In 1994 a minor-league baseball franchise relocated from Erie, Pa., to the Town of Fishkill, in southern Dutchess County. The newly christened Hudson Valley Renegades, accompanied by a 6-foot-tall raccoon mascot named Rookie, set up shop in the newly – and hastily – constructed Dutchess Stadium, on the east side of Route 9D, a mile north of Interstate 84 and the Newburgh-Beacon Bridge. The stadium was completed in 71 days and, according to team lore, some of the paint was still wet on opening night.
The Renegades, originally affiliated with the Texas Rangers, became a Class A-short-season affiliate of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays (now just Rays) a couple of years later and have since been a fixture in the Rays’ often changing farm system lineup. The Gades have also become a fixture in the hearts of many local baseball fans (including this reporter) and an increasingly popular destination as their games offer a family-friendly and financially friendly alternative to other venues.
My son Dave (then 11) and I took our first father/son trip to Dutchess Stadium in 1999. We arrived well ahead of game time and, as we explored the stadium and grounds, had a pleasant conversation with a polite young man who was casually munching on an apple near the clubhouse. Little did we realize that we were chatting with the Renegades’ shortstop that night! But we had unknowingly learned an important lesson about the attraction of this team and this place – the players, some of them tomorrow’s Major League stars, are approachable, happy to chat and autograph anything that will hold a signature. They appreciate the fans as much as the fans appreciate them.
There are no bad seats in Dutchess Stadium, we soon learned, and our first-night vista from general admission seats on the left-field side (just past third base) offered us a good view of everything without need of binoculars. And it was easy to keep an eye on Dave as he and other youngsters followed Rookie around the concourse.
We made it to a couple more games that season and enjoyed every one. We were also delighted when the Renegades won the New York-Penn League Championship that year.
Our attachment to the Renegades (who play almost all their games in the evening) deepened with every passing season. While my work as a night editor with The Journal News in Westchester County limited our attendance to home games on my nights off (Tuesdays and Wednesdays) and use of vacation nights for such occasions as opening nights and jersey giveaways, we increasingly found ourselves heading to The Dutch between mid-June and early September. We gradually upgraded from general admission to reserved grandstand to reserved seats, often in the upper rows behind home plate. Along the way we acquired quite a collection of jerseys, caps, souvenirs, autographs, a couple of foul balls and uncountable great memories.
Several years ago, Rick Zolzer, the public address announcer, dubbed me “Prospector.” Why? He thought I looked like one, needing only a pack mule to complete the image. The mule never materialized but the nickname stuck like glue and, I learned, is quite an honor, a sign that you are part of the cast of characters who give the place a certain charm. Dave, as the son of the Prospector, became Mini-Prospector, or Mini-P for short.
I accepted a buyout from The Journal News in early 2008. While the rest of my family was questioning such aspects of life as finances and health insurance, Dave suggested that, since I was no longer working five nights a week, I could get myself a season ticket to the Renegades. Yes, indeed, that would be a nice present to myself in honor of this sea change in my life. And I needed only one seat, since by then Dave was an unpaid member of the stadium Fun Team and did not need a ticket. (Many season ticket holders prefer multiple seats so they can bring one or more family members or friends.)
It turned out that Tom Fleischmann, who for years had five seats in Section 107, Row A (one section left of home plate, front row, right behind the net), had renewed only four that season because of a family change, leaving Seat 7 empty between his remaining seats and four held by Interstate Batteries. It wasn’t empty much longer; a swipe of some Visa plastic and a signature and it became my summer home (at least for most of the 38 games the Renegades play at home each season).
Which brings us to the eve of the 2012 season. Beginning Opening Night, June 18, when Hudson Valley hosts the Aberdeen (Md.) IronBirds at 6:35 p.m., this blog will offer a view of the Renegades from Seat 7, Row A, Section 107, and a few other locales around The Dutch, a mix of game coverage and assorted adventures that you just can’t make up. Along the way I will introduce you to some other interesting fans who have become friends, and possibly a future superstar or two. (I had the pleasure of meeting Josh Hamilton and Evan Longoria when they played for the Renegades early in their careers).
See you on Patch. And maybe at The Dutch.