(Interested in perusing all of my 2014 “On the Road” content? Click HERE to visit a continually updated “On the Road” landing page. Bookmark it, and read ‘em all!)
Thus far, my blog dispatches from this season-ending Empire State excursion have been rather dense affairs. Epics, even. If these posts were converted to song form, they would be a series of monolithic dirges possessing little to no melodic pop sensibilities. Therefore, I think that what we need now is a good palate cleanser, the blogging equivalent of Black Sabbath inserting “Laguna Sunrise” into the back section of Vol. 4.
With that said: Welcome to Falcon Park, home of the Auburn Doubledays.
The Doubledays, Class A Short Season affiliate of the Washington Nationals, were the third of five New York-Penn League franchises that I visited on this trip. Like my previous stops in Batavia and Jamestown, Auburn is a “classic” NYPL environment: a community-owned team operating in a small market and playing in a simple, no-frills facility that is actually located in one of the league’s namesake states. Falcon Park is almost identical to Batavia’s Dwyer Stadium, and the similarities don’t end there. Dwyer Stadium opened in 1996, replacing a stadium built in 1937 on the same site; Falcon Park opened in 1995, replacing a stadium that was built in 1927 on the same site.
Also like Dwyer Stadium, Falcon Park is located in a quiet residential neighborhood.
You’ve gotta love baseball environments like this, where, if you get there early enough, you might be able to mingle with players as they obtain a pre-game snack. This pair of hungry Muckdogs appears to be Ryan Cranmer (25) and Brad Haynal (16).
Setting the scene.
A closer look under the bleachers. Hula hoops and folding chairs, what more do you need in life?
The Doubledays name is, of course, a reference to Auburn native, Civil War general and apocryphal inventor of baseball Abner Doubleday. Hence, Abner the mascot. Abner’s #96 jersey is a reference to the first year in which Auburn’s NYPL team was named the Doubledays.
This team employee was setting up a video camera in a most seductive way.
Early arriving fans were in full compliance with this piece of signage.
The Doubledays have been an affiliate of the Nationals since 2011.
This relationship will continue through (at least) the 2016 season, as prior to the game representatives of both teams made the announcement that the Player Development Contract (PDC) between the two clubs had been extended.
There was also a pre-game awards ceremony honoring the team’s best players (as voted on by the players themselves). Jose Marmolejos-Diaz, standing on the far right, was named team MVP. The gentleman in the plaid shirt is Auburn baseball fixture Art Fritz, who serves as the team chaplain and director of the Double D Booster Club (please, keep your “Double D Booster Club” jokes to yourself).
Former MLB pitcher Tim Redding now serves as the Doubledays pitching coach, marking his return to the team with which he made his professional debut in 1998. Redding threw a no-hitter for Auburn that season, but apparently did not have any mementos of it. Enter Marshall Trionfero, a Doubledays fan who took it upon himself to assemble this tribute to Redding’s moment of glory. I ran into Trionfero while wandering about before the game; he presented this collage to Redding later in the evening. (Redding no-hit the St. Catherines Stompers, who played in the NYPL from 1986-99. They were based in Ontario, the fourth and final Canadian team to have played in the circuit.)
“Welcome to Falcon Park. Tonight we have $1 hot dogs, $1 soda and $1 beer with a government-issued ID.”
As the game began, it seemed that most of the fans in the ballpark were taking advantage of these economically prudent food and beverage specials (also, the evening featured a combo meal deal: hot dog, pretzel and soda for $3).
The stands were a far more pleasant place to be.
This photo, it just speaks to me.
Shortly after the sun set, I spent several innings speaking with New York-Penn League historian Charlie Wride. Charlie has enjoyed a long and varied career within the world of Auburn professional baseball, and my feature story on him can be found HERE.
Here, we see a contingent of Batavia Muckdogs hanging out in the visitors bullpen. This is fairly similar to their home environment, save for the fact that they don’t have a place to stash their bikes.
No one volunteered to be my designated eater while in Auburn (you know, the individual recruited to eat the ballpark cuisine that my gluten-free diet prohibits). Nevertheless, I waited in line and obtained a hot dog and fries, just so that you, the reader, could see it. Like the nearby Syracuse Chiefs, the Doubledays’ sell Hofmann’s hot dogs at the ballpark. It may have been an off night at the concession stand — they definitely seemed understaffed — but this hot dog was not cooked properly. Half of one side was charred, while the remainder of the dog seemed to have barely touched the grill at all. But, on the plus side, the fries were good and the price was right.
Batavia eked out a 3-2 victory in a ballgame that took a tidy two hours and 26 minutes to complete. There were only four games left in the season after this one, and both teams were already eliminated from postseason contention. About the only thing they were playing for, standings-wise, was third place in the NYPL’s Pinckney Division. (The Doubledays ultimately won this less-than-riveting battle, finishing a half-game above the Muckdogs with a record of 34-41.)
Following the ballgame, and following established Minor League Baseball tradition, tennis balls were thrown onto the field by fans desirous of winning a prize.
The fans then streamed out of the ballpark and into the Auburn night. A profound stillness soon pervaded through the atmosphere. The asphalt was empty, the bullpens abandoned and the pitch speed frozen at 69.
Good night from the home of the Doubledays.
(Interested in perusing all of my 2014 “On the Road” content? Click HERE to visit a continually updated “On the Road” landing page. Bookmark it, and read ‘em all! More articles are being added by the day.)
Part one in this series detailed my non-ballpark explorations (or lack thereof) in Batavia, Rochester and Jamestown. Part two covered Erie, Pennsylvania and Buffalo, New York. Part three, which you are reading now, begins on August 27th in Syracuse and ends on the 29th as I leave Syracuse for Troy (one of the “Tri-Cities” referenced in the Tri-City ValleyCats name).
But enough of this introductory babble: Let’s get to it, lest it get to us!
August 27 — Syracuse, New York (home of the Chiefs)
After leaving Buffalo (where the last post left off), I arrived in Syracuse in the late afternoon and drove straight to the Chiefs’ home of NBT Ballpark. Here’s a sneak preview of what that looked like:
I attended that evening’s game — some has been written regarding that experience, but much more remains to be written — and then checked into the Crowne Plaza Hotel in downtown Syracuse. This was a fairly classy establishment, above average as Minor League team hotels go, but the most notable thing about it was the elevators. To use them, one would type in the desired floor on a console located in the lobby, and the console screen would then direct the user to one of three elevators. Inside the elevators there were no buttons (outside of those used for emergencies), since the elevator already “knew” where you wanted to go.
This might be superior to the traditional system, but I found it impossible to shake the habit of pushing a button once inside the elevator. Every time, there was that instinctual lunge toward where the buttons would be, followed by the realization of “Oh, right, it already knows what floor I want to go to.” Everyone I rode with seemed to have the same reaction, with the result that the elevators were always a topic of conversation when riding the elevators. In this regard, the unorthodox system served as a vehicle for increased social interaction within an environment usually permeated by stilted going-through-the-motions niceties and subsequent awkward silence.
August 28: A full day in Syracuse, but not much to report.
After a bout of late morning writing, I set out to Dinosaur Bar-B-Que for lunch. Dinosaur has become a mini BBQ empire here in the Northeast, but it all started at this location in downtown Syracuse.
I got a brisket and ribs combination platter, and while no photographic evidence of this meal is available I can assure you that it was delicious. And BBQ is generally pretty easy to navigate on the gluten-free front — stay away from sandwiches (and in some cases, certain sauces) and you’re pretty much good to go. Here’s a picture of the brisket, unabashedly stolen from the Dinosaur Bar-B-Que home page:
(As an aside, I recently went to Mighty Quinn’s BBQ in New York City. I was a bit wary of the place because it received a lot of hype and places in NYC often don’t live up to said hype, but this place served some of the best BBQ I’ve ever had. Not just in the northeast, but anywhere. The brisket and wings were particularly amazing. If you’re visiting NYC, make sure to get a meal there. Maybe I’ll join you.)
Anyhow, all I did after going to Dinosaur BBQ was go back to the hotel room, do some more writing, and then drive to Auburn to see that evening’s Doubledays game. Some has been written about that experience, and much more remains to be written. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to spend any time whatsoever in Auburn proper, which is regrettable. Auburn bills itself as “History’s Hometown,” and attractions include the Harriet Tubman Home and Fort Hill Cemetery (built on a site once used by Native Americans as a fortress). It was also the childhood home of apocryphal baseball inventor Abner Doubleday — hence the name of the local sporting nine.
August 28 — Syracuse, New York and Troy, New York (home of the ValleyCats).
After checking out of the Crowne Plaza and saying goodbye to the unorthodox elevators, I jumped (literally jumped!) into the car and headed to New Century Vietnamese Restaurant for lunch. Located on a block that was otherwise residential, this unassuming establishment really delivered the goods.
And by “the goods,” I mean this. God bless Vietnamese food. It is consistently wonderful.
Time was at a premium, as it always is, but before leaving Syracuse I decided to look up the address of a local record store, punch it into the GPS, and head over. This effort brought me to this area.
The Soundgarden is the sort of store that used to be quite common in college towns, a something-for-everybody clearinghouse of cds, vinyl, posters, t-shirts, books, magazines, collectible toys and even incense. I like these kind of places.
My big find here was the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion “She’s On It/Jack the Ripper” 12″ that was released for Record Store Day. (The NYC stores had sold out of it quickly, and I never got a copy. My high school self would have been very disappointed at my lackadaisical efforts in obtaining this record, as back then a record featuring the Blues Explosion covering Beastie Boys would have made my head explode. (Oh, and fun fact: the first concert I ever saw was Beastie Boys at the Philadelphia Civic Center in May of 1995. Blues Explosion and the Roots opening.))
Anyhow, I also picked up three used cds: Neil Young “Road Rock,” Acid Mothers Family “Do Whatever You Want Don’t Do Whatever You Don’t Want” and “Weird Al” Yankovic “Poodle Hat.” (I coulda sworn I had this already, but a recent perusal of the stacks indicated otherwise. It is imperative to own all “Weird Al” recordings).
And that was it for Syracuse. I realize I didn’t have much but I stretched it out for all that it was worth and got a little more self-indulgent than usual in the process. I hope you don’t mind.
From Syracuse it was on to Troy, where I attended that evening’s Tri-City ValleyCats game. So far nothing has been written about that, but the blog post from that evening promises to be fairly epic. The next day I had some time to poke around the city of Troy, but I think I’m going to save that material for a fourth (and definitely final) “New York State of Mind” post.
Until then, I remain,
But one of Auburn’s most recent claims to fame is a distinct negative, an ignominious anti-accomplishment that the city hopes to shed faster than a moulting snake on steroids: in its list of America’s best sports cities, the Sporting News ranked Auburn #399 out of a possible #399.
The New York-Penn League’s Auburn Doubledays aren’t going to take this lack of respect lying down. They’ve stood tall to their nationally distributed oppressor by announcing an essay contest, asking fans to explain (in 500 words or less) why Auburn deserves a higher ranking. The winner of this contest will receive general admission season tickets as well as official recognition during the “399 Classic”.
“What’s the 399 Classic?” I just heard a voice behind me whisper. Well, my reliable companion Press Release has the answer to that:
The Doubledays will face off against Tri City (representing Troy, NY
which was rated #398 on the same list) in a three game series from July
14 – 16 which the Doubledays have dubbed The 399 Classic!
Events surrounding The 399 Classic include a special reward to the 399th
fan through the gates every night, a surprise giveaway of the 399th
best possible giveaway item and a contest to win a “Mad About You:Season
4” DVD set (399th on Amazon.com’s most popular DVD list).
Anyone have any other ideas how the number “399” could be celebrated? I’m thinking Al Kaline has to be a part of it somehow, seeing as how he retired with 399 home runs. Or how about inviting members of Local 399: the International Union of Operating Engineers? Finally, why not celebrate the works of Chinese poet and historian Yuan Shansong, who died in the year 399 while defending Hudu during the rebellion of Sun En?
— Minor League Baseball has announced that the 2010 Promotional Seminar will be held in Las Vegas from September 28-October 1. This means that I get to make a return trip to the Pinball Hall of Fame! Who’s going with me? We can ride the bus together.
— Finally, I wanted to note that the Kannapolis Intimidators are offering free admission to all active-duty military personnel throughout the 2010 campaign. As the press release notes:
“Anyone that shows any form of Military ID, active, retired or a family
member ID at the Intimidators Will Call Window will receive two free
tickets to the game. This offer is valid for all 70 home games in the
For while Al and his likeminded cronies are merely talking about should be done, others are out there doing it. And the most innovative of these individuals is undoubtedly Abner, the mascot of the New York Penn League’s Auburn Doubledays.
You see, when it comes to combating the scourge of global warming, Abner has a Plan. With the help of the Doubledays’ front office, this three-pronged initiative was put into action on September 1. Here’s a write-up of this momentous event, from my final “Promotion Preview” column of the season:
“First, 150 pinwheels will be given away, in order to harness the energy
of the wind. Then, the club will offer baked beans at the concession
stand, in order to increase natural gas output. Finally, ‘human-hydro
power’ will be utilized when the team’s staff leads fans in the wave.
From the club’s press release: ‘The wind created by the standing and
sitting of the fans will make the pinwheels handed out earlier spin and
then a renewable energy system will be created.'”
Doubledays GM Carl Gutelius reports that Abner’s Plan was “a complete success”, and has been kind enough to provide the vast Ben’s Biz Blog readership with several photos of this groundbreaking promotion.
Here, Abner investigates a heretofore overlooked source of natural gas: The Umpire.
Meanwhile, members of the Doubledays’ “Green Team” made sure that the pinwheels were strategically positioned in order to receive the maximum amount of “human-hydro power.”
And, in order to save gasoline, the Doubledays’ “Rally Tractor” was replaced with a Radio Flyer: