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Here’s the Pitch

You don’t have to travel far to experience the quintessential summer game

 

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, Jr.

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.

—Ashley Hahn

 

Tri-City ValleyCats: www.minorleaguebaseball.com/index.jsp?sid=t577

 

Cooperstown: www.baseballhalloffame.org

 

Hudson Valley Renegades: www.hvrenegades.com

 

Saratoga Phillies: www.saratogaphillies.com

> Back to summer guide home

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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