don’t have to travel far to experience the quintessential
Once pitchers and catch ers report to spring training, I
think of nothing but the onion wheel, a beautifully simple
machine that dispenses freshly chopped onions onto a ballpark
dog. It conjures this time of year, when summer puts its
feet up in the glow of the stadium lights, sips its beer
and carries the ball on a breeze.
Blessed be, it’s baseball season.
I get to as many major-league games as possible, but there
are so many other ways to enjoy baseball. In particular,
minor-league teams of every class are becoming more popular,
luring audiences with an intimate ballpark experience that
is family-friendly, relaxed and affordable.
Since 2002, baseball in the Capital Region has been making
a comeback thanks to the Tri-City ValleyCats, a Class A
minor league team affiliated with the Houston Astros. The
ValleyCats belong to the New York-Penn League, hosting teams
like the Vermont Lake Monsters and the Brooklyn Cyclones
all summer long at “The Joe,” the new stadium at Hudson
Valley Community College’s campus (named for the ever-colorful
New York State Senate Majority Leader Joseph L. Bruno).
While the games are fun to watch, the players are only part
of the fun; each game has a theme or special promotion.
Witness the World Air Guitar Championship (June 30) when
fans get to show off their chops, or Insignificant Events
Night (June 28), which boasts a mystery mascot and “non-
contests” between innings.
The ValleyCats home opener is Saturday, June 23 against
the Oneonta Tigers (a Detroit Tigers affiliate) at 7 PM.
The giveaway is a free magnet, which will grace your fridge
reminding you of the fun you had, which will remind you
to go back for more. Clever.
If you’re itching for baseball beyond Troy, the region is
peppered with other opportunities. Head south to Wappingers
Falls to catch a Hudson Valley Renegades game (Tampa Bay
Devil Rays affiliate) at Dutchess Stadium. And then, of
course, there’s Cooperstown. Head west to visit the Baseball
Hall of Fame and Doubleday Field, home to the annual Hall
of Fame Game, for this year’s Hall of Fame Induction Weekend
(July 27-30) and the induction of Tony Gwynn and Cal Ripkin,
If a less-formal and even-less-expensive event is what you
have in mind, take a picnic and go eye the new talent in
the New York Collegiate Baseball League during June and
July. The NYCBL 2006 champions were the Saratoga Phillies,
who play in the friendly confines of the East Side Recreation
Baseball Field in Saratoga Springs. Teams also play in Amsterdam,
Glens Falls, Bennington, and Watertown, where you can check
out collegiate talent just like major league scouts who
come hunting to discover their next catch.
However you enjoy the sport best, whether it’s with dad’s
old bat on an overgrown lot or under hot lights in the shadow
of a big city, the time is now and the opportunities are
myriad. Baseball is a long season, a sport of endurance
much like summer weather, but it’ll be October soon. So
go play catch, join a rec league, coach T-ball, run the
bases, hit the batting cages, buy a new hat, visit a different
stadium, root for a team, eat too many hot dogs. It just
might make summer last longer.
Tri-City ValleyCats: www.minorleaguebaseball.com/index.jsp?sid=t577
Hudson Valley Renegades: www.hvrenegades.com
Saratoga Phillies: www.saratogaphillies.com
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