Dwyer Stadium, Batavia, NEW YORK
Number of states: 8
States to go: 42
Number of games: 1
First game: July 26, 2004 (Batavia Muckdogs 6, Mahoning Valley Scrappers 2)
(Click on any image to see a larger version.)
As I crossed back into the United States from Canada (and Skydome) to make New York the 8th state crossed off in the Minor League quest, the US was on a major terror watch due to the Democratic National Convention beginning in Boston. I figured it would be a tough time getting across the border. Here’s what transpired:
CUSTOMS GUY: Where are you coming from?
CUSTOMS GUY: What were you doing there?
ME: Watching two baseball games.
CUSTOMS GUY: Where are you heading?
ME: Batavia. One more game, tomorrow night.
CUSTOMS GUY: Where are you from?
CUSTOMS GUY: How do you afford this? Tickets, hotels, rental car?
ME: Well, it adds up, but I save up.
Isn’t it nice to know that, even at a moment when our country is in unique danger, that this customs guy cares enough about me to ask about my finances? I mean, not that I expect politeness or sensitivity from my government workers–I know better–but come on, isn’t this a little irrelevant and intrusive? Oh well–at least I wasn’t frisked.
Maybe the man’s status as a government worker isn’t to blame for this
exchange. Maybe it’s something as simple as his status as a resident of an Eastern state, where politeness isn’t valued that much. This gentleman served as a nice introduction to the brusque East from the polite Midwest and polite Canada. I’m glad I met him…it was essential preparation for the treatment my new friends would give me in Batavia the next night.
I had literally zero expectations for Batavia, a town of 80,000-ish about 40 minutes east of Buffalo. I’d never heard of it and hadn’t been anywhere near it before. What a pleasant surprise! It was a disarmingly charming small town–loads of parks and historic markers. Rather than dining at a chain fast food place, I had a sandwich made at a family-run deli
just a couple of blocks south of the ballpark. This kind of place doesn’t exist in a good chunk of the country–at least not in cities large enough to support minor-league baseball. If it weren’t cold and drizzly, I would have spent the entire day wandering around one of Batavia’s several large, tree-packed parks. As it is, I went down the road to LeRoy to enjoy the Jello Museum. Yes, I was excited to go–that kind of kitschy pop culture integrated with American history is right up my alley. I’ll lay off talking about it here and encourage you to check out the website if you’re at all interested.
The ballpark itself is smaller than most I’ve been to, even at the short-A level. There are three small segments which spread from just-beyond-first to just-beyond-third with significant gaps between the segments. This means that a spectator can walk from the pavilion straight out to the dugouts. There’s little in the way of decoration on the pavilion, but I like what there is: clearly, local schoolkids have made art as a part of a local anti-smoking campaign. Also, they have a very basic “Wall of Fame” listing every major league player or manager in history that had passed through Batavia on his way to the bigs. I’ve seen walls of fame before, but
only for superstars; this is the first I’ve seen that claims to be all-inclusive, honoring every major leaguer from Hall of Famers down to cups of coffee. (Even if they incorrectly changed “Dock Ellis” to “Doc Ellis.”) Additionally, the ballpark has a little table underneath the whiteboard with the starting lineups; this makes it far easier to write lineups in my scorebook than it has been for me anywhere else. These little things add up.
I must admit that, as much as I liked these touches, the fans are what made Batavia such a nice experience for me. A month or two before I went to Batavia, Sports Illustrated ran a nice piece on how big minor league baseball is in New York. The fine folks around me backed this up. First, I met an elderly couple who were clearly major Muckdogs supporters. Not only were they able to tell us a good deal about current Muckdogs, but had some sense of their fluctuating roster–who was on their way up to full-season A and who would be promoted to Batavia from the Gulf Coast League. Very impressive. The grandmotherly woman was kind enough to give me a NY/Penn League baseball. Thanks, kind stranger! The gentleman next to me was on a minor league trip through the Northeast. He’d made it from his home in Scranton up to Rochester, then to Batavia, eventually to get as far as Akron. Nice guy, although it appeared his wife would rather be elsewhere. The gentlemen
behind me were from Connecticut, and one of them was in his 35th year of teaching high school civics, which gave
us a lot to talk about. He, too, was traveling through a number of minor league ballparks in the Northeast. It was almost enough to get me to forget he was a Yankee fan…but not quite.
All of these folks were nice–and all of them turned on me mercilessly. Make no mistake…I deserved it. It happened in the fifth inning. Carl Galloway was at bat. I’m sitting in the front row just short of first base. Mr. Galloway checks his swing and sends a chopper off the tip of his bat down towards me. The ball takes a wicked ricochet off the base of the wall about six feet short of me, and I throw out my glove to attempt a backhand stab at it. Before I tell you the result of my attempt, please consider these two facts:
1. I had less than a second to react after the ball ricocheted off the wall.
2. As a result of going off the end of the bat and then the base of the wall, the ball had some nasty English on it.
Okay. The ball hit my glove, and I dropped it. It didn’t get back into the webbing. I could feel it hit the meat of my hand beneath my pinkie and spin right out past the flesh beneath my thumb. It was gone as soon as it was there.
Here’s where things went haywire. The Batavia crowd booed me relentlessly. Even my alleged friends
around me really let me have it. “Why didn’t you put down your scorebook?” shouted one. “Put an E10 in that scorebook! E10! E10!” shouted the Connecticut teacher. While I slammed my glove into the railing, hid my face in shame, and slunk to my seat, the first base coach retrieved the ball and handed it to the guy NEXT TO ME! Whatever…I already had a ball from the nice old lady.
But my so-called friends wouldn’t let me forget it! I know it was all in fun–Connecticut guy said as much by repeatedly saying “Welcome to the Eastern United States!” in the midst of his heckling. I have no idea how to respond to this kind of treatment. It feels like the second-grade boy and girl smacking and pinching each other to show they like each other. In the Eastern United States, apparently, when you like somebody, you verbally abuse them. I’ll stay in Seattle, thanks. But still, I can respect the cultural difference and even play along a little. And I could have prevented the whole problem by catching the damn ball to begin with.
From the small world department…As I looked at the program before the game, one of the Mahoning Valley Scrappers’ hometowns was the small suburb in which I teach. He was warming up just a few feet in front of me. I called him over and asked if he went to my high school. He had! My first year there was his senior year, and I didn’t teach him, so we didn’t know each other, but I asked if I could say hi to anybody when I got back home. He played on a tremendous high school team that wound up having four players drafted off of it…and this kid wasn’t one of them! Funny thing was that their team didn’t do very well–didn’t make the state playoffs, perhaps because the kids were more focused on the fact that there were scouts in the stands than they were on playing the game. Nice kid. Tim Montgomery is his name. He went 0-for-4, unfortunately, but brought a .270 average into the game. I’ll keep an eye out.
“Take Me Out to the Ballgame” was not sung in the seventh inning stretch at Batavia. It was pre-empted by a
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marriage proposal. The PA guy turned the microphone over to a man, pictured at left, who proposed to his girlfriend right there. “Say no! Say no!” the New York guys shouted, particularly the fat guy in the Bills cap who was most ruthless in making fun of me…clearly because fat guy is leading a lonely life, and would never have been able to make the catch that he ridiculed me for missing…yeah, I’m making fun of the guy now that I’m out of the state and he can’t hurt me…so what? Anyway, the marriage proposal was a success: the woman pictured here agreed to marry the man, in the words of his proposal, “a year from now, right here at the ballpark.”
A couple of thoughts about marriage proposals (and, indeed, marriages) at the ballpark. Michelle the Girlfriend and I love baseball, and indeed, baseball has been central to our relationship in many ways. She came up with the idea for the yearly July 4th Minor League Baseball trip, she keeps up on my website, she understands and tolerates this quest of mine, and she’s even competitive in my fantasy league. Indeed, we probably wouldn’t be together were it not for baseball…we reconciled four years after a breakup in part because Michelle got a job for a minor league team and found she missed me. But when the time comes for a marriage proposal, if I do it at the ballpark, Michelle has assured me she will never speak to me again. I share her distaste for the ballpark proposal. First of all, there’s the public aspect of it. It seems to me that asking and answering this question should be done privately. It’s a terribly intimate moment…why make it into a de facto reality TV show? That feels cheap and yucky to me. Also, how much pressure is there on the woman? Just once, I’d like to see a woman actually say no to a public proposal. It’d serve the guy right for pressuring her. Michelle and I have agreed that, when the day comes, we’ll have our rehearsal dinner at a minor league game, but that’s wildly different from the actual marriage–it’s a party, not a ceremony. I don’t want to have a thousand strangers looking on, four dozen kids chewing tobacco, or people publicly adjusting themselves as I become engaged or married. I certainly don’t want a mascot spraying silly string. I don’t want the recessional music to be “YMCA.” I don’t want a scoreboard to send us off on our honeymoon. I don’t understand why anyone else would. Nevertheless, I wish the happy couple luck, and hope they enjoy their wedding.
Dwyer Stadium was a very good experience for me–it has a homey, intimate feel, and I enjoyed my trip there. I’ll be back. I’ll spend some time preparing some insults for Fat Bills Hat Man and anyone else who comes after me, and I’ll field grounders for a month before the trip. I’ll show you guys.
Regional feel: 8/10
It felt like a small town–and a small Northeastern town at that.
Right down to the kids’ drawings.
Could have had a little more going on for short-season A ball, but not bad.
Team mascot/name: 4.5/5
Meet Maxwell T. Chomper. (Check out the kids mugging for the camera behind us.) I know that “Muckdogs” is a new name (fans told me that the Columbus minor league team sued to have Batavia drop its former “Clippers” nickname), and that it’s a bit nontraditional, but I absolutely love it. It’s locally appropriate, unique, intimidating, and fun all in one. Max could be dressed a little better, I think, but that’s a minor complaint.
Lots of trees, and has a small town beauty/charm about it.
Pavilion area: 4.5/5
I love the major league wall and the writing surface by the lineups.
No problems at all–they quickly displayed all close scoring decisions. One of the best ballparks I’ve been to for this.
Okay–so the fans were verbally abusive to umpires, opponents, and worst of all, to me. Nevertheless, they mean well–I’m willing to see beyond their social shortcomings and obvious anger issues to see how genuinely kind, gregarious, and knowledgeable they were.
I really felt like this was a fun, enjoyable night of baseball–a great way to end my 2004 trip.
BASEBALL STUFF I’VE SEEN HERE:
Kind of a quiet game.
The big blow was Carl Galloway’s three-run home run for Batavia.
Marshall Szabo went 4-for-4 for Mahoning Valley.
Scrappers’ pitcher Tony Sipp looked like a possible star to me, striking out 7 over 2 2/3 innings, but his defense and wildness let him down. Still, I felt he looked strong–worth keeping an eye out for him.
Andy Baldwin allowed only six hits and one run over six innings for Batavia.
(Written August 2004. Score revised July 2009.)