Category Archives: Tri-Cties Valley Cats

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.

Cooperstown: 1 is good. 2 is better?

For many years in Cooperstown, there was a Hall of Fame weekend. It featured a parade, an exhibition game between two major league clubs, a regular season game between the Oneonta minor league team and an opponent, and of course, the induction ceremony, along with plenty of opportunities for the retired players to make a some money signing autographs on pictures, baseballs, bats, caps, any semi-flat surface.

Then a few years ago, someone had this bright idea: why doesn’t Cooperstown have TWO Hall of Fame weekends? One would be in late May or June, the other in the end of July or early August. The first event would feature the exhibition game. The second event would feature the minor league game. EACH event would feature a parade, and there would be TWO chances for the old-timers to make a few bucks. The merchants would be able to rake in some extra dough as well.

This year, the exhibition game was early, May 24, and one of the participants was the WORLD CHAMPION Boston Red Sox. My father-in-law, Richard, stood in line for 8 hours in February, but failed to get any tickets. So I didn’t go to the game for the first time in five years. He seemed destined to miss his first game in about fifteen.

On May 24, which was his birthday, Richard and his wife Joyce went to Cooperstown anyway; it’s only about 20 miles from Oneonta, where they live. He asked off-handedly whether there might be seats available, and there were! Some of the teams who had gotten an allotment of tickets had returned them. So that was a very nice birthday gift to him.

Richard has a book where he keeps a record of each game; he’s a season ticket holder of the Oneonta Tigers. For a regular season game, scorekeeping is not too hard, though we saw a 7-2-5-1 pickle earlier this year. (That means the left fielder threw home to the catcher who threw to third base who threw to the pitcher covering home and got the out.) But in the exhibition game, it’s almost impossible. For one thing, both teams bring up a bunch of minor league players, especially pitchers, just for the day. Also, the stars usually play only an inning or two. Also, one can leave the game, then come back in the game, which is not generally allowed in professional baseball.

This weeekend, Richard and I are going to the second 2005 Hall of Fame weekend in Cooperstown. Then we’ll walk through town picking out the old pros. “Hey, there’s Yogi.” “That’s Mudcat Grant.” “I think that’s Ferguson Jenkins.” Then we’ll see the Oneonta Tigers play the Tri-City Valley Cats (of Troy, NY, near Albany) in, as it’s always called, “historic Doubleday Field.” It’s a real thrill for the young players.

There is usually a Q & A with some of the inductees and/or other Hall of Famers. But this year, that’s been pushed back to Monday, featuring the new inductees, Wade Boggs and Ryne Sandberg.

Cooperstown is a pretty, idyllic place. But if you want to come just to to see the Baseball Hall of Fame, I MOST DEFINITELY recommend that you come some time other than the HoF weekends, some time when it isn’t a madhouse.

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.