Play ball!

Today is the beginning of baseball season.

WHAT? you proclaim. The Yankees, Mets, Red Sox and the other teams have been playing for nearly two months. Indeed they have, but I wasn’t talking about Major League Baseball. I was talking about Minor League Baseball, specifically the Class A New York-Penn (NY-P) League.

When I was growing up in Binghamton, my father or grandfather (but seldom both) would take me to see the Triplets. They were team in the Eastern League from 1923 to 1963 and again in 1967 and 1968. They were called the Triplets because they represented the Triple Cities in New York State’s Southern Tier: Binghamton, Johnson City, and Endicott (the fact that only Binghamton was a city and the other two were villages is not germane to the discussion). The out-of-town papers referred to the team as Binghamton. They were an affiliate of the New York Yankees from 1932 to 1961, so I was a fan of the Bronx Bombers as a kid.
I saw Al Downing pitch there. He eventually became a Yankee starter. (He was best known, though, for being the Dodgers pitcher when Atlanta Braves’ star Hank Aaron hit home run #715 in 1973, breaking Babe Ruth’s record.)
The Triplets were a Kansas City Athletics affiliate in 1962 and 1963. The team spent three years (1964-66) in the lower level NY-P League, linked with the Milwaukee Braves the first year, and the Yankees subsequently before their brief return to the Eastern League, still affiliated with the Yanks. Then nothing, as Johnson Field was torn down after the 1968 season so that a newer Route 17 could be built west of Binghamton.

That Yankee Class A NY-P team that was in Binghamton in 1965 & 1966 ended up in Oneonta for over 30 years before moving again. Oneonta is now a Tiger affiliate in the NY-P.

Albany has had trouble fielding a team. For a time, they had an Eastern League team in Heritage Park in Colonie (near Albany) that was affiliated with the Oakland A’s (1983-84), then the New York Yankees (1985-94.) I saw Bernie Williams play there. But those arrangements eventually collapsed.
Then there were the Diamond Dogs (alas, no David Bowie) in an independent league not affiliated with major league baseball. I went to a few of those games and they were quite a bit of fun, though not always the highest caliber of play.
Now, the Capital District has a new team, the Tri-Cities Valley Cats (the Tri-Cities in this case being Albany, Schenectady and Troy — all CITIES) in the NY-P League.
The out-of-town papers referred to the team as Troy. Today’s opener is against the Oneonta Tigers at the Joseph L. Bruno Stadium, nicknamed “The Joe”. (The running joke at the time: “It’s a good thing his name wasn’t John.”) Joe Bruno is the Majority Leader in the New York Senate.

One of the cool games this season will be on July 30, when the same two teams meet in Cooperstown at Doubleday Field. The Oneonta team has, for many years, gotten a “home” game there, and I understand that it’s quite a thrill for the players. Since my father-in-law has had season tickets to the Oneonta Yankees -he saw Ricky Ledee play for them- and now the Oneonta Tigers, I’ve seen a couple games there myself.

It’s a bit surprising that a market the size of Albany/Schenectady/Troy has a Class A team, especially since Binghamton, which is about the size of Troy and half the size of Albany, once again has a team in the Class AA Eastern League, with a higher caliber of player.
Last year, for the first time, I went to the stadium in downtown Binghamton where the Binghamton Mets have played for a few years, after a nearly three-decade gap for baseball in Binghamton. The program had third baseman David Wright on the cover; he’d already been promoted to the New York Mets, but that’s baseball. It’s a lovely stadium, but I have to think that foul balls must hit the cars driving by on Henry Street.

In any case, if you like baseball, but have gotten cynical over Major League Baseball because of the salaries, or whatever, check out Minor League Baseball.

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