They Play Everywhere

A few years ago I spent about a week on a road trip visiting minor league ballparks in upstate New York, ending in the Finger Lakes area so i could visit and collect wines.

Those of us who live in or near major cities tend to associate baseball only with major league teams, but there are more than 100 minor league teams around the country.  The game is much the same and some of today's minor leaguers are the major league stars of tomorrow.  Many of the small cities and their teams have very long histories of baseball and the local fans can be just as dedicated as major league fans.  What the minor league teams lack are huge stadiums, $50+ tickets and, in most cases, TV coverage.

The Hudson Valley Renegades

Of the teams I visited, this one had the highest "young child perched atop Dad's shoulders" factor.  Lots of families alongside older fans.  This is a well-financed operation playing at Dutchess Stadium in Wappinger's Falls with most modern amenities.  They have a large staff working the seats and concession stands, although I expect most of them are summer high school students being paid modestly.  In addition to male and female raccoon mascots they also - when I was there - had a college-aged kid dressed as a very obvious nerd, riding around on a scooter and occasionally reminded kids to "stay in school."  This team is part of the Tampa Bay organization.

Tri-City Valleycats

This A-level team in the Houston Astros family calls the Joseph L. Bruno Stadium at Hudson Valley Community College in Troy home, an easy ride from almost anywhere in the Capital District.  Built in 2002 the stadium still seems very new, modern with an open feel.  The local franchise used to the Albany Yankees and when I was there we were treated to a message from the scoreboard's TV that so reflects modern baseball.  Andy Pettit, who at that point was playing for Houston but had spent most of his career with the Yankees, welcomed people to the stadium recalling how he used to play on the capital city team. Unmentioned was the fact that the team was the Albany Yankees.  

Wasn't there a time when we generally waited until the influence-peddling politician who helped raise the funds for the stadium was dead before naming the stadium for him?  Whatever, nice ballpark, although almost completely open.

This was the first of two ballparks in my trip where I met up with former major leaguers who just can't stay away.  Not a surprise.

Oneonta Tigers

Shortly after my visit, the family that had owned the minor league team in Oneonta since 1966 sold the team to a group that decided to move the Tigers A franchise to Norwich, Connecticut.  It's sad, but understandable. Oneonta is a nice small city but its business community has seen better days. An average of only 1,000 fans attended each game, according to Minor League Baseball and the stadium, while charming, was practically all bleachers and did not seem to have been well maintained for years.  

One loss following from the demise of the Oneonta Tigers that probably won't be mentioned in most baseball histories: the spectacular view of the Catskills beyond the outfield as the sun sets.

Auburn Doubledays

Affiliated with the Washington Nationals, the Auburn Doubldays play in a small ballpark that seems seated right within the community.  It appeared to me that a large proportion of the fans walked to the park.  Auburn was Abner Doubleday's childhood home, and more importantly, the home of Harriet Tubman. It's a lovely upstate city and one of the largest locations (read: inexpensive hotels) near the Finger Lakes and its wineries.  There's a great little bar/restaurant on Genesee Street (Parker's Grille and Taphouse, I think) that has good food and a large selection of microbrew beers.

Staten Island Yankees

Very modern stadium (2001) that is literally just steps away from the Staten Island Ferry, one of the better low-cost deals in New York.

Long Island Ducks

I didn't visit during this tour but i have been to a couple of games of this member of an independent minor league.  Co-owned by former Mets Manager Bud Harrelson the couches, managers and staff have included several former Mets and while the stadium pretty much requires a car, it's a pleasure.

Brooklyn Cyclones

Why haven't I mentioned this most celebrated of New York minor league teams until now? Because...I've still never been there.  Perhaps the nicest urban ballpark in the northeast, my mother used to work for Steeplechase Park in the 1940's and i can't get it together to go to a game.  It's true they usually sell out, but still...

Albuquerque Isotopes

My next ambition.  I've never visited New Mexico during the relatively brief (June - September) Class A season so I've never had the chance.  You can have your picture taken with Homer and Marge!

© Warren Liebold 2011