Category Archives: minor league baseball

Shorted season

How did I not notice before? It’s baseball season already.

Oh, I’m not talking about Major League Baseball; hard to miss that one. I’m referring to Minor League Baseball. I was reminded of this when I got an e-mail touting MiLB.TV – 800 games for only $29.95 for the whole season to one’s computer. This seems like not such a bad deal.

The reason that minor league baseball is off my radar is that it’s not yet being played around Albany. The Tri-Cities Valley Cats, a Houston Astros farm team, are in the New York-Penn League a “short season A” league that doesn’t start until June and ends around Labor Day. It seems strange for a city of 95,000 in a metropolitan area of about 850,000 to have such a low affiliation. Meanwhile, my hometown of Binghamton, with maybe 47,000 and a metro of 250,000 has a Double A team in the Eastern League, the Binghamton Mets.

Speaking of the Eastern League, I love the angle of this story about Rickey Henderson and Jim Rice Rice being inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. It notes that they are the 28th and 29th players from the Eastern League so honored. BTW, I’ve thought for years that Rice, selected in his 15th year of eligibility, was deserving.

I usually seem to miss that free opportunity to experience Extra Innings, the MLB package of games around the country. This year, it was April 6-12. I did take advantage a few years ago, though. It’s fun watching the same game, while alternating two different announcing teams; totally different perspective.

I just realized that I haven’t talked with my father-in-law about the inaugural Hall of Fame Classic featuring retired players, some of them Hall of Famers, replacing the Hall of Fame Game. That’s probably because tickets aren’t available at all until this weekend to Museum members, and not to the general public until April 26. A different system than waiting in line in Cooperstown in February or March, which is what my father-in-law’s tradition has been.
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Failed to note the passing of the colorful Mark “the Bird” Fidrych, the AL Rookie of the Year. Here’s a 1985 interview:

ROG

The Last Hall of Fame Game


You may have heard that the Hall of Fame Game in Cooperstown, an exhibition contest between two major league teams, will be having its last outing this coming Monday. Some writers have suggested that it’s a “que sera sera” moment, that “all things must pass”, that should end because it’s not practical. I wonder if they’ve actually ever gone to this game.

Have they seen the parade?





Have they checked out the guy guy in the No. 7 Yankee car who looks a little like Mickey Mantle – and who, incidentally, is a bartender at a local resort?

Have they seen the kids who scurry for the candy being tossed from the cars, snacks that they can easily get cheaply at the local CVS? It reminds me of tourists grabbing for cheap beads they pass out during Mardi Gras in New Orleans.

And then you get to see the players in the trolley cars, with you trying to suss out the ones you actually might recognize.

You get to the stadium and you have the home run hitting contest, where almost inevitably some player you’ve never heard of beats out the league home run champion from the previous season.

You take your score card and you dutifully mark down the names of the starting lineups, but it’s of no use, for they brought in all these extra players from AA, whose names aren’t all on the rosters – check out all those uniforms with the numbers is the 60s, 70s, 80s and 90s – and the managers put them in and out of the game like origami.

My father-in-law Richard and I have gone to this game for 8 of the last 9 years. The only season I missed was the year after the Red Sox first won the World Series this decade, and he was able to secure tickets for that game the day of. Not so incidentally, he took all of these pictures.

Last year when I went to the game between Toronto and Baltimore with my father-in-law, there were five home runs hit just in our outfield section. One landed to my right and then careened to my left in front of my face. Another was just beyond our reach.

But my favorite part of the Hall of Fame Game involved begging the center fielder to throw the ball to your outfield section after his warm-ups with the left fielder. In fact, last year’s center fielder for the Toronto Blue Jays, Vernon Wells, was a master, systematically taunted each section with the ball, throwing it to one area only to reveal a secret second ball in his pocket, which he then tossed to the other section. It was marvelous theater, and great fun.

I understand the logistical difficulties of Major League teams showing up in this tiny Otsego County burgh, but I don’t think the solution to this game/issue is to put an International League game there as some have suggested. There was an IL game played this year between Syracuse and Rochester, and the Syracuse team perhaps can continue to host the game, but it would be a weak substitute. Did you know the single A (short season) Oneonta Tigers already plays a game on Doubleday Field annually and before them, the Oneonta Yankees? It’s hardly comparable.

What would be more interesting would be to have an old-timers’ game played at the Field. In fact, this suggestion was floated about by the long-time fans of the game when they were standing in line waiting for tickets on a cold winter afternoon. There are already many baseball veterans who line the streets on the two Hall of Fame parade weekends selling autographs, so it is a natural extension of what’s been going on already in the town.

A more radical idea is to have a game between a couple teams there count in the standings. I’m not suggesting it – yet – but the notion intrigues.

In some form, Doubleday Field deserves Major League baseball.

ROG

Silk boxer shorts

The oppressive heat has broken in the Northeast, and it was a beautiful weekend. I just got back from Oneonta. I took the bus home to Albany, and was sad to hear that the line is going to be discontinued after September 6 for lack of ridership. (Less transit=more individual cars=more gas consumption.)

Anyway, I went to two minor league baseball games in Oneonta on Friday, and one on Saturday in Cooperstown. In the first Friday game, Oneonta won 12-1, scoring 5 in the first, 2 in the 2nd, and they were never headed. But then Tri-City came back in the nightcap, 8-4. On Saturday, in historic Doubleday Field, Oneonta won 11-1. Both teams had 11 hits, but Tri-City had all singles and hit into 4 double plays.

All the games were free, thanks to sponsorships. The Cooperstown game was paid for by Coke and Key Bank, not particularly surprising. But the Friday games were sponsored by Rural Three for Tobacco Free Communities, a “coalition of individuals and agencies, representing Delaware, Otsego and Schoharie Counties, dedicated to reducing the use of tobacco in our communities.” There were young people getting folks to sign petitions chastizing the movie industry for promoting cigarettes in film. I thought it was unusual for a not-for-profit to sponsor a game, but they did get a lot (2200 patrons) of visibility.

Going to see a minor league ballgame, one gets a sense of what music has passed over into the popular sports culture. At least in this town, It’s A Beautiful Day (U2) and Hey Ya (Outkast) have joined Glory Days (Springsteen), We Will Rock You (Queen) and Blitzkrieg Bop (Ramones) in that musical pantheon.

In Oneonta, if a player has to go to the bathroom during the game, he has to go into the fan section in order to access the locker room. But in Cooperstown, it appears that he actually has to actually leave the stadium and use the same facilities as the patrons near the entranceway. I’m in favor of old-fashioned – Cooperstown doesn’t have lights, e.g. – but there are limits to my desire for nostalgia.

The bus from Oneonta to Cooperstown costs $1.30 for a 20-mile ride. It is far more economical than driving into Cooperstown and parking in the lots of churches, offices, even on people’s front lawns for $5 to $15, usually at the higher end of that range.

When they are playing at home, the Oneonta players get prizes for special accomplishments, such as making a great defensive play (bagel sandwich dinner) or winning a game. An extra base hit (double, triple, home run) gets a couple submarine sandwiches. A triple or home run also gets a couple pizzas. A triple gets a chicken dinner; this was a smart marketing ploy on the part of Brooks Barbecue, because triples are fairly rare, though one was hit in each of Friday’s games. In addition to the food, the home run hitter gets a $25 check from the team and a pair of silk boxer shorts from a local retailer. The mention of this never failed to engender many giggles, and lots of “oooh”s.

There is a player named Michael Hollimon who has five pair of silk boxer shorts. That means he has hit five home runs at home this season, including a grand slam late in the first Friday game. That might not seem a lot, but given the fact that the season began around Father’s Day, that they played some on the road, that Damaschke Field is not a park friendly to home run hitters, so that the SEASON record for an Oneonta player is 13 (he had 9 as of Saturday), it’s pretty impressive. I wouldn’t be surprised if he makes it to the big leagues by the end of the next year. Or not- it’s really difficult to judge whether single A talent will translate to major league success.

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.