a bit earlier than usual and made my way to Richmond County Bank Ballpark. From MLB Advanced Media’s Chelsea-based offices, this involves a ride on the 1 train from 14th street to the ferry terminal.
Len’s Papaya is a new addition to the terminal’s food and beverage choices. Amongst NYC’s wide array of papaya-referencing frankfurter purveyors, Len’s is pretty much a non-entity. But, still, I picked up a papaya drink for the ferry ride. I figured this could be a new tradition for me, as in the past I’d always bought a Budweiser at the ferry snack bar (beer is now off limits to me, due to the celiac disease).
Within 10 minutes I was on the Staten Island ferry, which doesn’t cost a thing! One of the reasons that I have always enjoyed SI Yanks games is because it provides an excuse to ride the ferry — a 1/2 hour excursion filled with wonderful aquatic vantage points. Even the though the weather was less than ideal (cloudy, with scattered rain showers earlier in the evening), I still enjoyed the scenery.
I always do.
I wasn’t expecting a big crowd, due to the mediocre weather, but I was still caught off-guard as the ferry approached Staten Island. It was 7:30 and the game was underway after a 15-minute delay, but very few people were in the stands.
It was going to be a quiet night indeed! The ballpark is, more or less, next door to Staten Island’s St. George ferry terminal. While there are certainly a portion of fans who have driven (or walked) to the stadium, those who have taken the ferry come across this entrance first.
This outfield entrance is THE first impression ferry-riders have of the facility, and not once over six years of attending games here have I ever seen that ticket window open. I find this indicative of a larger issue: for whatever reason, the SI Yanks don’t do much marketing to the city at large (one of the biggest and most diverse media markets in the entire world!).
And call me naive, but I don’t think that this is a tough sell: a Yankees affiliate, easily accessible via an outright fun public transit journey, competing in a beautiful facility that offers a skyline view of the greatest city in the world! 2012 marks the first year in which the team is under the ownership of Nostalgic Partners LLC and in a press conference announcing this Nick Tiller, one of the group’s partners, said “We think a lot of people don’t know the team exists, and we hope to change that.” I sincerely hope that they do! To a large extent my job is to be an advocate for Minor League Baseball, and I would love to be able to champion the SI Yanks as they make strides toward realizing their immense potential.
Multiple requests, via the team, to speak to the new owners went unanswered. That will be a story to pursue for another day, but for now, what I have is merely this slice of SI Yanks life on a damp but otherwise pleasant Wednesday evening in early August. This is simply me, as a fan, trying to convey the experience. Take it for what it is…
The main entrance, like most main entrances, is located in front of home plate. It’s a bit of a hike.
For those looking for will call, the hike continues.
Finally, access was obtained. Poor weather and underwhelming crowd aside, this remains a beautiful place to see a game.
The visibility of the Manhattan skyline was compromised somewhat by the clouds, but nonetheless a case could be made that this is one of the most scenic ballpark environments in Minor League Baseball.
The team’s mascot is the Phil Rizzuto referencing “Scooter the Holy Cow.” He originally had a halo perched above that big old hat of his, but at some point through the years it fell off.
The SI Yanks have expanded their concession options this season, including a nacho stand and, yes, even a sushi bar. But on this low-attended evening these options weren’t available. The third base concessions stand was operating at full-steam, but beyond that the stadium was more or less in shutdown mode.
I soon went into shutdown mode as well, sitting behind the first base dugout with NYC-based Minor League travelers Rex and Coco Doane (last seen in Winston-Salem). And while I have been frustrated regarding the SI Yanks’ marketing and media relations techniques (or lack thereof) through the years, one area in which they have always excelled is in-game entertainment. The between-innings games and contests are well-organized and staged with professionalism, and helped redeem an otherwise sluggish evening (the time of game was an agonizing 3:45, plus it started 15 minutes late).
When the game script calls for you to dance on the dugout, then you dance on the dugout — even if it’s 11 o’clock on a misty Wednesday night.
The Auburn Doubledays were victorious, doubling up the hometown team by a score of 10-5.
And from there, there was nothing to do but catch the 11:30 ferry back into Manhattan — another appropriately late night in the city that never sleeps.
Little-known fact: The Lowell Spinners were the subjects of my first-ever “On the Road” post. The year was 2009, when Barack Obama was president and the price of stamps had just been increased to 44 cents. While that might not be that long ago in the scheme of things there has nonetheless been quite a large amount of professional
and personal growth since then. Simply put — in 2009 I had absolutely no idea what I was doing. And now? Now I have very little idea.
Here’s to growth!
But, in 2009, I did lead my Lowell dispatch with this photo. I still rather enjoy it.
I did not come across that formidable metallic bust of mascot Canaligator on my most recent visit to the Spinners’ LeLacheur Park, which occurred on July 2. But he remains well-represented in other inanimate forms:
That picture was taken three hours before game time, but already there was a hardy band of souls lined up outside of the stadium. Their objective was to ensure themselves acquisition of the evening’s giveaway — a Dom Dimaggio military bobblehead.
Using my vast industry influence, I was able to procure one of the above items without waiting in line for it. (It has since been given away via my Twitter account. Follow @bensbiz.) Instead I took a lap around the stadium before heading inside, accompanied by Zack Hample and his girlfriend Robin. (As you may recall, this Massachusetts jaunt was motivated by Zack’s attempt to catch a ball dropped 1000 feet from a helicopter.)
It was a beautiful day for such a stroll, as LeLacheur Park is bordered by a pathway that offers pleasing vantage points of nearby woods, waterways, and re-purposed landmarks of an industrial past.
I soon left Zack and Robin to their own devices, and went into the park to conduct a couple of pre-game interviews (including first-round draft pick Deven Marrero and the iconic Spinners clubhouse manager known simply as “Dog Man”). The scene on the field, and in the dugout:
Things soon got pretty crowded in the dugouts, as a local youth team engaged in a Q&A and autograph session with a handful of Spinners players.
In search of open spaces in which to roam free, I bid adieu to this humanity-soaked subterranean lair. But not before snapping a pic of the aforementioned Dog Man. Here he is in conversation with some of his young clubhouse charges.
As soon as I left the dugout, I forgot about my supposed quest for wide open spaces (segue cynicism at its finest). Instead, I dropped off my belongs in the Spinners office and took a picture of one of the more original theme jerseys ever created. From 2006-08, the team dedicated one night a year to being the “Mike Lowell Spinners” in honor of the popular Boston third baseman.
(Meanwhile, I am still hoping for a Lynchburg Ben Hillcats promotion. Any day now, guys. Any day now.)
I then was able to snag an exclusive interview with the copy machine. I said I’d give him some good ink if he provided me with some local color, but he cut the conversation short because he didn’t like my toner. (Later we patched up our differences over a drink. He had a Jameson on Xerox).
Next stop was the Gator Pit, a buffet area that, prior to the start of the ballgame, is only open to season ticket holders, groups, and sycophantic media types looking for a free meal. My kind of place, in other words.
This was the first time I was at a ballpark since I had publicly come out with my (not-so) harrowing diagnosis of Celiac disease. So what to get? I settled on this tasty (but way too meat-heavy) meal of steak tips, ribs and corn on the cob.
The corn on the cob was, of course, gluten-free. No problem there. The steak tips (which were phenomenal) were also good to go, but the ribs were a bit more of a gray area. A Gator Pit employee brought out a bottle of the BBQ sauce, and while I didn’t see anything problematic in the ingredients (like, you know, wheat flour) I really can’t say for sure that they were celiac friendly.
All in all, this was a pretty half-hearted gluten-free meal attempt. But, like I said when I first wrote about the diagnosis — this is going to be a process. And, to tell you the truth, at the time I wasn’t really thinking about how I was going to justify this meal to a reading audience. I was just really hungry, and the game was about to start.
So get off my back, guys (inside my head)! I mean, jeez! Dude’s gotta eat.
But the game really was about to start, so let us slowly back away from this never-ending internal dialogue and instead check out the view from the press box.
Never mind that in the above picture the game is clearly NOT about to start. Gaps in the chronology can be attributed to celiac disease fever dreams. Those are a thing, right? No?
Well, anyway, the game really was about to start. Promise. One of the pre-game entertainment rituals involves mascot Canaligator chasing away his Yankee fan doppelganger, all while an oblivious photographer proves to be be hilariously unable to pick up the action (that guy must be a Yankees fan).
Get out of here, Yankee! On my own personal approval matrix, I consider you to be low-brow and despicable! Go back to your high-falutin big city and get in some stupid argument regarding the urban philosophies of Jane Jacobs versus those of Robert Moses. And give Ernie Anastos my regards while you’re at it!
The aforementioned Zack Hample threw out a ceremonial first pitch, and as an added bonus his name was misspelled on the videoboard.
But in the scheme of things, an ‘h’ where a ‘k’ should be is no big deal. Everybody makes mistahes from time to time. What really mattered at this juncture was that — yes! — the game was about to start! For real this time! Once action was underway, my first order of business was to descend into the bowels of the stadium and prepare for battle.
I had volunteered to suit up as the “Boxing Cream Donut” in the nightly “Mascot Mania Musical Chairs” competition.
This competition, which should be self-explanatory, results in a kaleidoscopic jumble of costumed craziness.
And as is so often the case in life, the action gradually degenerated into unmitigated chaos. Mascot pile-up!
I’m not sure who won, or if anyone won. But the thrill of competition was coursing through my veins; I felt like a gladiator out there. I stayed on the field, daring anyone to come feel the wrath of the Boxing Cream Donut, until a kindly elderly usher handed me a cup of juice and escorted me off of the field.
After that experience, I was finding it hard to leave the bowels of the stadium. This is where the magic happens!
Fortunately I was once again given the opportunity to get into costume, emerging onto the field of play via the entrance down the left field line.
I was “Bristles,” the anthropomorphic toothbrush who cleans the bases while the grounds crew drags the infield behind him.
But, strangely enough, Bristles doesn’t use his titular bristles to clean the bases. Instead, he has a broom. Isn’t that kind of like equipping a dragon with a blowtorch?
Once Bristles’ time on the field was done, this young man demanded a picture. “My Dad is a dentist!” he kept yelling. “My Dad is a dentist!”
After removing the Bristles’ costume (but retaining his essence), I wandered over to the Swampland kid’s area (located down the left field line).
One of the top new additions to the Swampland area is Dunk A Yankee, which is exactly what it’s name implies.
But nothing much was happening over there. The Yankee in question was pretty laid back, and hyperbolic anti-Puritan invective did not seem to be forthcoming. So I did what I always do in these situations.
It was a beautiful night, after all.
An accurate representation of 21st-century political discourse:
But I could not resist the siren song of the stadium bowels for long. I returned one more time, to find a veritable cavalcade of front office and game day employees.
This time around, I was there to observe a game whose premise I liked quite a bit. A trio of young contestants had been told that they would be participating in a soda-chugging competition, but little did they know that the carbonated beverage in question had been shaken to the point where it would explode in their faces.
In theory at least. The end result was a bit confused and underwhelming, as was my attempt at documentation. But, again, the premise is great, and if there’s one thing I’ll always champion it’s a good premise. If you don’t agree with me on that one, then please leave the premises.
The game soon fizzled out as well, with the visiting Tri-Cities ValleyCats earning the win.
After the game, there were TWO supplementary entertainment options for young fans. Run the bases:
Or take a lap around the field in Thomas the Tank Engine:
I chose the latter option, and since the only other riders at this late juncture were Zack and Robin I was given the opportunity to drive it myself. What a thrill!
I wasn’t the only one driving vehicles around the field. Here’s general manager Tim Bawmann, decompressing with a little groundskeeping work after a long day.
And speaking of groundskeeping, my time at LeLacheur Park finally came to a close after Zack got done speaking with Spinners’ turf tender Jeff Paolino. He was expressing his apologies for any damage that may have been caused by balls landing on the field that had been dropped via helicopter.
Jeff seemed cool with it at this point.
And that is finally, mercifully, all that I have to report from Lowell. Maybe when I visit again in 2015 I’ll finally have some clue as to what it is I’m doing.
Here’s to growth!
I’m not really sure what constitutes a typical week these days, but regardless of the criteria this week was anything but typical. On Sunday afternoon, I embarked on a trip to Lowell, MA with Zack Hample, his girlfriend Robin and his friend Andrew. This jaunt was motivated by Zack’s world record attempt the next morning — his goal was to catch a ball dropped from a helicopter at a height of 1000 feet.
I wrote 1800-some words on all of this over at MiLB.com, so if there is anything that you find lacking in this particular narrative then please, by all means, read the story. This blog post is supplementary content, and I do not wish to be redundant. But here’s the gist of it: Zack is the world’s greatest “ballhawk” (having “snagged” over 6000 baseballs at 50 Major League stadiums) and as such is a niche celebrity. He seems to attract fans and detractors in equal measure — the former are in awe of his unparalleled skill within his chosen area of expertise, the latter often characterize him as an obnoxious manchild in the throes of a seemingly endless adolescence.
I’m neither fan nor detractor. As I explain in the story:
I first met Zack in 2003, after answering his Craigslist ad in search of individuals to hit fungoes with in Central Park (strange but true). We were briefly co-workers at MiLB.com in the site’s inaugural 2005 season, and, in fact, it was Zack who first alerted me to a job opening there. So, in writing about this stunt, I am not an impartial member of the media. I am a friend of Zack’s, and in that capacity, played a small role in helping this stunt get put together.
This past offseason, Zack asked me for recommendations regarding which teams might be interested in hosting his record attempt, and the Lowell Spinners were the first that came to mind.
The night before, I stopped in Zack’s hotel room in order to rub some balls (go ahead, make some jokes, it’s all too easy). The folks at Lena Blackburne’s Rubbing Mud had donated a jar of their signature product, which is the same mud rubbed on all Major League Baseballs before they are put into play.
I even rubbed up a few myself:
The next morning started bright and early, as the stunt was scheduled for 7:30 in order to take advantage of optimal wind speeds. We entered through a LeLacheur Park side entrance, just as the helicopter was landing on the field:
The first order of business was a safety and logistical briefing from stunt coordinator (and aviation professional) Mike Davison. He’s the guy in the dark blue shirt, very serious about his responsibilities.
After the briefing, the spectators (comprised of friends, family, Spinners interns and staff and local media) retreated to the dugout.
Zack, meanwhile, suited up in catcher’s gear donated by Rawlings. In this shot, his mother, Naomi, looks on with concern.
Into the great wide open…
The first drop was from 300 feet, with a softball (in order to set the softball drop world record, of course). The heights then increased incrementally throughout the morning, to 550 to 750 to, finally, 1000. At first visibility was a problem, but all involved soon settled into a groove.
Spinners groundskeeper Jeff Paolino was not a happy camper, as each missed ball created a new divot in his beloved ball field.
I got lucky with this shot –a ball dropped from an official height of 762 feet, just before it landed in Zack’s glove. This turned out to be the highwater mark of the morning.
Zack didn’t get many opportunities from 1000 feet, as the stunt was called off due to increasing winds. This was the closest he came:
In the past, similar world record attempts resulted in a litany of injuries: smashed teeth, broken limbs, etc. All Zack ended up with was a bruised middle finger. And in this shot, the bruise hadn’t even appeared it. All things considered, that’s a pretty clean escape.
Zack, just after the stunt, recounting just how close he’d come to a 1000 foot catch.
But soon enough Zack had to yield the floor to Spinners clubhouse manager (and New England baseball icon) “The Dog Man.” Once the Dog Man gets on a roll, there’s no stopping him.
I’ll have plenty more from the Dog Man — and the Spinners in general — next week. But, for now, that’s gonna do it. For far more context on the world record attempt click HERE. Otherwise, I’ll catch you on the flip side.
To say I’m overwhelmed these days would be an understatement. I still have all kinds of supplemental material from my recent OKARMOTN road trip, and in addition to that I recently traveled to Lowell to document a world record attempt and attend a Spinners game. I hope to embark on another one-off trip next week, and I also need to finish planning a larger excursion in August. And, of course, there was the recent celiac disease blog post, which has gotten a ton of responses (via comments, Twitter, and email) that I have yet to address. (I appreciate them all, and will respond!)
And, what? It’s July already? I’ll write a new Crooked Numbers column as soon as I can, promise!
As usual, I’m talking almost entirely to myself. I’m tired of that guy, but he’s all I’ve got. But, for you, it’s time to go back to the roots with a quick blog bouillabaisse! So what, of note, has been going on around the Minors?
Too much! Here’s a tiny bit.
Last month, the Connecticut Tigers kicked off their season in the most literal way possible. To the photograph!
This was a “ceremonial first kick,” one that reportedly fell atop the plate for a perfect strike. Tigers director of community relations Dave Schermerhorn explains:
This is Dave Teggart, who was a four year stud kicker at UConn (School all-time leader in points, field goals in a career, and field goals in a season). He was then one of our interns during the 2011 season.
Recently, he attended Rookie Mini Camp for the Bears and was signed to a contract to attend training camp with the team.
So what do you know? The New York-Penn League had not one but TWO collegiate gridiron stars turned interns last season. The other was Penn State receiver Derek Moye, who I have already written about HERE.
Moye in action:
You also may be wondering why there was a submarine looming behind Teggart in the first kick photograph. Again, I’ll defer to Schermerhorn (who shares his surname with one-half of a widely-used Brooklyn subway stop):
General Dynamics Electric Boat is just about 20 min away and one of our largest sponsors. [S]taff members ride in the sub pregame to throw t-shirts to the crowd. We have a large military presence in the area with the Coast Guard Academy and U.S. submarine base within the same radius.
It is for these reasons that Connecticut’s previous Minor League franchise was known as the “Defenders,” and, prior to that, the Norwich Navigators.
Why am I always going off on tangents? One of these days I’m going to segue from “tangents” into something involving “tan gents,” but that day is not today. Instead, I’ll share a video from the Lake County Captains’ “Cleveland Sports History” promotion, which was held in June.
One of the Cleveland moments celebrated was Armando Galarraga’s 2011 perfect game that wasn’t (the Indians were the opponent in that contest). It’s not the best video quality, but hats off to the Captains for having the courage and creativity to consistently create crazy conceptual promos:
And, hey, If I’m posting YouTube videos then there’s no way this can be ignored! Ricky from Bordentown wipes out not once, but twice, during a most unique between-inning contest in Trenton.
On your mark! Get set! Change that diaper!
Classic. And I’ve got PLENTY more where that came from.
It’s nearly impossible to comprehend, but I am writing this on a Friday and you are reading on a Monday. Whatever sundry delights the weekend had to offer have since passed, including that inimitable annual Sunday delight that is the Super Bowl.
Thus, the consequences of the following bet are now known to the world:
As the lone Massachusetts-based entity in the New-York Penn League (go figure), the Spinners have made the following wager with no less than seven teams:
The bet, vastly superior to the minute wagers made by city mayors, would find each team’s most beloved figure donning enemy colors for a home stand: each team’s mascot would wear the opposing team’s jersey during a homestand.
Now those are some high stakes! I imagine that some mascots would commit hari-kari before succumbing to such an indignity, but that’s just idle seppuku-lation on my part.
After writing that last line, it took a long time for the applause in my head to die down. Now that it has, let’s look at another team that found a way to commemorate the Super Bowl: the Fresno Grizzlies.
But nothing can top the Super Bowl efforts made by host city denizens the Indianapolis Indians, whose Victory Field environs were totally transformed:
Another MiLB.com dispatch of note (note: they’re all of note) emanates from Birmingham, as the Barons have broken ground on their new ballpark.
But that’s not the only big Southern League ballpark news. Pensacola has a new ballpark opening in April — it will house the Blue Wahoos, of course — and this facility has now turned on the lights. Here’s the view:
Meanwhile, in Altoona, the Curve are relying on a different sort of energy. This week the team announced that, as the result of a new naming rights deal, Blair County Ballpark will be known as “Peoples Natural Gas Stadium.”
This news sent Twitter all a-twitter (or at least my Twitter feed), with flatulence jokes a-plenty. But, lest we forget, the Lake Elsinore Storm have already staged the preeminent natural gas-related promotion.
And, finally — who wants to see a new logo? Anybody? Okay, at least that one guy over there does.
So here you go: at last week’s hot stove dinner, the Hickory Crawdads unveiled this anniversary mark.
Guess that’ll do in a pinch.
Please note that this chronological blog narrative is about to go slightly askew, momentarily skipping past a memorable Thursday in Lake County in favor of a more straight ahead post documenting Opening Day in Mahoning Valley.
Yes — Opening Day. The New-York Penn and Northwest Leagues kicked off their 76-game seasons on Friday, bringing Class A Short Season baseball to the masses. The Scrappers are in the former circuit, despite not residing in either New York or Pennsylvania (as any follower of the Pacific Coast League can tell you, geographical designations can be quite liberal in the world of Minor League Baseball).
I arrived at Eastwood Field before the gates opened, and took in the calm before the storm.
It’s an idyllic setting, but don’t be fooled. The ballpark (built in 1999) is located behind a mall, and clustered among a seemingly endless array of big box retailers and chain restaurants. The drive to the stadium from my hotel wasn’t on any actual roads — I just took a right at the Home Depot, drove past a shopping center and movie theater and — voila! Baseball.
Here’s the view from behind the ballpark.
Soon after arriving, I did a series of interviews for a story on MiLB.com. As part of my ongoing quest to assure you that I am not “just” a blogger, I implore you to read it HERE.
One of the individuals I interviewed was Tony Mansolino, making his debut as hitting coach of the Scrappers after retiring as a player last season.
It was good to see Tony again — in 2008, I did a story on his children’s book “Dreams Will Come, Dreams Will Go.” It has gone on to sell 1000 copies independently and he is hoping for a wider release.
But this was Opening Day; the dream of baseball had come true once again in the Mahoning Valley. If you can come up with a worse segue than that, then I’d like to hear it!
The gates were opened, and the fans came streaming in.
Scrappy, the only chain-wearing mascot in Minor League Baseball.
Scrappy is prominently represented in the team’s logos. I was familiar with this design:
But the team wore this one, which kind of bites.
Take your pick at the “Pet Store”:
Scenes from the stadium, as the first pitch drew nearer and nearer.
Pitcher Kyle Vetter and outfielder Aaron Siliga were amiably signing autographs in the kid’s “Fun Zone.” I was surprised that Siliga was out there, given that he was in the starting line-up and the game was going to begin in less than 30 minutes. You’ve got to love Minor League, for that and 3.2 million other reasons.
Ceremonial first pitch…
And, finally, BASEBALL!
Baseball’s all well and good (the best, even), but I had a thick cache of Dawg Dollars burning a hole in my pocket.
I strongly considered getting an item that could be liberally doused with “Scrappy’s favorite sauce”:
Or perhaps that could be chased with canned tequila:
But instead I opted for the timeless combo of Warsaw Wings, Nachos Supreme, and Pepsi.
Warsaw wings are simply deep-fried pierogies drenched in hot sauce. Delicious, but not for the faint of heart. A closer look:
Dessert was courtesy of Handel’s, a very well-regarded (and delectable) Ohio-based ice cream purveyor. I opted for “Scrappy’s Favorite” — caramel flavored ice cream with chocolate covered bone-shaped pretzels (not to be confused with “Scrappy’s favorite sauce).
As the sun set, the ballpark took on a new character. One more nuanced and refined. Genteel, even.
The Scrappers ended up losing to the fearsome Jamestown Jammers, but that didn’t stop the festivities from continuing. Launch-A-Ball included human targets both living (an intern standing on the mound with a garbage can and catcher’s mask) and inanimate (a cardboard Grady Sizemore).
And this? It gave way to fireworks.
And once the pyrotechnics were complete, it was finally time to call it a night.
An endless expanse of asphalt awaited us all.
The New York-Penn League wants YOU to help redesign their logo. The league’s current mark has announced its retirement following the end of the season (how a “mark” announces its retirement is beyond me, but I’m just going by what the press release says), and the 14-team circuit is now accepting new logo submissions from all comers.
From the press release:
“All serious artists are invited to submit their logo designs to firstname.lastname@example.org. Designs are due no later than June 1, 2008 and must be done in Vector format using Adobe Illustrator of Macromedia Freehand. The winner will be voted on at a New York-Penn League general manager’s meeting at a later date.”
Now, I’m a very intuitive person, and I know what you’re asking yourself at this point: “What’s in it for me?”
Well, Mr. Greedy, let me refer you once again to the press release:
“The logo winner will receive a prize packet from the New York-Penn League consisting of a lifetime NYPL pass, merchandise, promotional items, the opportunity to throw out the ceremonial first pitch at any site in the league, promotion on each team’s website and much more.”
Not bad, huh? So let’s get going, artists. The NYPL needs a new mark!
Promotion of the Day — It’s a light day for Promos, so I’m going to lift this straight from my Promotion Preview column:
Altoona Curve — Pack Your Bags For Myrtle Beach/As the Curve Turns
The Curve and the Myrtle Beach Pelicans are part of the same ownership
group, which leads to interesting promotions like this one. This afternoon, 20 lucky Altoonians (Altoonites?) will win a bus
trip and hotel accommodations for two in Myrtle Beach from April 23-26.
Once these fans have arrived in Myrtle Beach, they will be able to take
in a Pelicans game at beautiful BB&T Coastal Field. Sounds pretty
sweet, right? Shockingly, Myrtle Beach does not seem to be running a
corresponding “Win a Trip to Altoona” promotion.
Also taking place in Altoona on Wednesday: “As the Curve Turns,” a game-long salute to the soap opera.