Monday, July 16—After drying out from yesterday’s downpours, portions of Dutchess Stadium were transformed into a water park today for an 11:05 a.m. game that traditionally attracts busloads of day campers on a hot summer day. I was tempted to skip the contest because of the early (for us night owls) start time, the lack of shade and the fact that, with all the water-based activities, it would be difficult to watch the game from my regular seat and keep my scorebook dry. But I managed to respond to my alarm clock and get to the stadium on time, where I found a dry refuge with my ink-stained comrades of the working press in the air-conditioned press box next to the P.A. booth. I promptly renewed old acquaintances, including Sean T. McMann, veteran sports writer for the Poughkeepsie Journal, and Mike Ferraro, the official scorer, and made some new friends, including Morgan, a media relations intern who was operating the data portion of the scoreboard (videoboard) and Eric, an intern with the Tampa Bay Rays organization. Other media members and stadium staffers drifted in and out during the day, adding their input to whatever topic or play was under discussion at the moment.
Officially, the 11:05 game was the regularly scheduled contest between the Renegades and the Mahoning Valley Scrappers while the 4:05 p.m. game, with free admission, was the makeup for Sunday’s rainout. By New York-Penn League rules both games were seven innings instead of the usual nine.
With the sun beating down, the Renegades took an early 1-0 lead in the first game, the Scrappers pulled ahead 2-1 after six innings but the Gades battled back in the bottom of the seventh, with a walkoff single by Leonardo Reginatto driving in the tying and winning runs. Things did not go well for Hudson Valley in the nightcap as the Scrappers scored early and often and held off a late Renegades surge to earn a split, 10-6. Please click here and here to read the game stories on the Gades’ Web site.
Scrappers center fielder Tyler Naquin, this year’s first-round draft pick of the parent Cleveland Indians, left the game after a first-inning pitch hit his bat and his wrist in quick succession. Hope and pray it was nothing too serious.
The press box contains a variety of information of interest to devoted Renegades fans, including a media guide, starting lineups and enough statistics to satisfy just about anybody. Mercifully, especially on a day like today, it also includes a cylindrical refrigerator of bottles of cold water. Also much appreciated was a platter of splendid chocolate chip cookies that appeared midway through the game.
The press box always holds a special attraction for me after a lifetime of reporting and editing, and it’s great to be able to discuss plays with the official scorer right after they happen. Determinations are not always clear-cut, explaining the delays in scoreboard postings of hits and errors. How hard was the ball hit? How much effort did the fielder have to make? Backhand? Leap? Dive? Would the runner have beaten the throw to first base no matter what? Mike shared his thought process aloud and graciously invited everyone else in the box to join in. We especially appreciated the input of Joe Ausanio, director of baseball communications at The Dutch and a former pitcher for the New York Yankees, when he was in the press box.
The pitcher, I learned, gets the benefit of the doubt.
One of Mike’s duties as official scorer is to call a Minor League Baseball center in New York with play by play results every half-inning. The statisticians in New York promptly update their databases and Web sites; for those of us in the press box, the calls provided an opportunity to double check our scorebooks – and pepper Mike with any questions after the call.
The press box provided a different perspective than I get from my ground-level seat. I had a better view of pitches relative to home plate, and a broader view of the field from above; I found it more difficult to determine initially how far a fly ball had been hit. The most challenging aspect of being in the press box is a bit of respectful protocol—thou shalt not scream, yell, ring cowbells or carry on like a mad fool as thou normally dost. While it felt strange to watch games in relative quiet it was a small price to pay for a great experience; it was also a welcome respite for my throat.
I noted that the Scrappers roster literally reached from the Hudson Valley to halfway around the globe. Pitcher Robbie Aviles of Suffern, NY, a state champion Little Leaguer, was a seventh-round draft pick of the Indians in 2010 and played last year with the Arizona League Indians. He did not play in the Renegades series. Mitchell Nilsson, who played first base in the second game, hails from Brisbane, Australia.
The T-shirts of the campers filled the stadium with a rainbow of color; as one press box denizen remarked, “Roy G. Biv [the acronym for the colors of the rainbow] would be proud.” The attraction of the water activities rivaled the game itself. A favorite was the bucket; as quickly as it could be filled, a large barrel of water was dumped from the walkway behind the P.A. booth and press box onto cheering campers on the main concourse. “Bucket! Bucket! Bucket!” they chanted. Zolz and his friends in the booth got into the action by squirting water from a hose out the window of the booth onto the fans below.
Names of participating youth programs flashed on the videoboard throughout the game and, proud of my home area, I was pleased to see “Welcome Peekskill Recreation” among them.
Mike and Sean made a point of inviting me back for the second game, which I gratefully accepted. Mike also said I “raised the discussion level” in the box, although I thought it sounded fine without my input.
With a couple of hours to fill between games I initially thought I might grab coffee, drive over to the Hudson River, sit by the water’s edge and catch a breeze. I got as far as a fine cup of coffee from the stadium concession stand, then decided I really didn’t want to bother with driving anywhere and re-entering the parking lot for the limited time available. Near the concessions I struck up a conversation with veteran usher Charlie Piccini, who always welcomes me with a smile at the gate. A brief “How are you doing?” soon expanded into a review of admission procedures for the second game, then into a detailed saga of Charlie’s years in Brooklyn, including stories of the Coney Island League and Nathan’s hot dogs. By this time we had dragged a couple of chairs from the season ticket gate to the shade of the concourse, where we caught a welcome breeze. A couple of usher friends periodically squirted Charlie’s bare legs with water pistols as we talked about baseball and his adventures as an usher at West Point. Ushering is not a lucrative activity, he said, but he does it primarily for the enjoyment. He even suggested it was something I might enjoy after the baseball season, although I’m not sure I would have the time.
Kristen Huss, director of ticket sales, invited us to share her air-conditioned office for a bit, an invitation we graciously accepted, so, for the second time in less than two months, I was in the hallowed inner sanctum of the administration building. With ticket sales, exchanges and inquiries the office was a beehive of activity.
I accompanied Charlie back to the gate when it was time to open for the second game and helped him welcome some early fans. Around 3:30 I thanked him for an interlude that was much more enjoyable than my original plans and headed back upstairs to the press box.
Dutchess Stadium has a reputation for taking good care of the media foodwise, and today was no exception. The game was not very old when trays of pulled pork, barbecue sliders and french fries appeared, followed by another platter of chocolate chip cookies.
“Come back any time,” Sean graciously told me as we shook hands after the nightcap.
Radio announcer and Gades Web site reporter Ben Gellman popped in briefly after the game and introduced himself. He was pleased when I told him I referred to his game accounts to double check my scorebook, memoir and blog posts.
Not forgetting my friends, I scooped up some of the remaining fries and headed for the parking lot, where Bob, Paul and some other folks were wondering where I was, since they had not seen me in my usual seat. I asked South Carolinian outfielder Marty Gantt what he thought of the current heat wave and, with a smile, he replied nonchalantly, “room temperature.” We also briefly met Jared Sandberg’s parents, who were going out to dinner with the skipper, Julie and their kids.
Leftovers abounded tonight, and we were soon the beneficiaries of chicken parmesan and barbecue (which bore a close resemblance to what I had seen in the press box). After eating our fill we divvied up the remains and cleaned up several bottles and cans that had been carelessly left behind by others.
We waved goodbye to the Scrappers as their bus headed out for the long ride back to Niles, Ohio, where they have a game Tuesday night. We also waved to members of the grounds crew and other stadium staffers as they headed out after a long day in the heat and humidity, which was still oppressive at sunset, although not quite as bad as earlier.
Next home game: Wednesday, July 18, vs. Brooklyn Cyclones, first pitch 7:05 p.m.