OK, yeah, I know I said I was on hiatus, but I have been thinking about the pending move of the Muckdogs out of Batavia and what the future might hold. So I felt the need to post on it, since I have already posted several times on the subject.
Judging from the tone of some of the recent articles, and interviews with the staff of the Red Wings who are currently operating the ‘Dogs, it is becoming apparent that the Muckdog’s days are numbered. The trend within Minor League baseball has been to move small, Class A affiliates out of small towns and rural areas, and put them in suburbs of larger urban areas to reach a larger fanbase, sell more tickets, and consequently make more money. This trend began back in the 90’s when MLB placed new requirements on the minor league clubs that their stadiums meet certain minimum specs. The result of the rule was that many of the clubs in smaller towns were forced to either rebuild their stadiums, or move to an area with newer facilities. For a lot of these small towns the $ required to build new parks were just not feasible. Meanwhile, other towns scrambled to update their stadiums to keep their teams. (Batavia and Auburn are two examples of rebuilt stadiums from this time).
As the years have progressed, the costs of owning and operating a minor league club have risen to the point that the small NY Penn league teams have struggled to keep their head above water. Gradually MLB woke up to the possibilities of milking more $$ out of their minor league system. The result has been a steady “corporatization” of minor league ball that has driven up the interest in owning and operating minor league clubs. This demand for minor league teams has resulted in the sale and move of many of the remaining small town teams. Last year it was Oneonta club that was sold and relocated to suburban Connecticut. Batavia seems to be the next in line with Auburn not far behind.
I have lamented this corporatization before, but in the last year have come to grudging acceptance of the fate. Economic trends like this do not change quickly. They move in like a tide, and recede only gradually. I can’t foresee it changing. The Muckdogs will be moved, this year, or next, or the year after. It is inevitable. So I began to think, what would life be like after the Muckdogs? Would Dwyer Stadium sit vacant, hosting only high school, and community college baseball, or is there future life in it yet? It’s a wonderful little facility, and it would be a shame to see a community asset like that go to waste. So I decided to do some investigation, and see what has become of the other towns that were once a part of the NY Penn league, but have lost their teams through the years.
So what has become of Oneonta, Geneva, Niagara Falls, Elmira, Little Falls, Watertown, Hornell, and the other 12 cities that once were home to NY Penn league franchises. The result surprised me. The New York Collegiate Baseball League has been around since 1978. (Who knew?) It is a summer wood bat league for collegiate baseball players to get a feel for the demands and style of minor league baseball while maintaining their amateur status. There are actually quite a few of these leagues in existence.
Perhaps it shouldn’t have surprised me. Collegiate Summer baseball is about the only “minor” league baseball left in Minnesota and Wisconsin, aside from the Independent St. Paul Saints. Such classic minor league stadiums and cities as Eau Claire, Wisconsin have hosted Collegiate Summer teams in the Northwoods League since the mid 90’s. Collegiate Summer baseball has grown to fill in the void left by Minor League Baseball as the farm clubs have moved out of small cities and towns in rural areas as the operating costs of running a team are lower. Attendance seems to fall into the Mouckdog average of 1,400 / game, for communities of similar size. The quality of the baseball is surprisingly good, and many of the players in the Northwoods League have gone on to the majors.
So, will Batavia follow in the footsteps of Oneonta, Geneva, Niagara Falls, Elmira, Little Falls, Watertown, and Hornell, and make the jump from the NY Penn to the NYCBL? It’s an interesting thought, and an idea that excites me the more I think about it. Is there an ownership group out there that would step forward to bankroll the startup of a team? Could Batavia pull it off without missing a season? I see no reason why we couldn’t. B-town is every bit as capable of supporting a team as any of the towns mentioned above. Heck, Batavia is even more capable as it brings with it a more modern, and up to date facility than many of the towns that have NYCBL clubs.
Best of all, it wouldn’t take a million dollars to make it happen. Anyone out there willing to go in on putting an ownership group together drop me a line. I’m in.