Mike McCann / Minor Leagues
WEEKEND IN NEW YORK STATE
By Mike McCann
I enjoy seeing the inaugural game of a new team for many reasons. Many teams have special pregame festivities, and there is a certain feel of excitement in the air as many months or years of anticipation leads up to that moment. I think that it is nice to say that I was able to see a given team's inaugural game. Although nowadays, the teams still move around rather frequently, so this isn't that special of an event. And often times, tickets are too difficult to get for this game. I went to the inaugural home games for the Lakewood Blue Claws and Brooklyn Cyclones last season. And this year, I was able to get tickets for the Tri-City ValleyCats, who play in Troy, New York.
I went to the game with my friend, Brad, who is also trying to eventually see every baseball stadium. We arrived at Joseph L. Bruno at around 5:15, and there wasn't much of a crowd at this time. The game's starting time was 7:00, so they weren't opening the gates until 6:00. Greeting the fans as they arrived were banjo players who got the crowd excited for the game at hand. We did notice that the big signs outside the gates describing the stadium rules had the word ValleyCats misspelled as VallyCats, but I guess nobody is perfect and I can't expect the team's name to be spelled correctly.
Prior to the game, I tried to work on adding to my autographed baseball card collection. I have a number of baseball cards from when I was an avid collector and cards were produced for all players and not just the superstars. I always enjoyed getting them signed because I thought that the they were a nice item to have. I'm a little older now and generally the only cards I can bring to minor league games are those of the coaches. I saw that the pitching coach of the visiting Lowell Spinners was former major league pitcher Luis Tiant, and I thought it would be nice to get Tiant to autograph a card for me. I noticed that he was standing by the crowd talking with people and signing a few autographs. I asked him to sign his card for me and he graciously obliged. Many minor league managers and coaches will gladly sign an autograph if they have time to do so.
Another tradition I have when attending a game is trying to get baseballs during batting practice. I try not to steal them away from young children, but my general rule is that I get to keep the first one, and I'll give away any subsequent baseballs. The stadium in Troy is designed so that fans cannot reach over the fence to get baseballs however. Although that rule applies to most people, it doesn't apply to people who are 6-4 with long arms. During one of their drills, the ball got away from the ValleyCats players and came over to the fence. I was able to reach out as far as I could to snag the ball moments before ValleyCat Ryan Larson came over to get it. I did come away with a scraped knee in my efforts to get baseballs, but it is definitely worth it. Plus I think that the players are entertained by some guy who is older and taller than them reaching over the fence to get a baseball.
Joseph L. Bruno stadium itself is pretty nice. It is located on the Hudson Valley Community College campus. They have a beautiful scoreboard in left field and the monitor has the best resolution of any I have seen at a baseball game. Unfortunately, most of the scoreboard wasn't working, so we went the entire game not being able to know what the count was to each hitter unless we kept track ourselves. Things didn't go completely smoothly since it was the first game, but all in all, everyone did a great job with it. My main suggestion to anyone with the team who may be reading this would be to post the lineups somewhere in the stadium. Or maybe this is just more evidence that very few people care about keeping score at baseball games.
The game itself was pretty good. Lowell broke a 2-2 tie with a run
in the top of the 7th. But Tri-City came back in the bottom frame of
the 8th inning with a six run explosion. Lowell pitcher Michael Grant
walked designated hitter Pat Peavey with the bases loaded to tie the game.
Grant then issued a walk to catcher Randy McGarvey, Jr. with the go
ahead run. This was all capped by a grand slam by right fielder Adam
Seuss (not to be confused with teammate Jason Reuss). Tri-City defeated
Lowell by a score of 8-3. This kept Tri-City's record perfect through
4 games after winning a three game series at Lowell earlier in the week.
The following day, we went to Cooperstown to see the Baseball Hall of Fame. I had never been there before (kind of surprising, isn't it?) and Brad hadn't been in many years. I thought that it was a good experience overall. I did learn about many things I didn't know before. Many of the exhibits were extremely interesting and very informative. They have an excellent collection of artifacts honoring our nation's pastime. I just wish the town had a little more parking and a little less price gouging.
Our next stop was Damaschke Field in Oneonta where the Oneonta Tigers play. The Tigers were on the road, but we figured that we had some time to kill, so we would stop by and take a look at the field. We started walking around and the fence onto the field was open. Somebody was painting a sign in the outfield, but nobody else was around. We spoke with the man and he said that he wouldn't have a problem with us taking a look around the field. Oneonta plays in the NY-Penn League with Tri-City, but their stadiums are quite varied. Oneonta is probably the simplest stadium I have been to. They don't have fan promotions between games. All of the advertisements on the outfield wall are hand painted. All seats are general admission besides those set aside for season ticket holders. Even the ticket you receive for the games doesn't have the game date on it, just a general admission ticket. And there is no need to try to get tickets ahead of time. As we walked around the field, we spotted a resin bag on the bullpen mound of the home team. I decided it would be a nice souvenir of the visit, so it is now with me. I'm really glad that we were able to take a look around the stadium because there are very few stadiums nowadays that you can just walk into and take a look around.
We then drove to Binghamton to see the Binghamton Mets take on the Erie SeaWolves. We arrived at Binghamton around 4:15 for the 6:00 start. Within a few minutes of our arrival, it started raining. Luckily, it let up within about 20 minutes or so. And we were able to enter the stadium around 5:00. Again, I was able to get a baseball because of my long reach. Although this time my umbrella had to assist me as I was barely able to corral the baseball. I was also able to get autographs from two more former major leaguers, Erie pitching coach, Rich DeLucia, and Binghamton pitching coach, Bob Stanley.
The game itself was pretty good. I was excited to see Tigers prospect Andy Van Hekken start for Erie. His numbers weren't that great as he gave up 4 runs over 8 innings. He was pretty closely matched by Binghamton pitcher, Nick Maness, who went 6 innings and also gave up 4 runs. The game was tied 4-4 going into the 9th inning. Erie went three up, three down in the top half. Binghamton sparked a rally with a leadoff double by designated hitter Fletcher Bates in the bottom of the 9th. Bates appeared to advance to third on a wild pitch, but the umpire ruled that this was not the case (I'm still not sure if he ruled the batter got in the way or what). But then he actually did advance to third on a wild pitch. After an out and two walks loaded the bases, center fielder Enix Snead lined a single into right field which plated the winning run as Binghamton won, 5-4.
The drive back wasn't very fun, but it was all worth it. I have now
seen 60 different stadiums and 55 of the current major and minor league teams.
In July, I'm hoping to see games in Erie, Buffalo and Aberdeen. And
hopefully a few more too.
I am always looking for topics to write about, so please send me an email and let me know what would be interesting reading for you. Feel free to ask any questions or give an idea for a column.