Minor League tour: Part VII
New York State Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno of Troy is one of the most powerful men in state government, and his clout was on display yesterday during our visit to see the Tri-City Valley Cats take on the Staten Island Yankees. Members of the New York legislature obtain what are called ”member items” — critics call it ”pork” — in the state budget every year. As majority leader, Bruno’s piece of the budget pie is much larger than those of his colleagues.
One of Bruno’s slices went to build a stadium on the campus of Hudson Valley Community College in Troy. The park bears his name, Joseph L Bruno Stadium, known as "the Joe” for short. It landed a short season A team for the Albany area, the Tri-City Valley Cats (Albany, Schenectady, Troy), a Houston Astros affiliate. It’s the most well-endowed class A park in upstate New York. There are several concession stands, a well-stocked souvenir store (yes, Izzy got the mascot, a cat named Southpaw), and a fun zone for kids, including several moon bounces. The scoreboard features a large video screen. A sign in right field gives the pitch speed. A large inflatable Uncle Sam stands beyond the left field fence — the original Uncle Sam was a meatpacker from Troy — and in addition to Southpaw, there is a guy decked out as Uncle Sam in red, white and blue and known as Sammy Baseball. The game also featured what had to be the worst mascot in baseball history, someone wearing a reindeer head, a banana peel body, grey slacks and sneakers. I still don’t get it.
We arrived at the park an hour before game time, landed seats five rows behind the ValleyCats’ dugout, and had a catch on the field. It was photo day, and when we were shooed off the outfield grass so the team could begin stretching, several players had gathered near the dugout to sign autographs and pose for pictures. Izzy got several autographs to his ball that also bore the signatures of some the Ironbirds and Tigers from Friday’s game.
As we walked to our seats, we passed the fan appreciation booth and noticed they were accepting volunteers for the various between-innings competitions. We had always wondered how kids were selected for such events in all our years going to Frederick and Bowie, and at least in this case learned that you could simply ask to participate. Izzy signed up for the garbage race, in which he and another kid would see who could dump a lot of paper into a giant garbage can, and then wheel it from home plate to the coaches’ box. More on this later.
The last time I saw a baseball game in the Albany area, it was in the mid 1980s when the home team was the Class AA Albany-Colonie Yankees (now the Connecticut Defenders) of the Eastern League, and they played at Heritage Park near the Albany Airport. Those Yankees wore hand-me -down uniforms with the classic interlocking NY. Now, the Staten Island Yankees wore uniforms where "Staten Island’ was printed in the tail of the "s” in "Yankees,” an indication of how the minor leagues have realized there is money to be made in selling authentic team shirts, hats and other clothing with the team logo.
Once the game began, the ValleyCats jumped off to a 5-1 lead, only to give it all back. In the last of the seventh, a two-out single by Charlie Gamble gave Troy a 6-5 lead. In the last of the eighth, after Yankees shortstop Luis Nunez booted a potential double-play ball, Alberto Cruz put the game out of reach with a three-run home run. Actually, I shouldn’t say any game was out of reach after seeing Bowie score 10 runs in the top of the ninth inning the night before against the Binghamton Mets, but there would be no comeback yesterday. Final score: Tri-City 10, Staten Island 5. Except for the Binghamton debacle, the home team has won every game on this trip.
In the last of the eighth inning, Izzy went onto the field for the garbage race. He quickly stuffed the can and had a lead on the other kid, running with the can behind him, when he tripped and the can landed on his leg. I initially thought he would lose the race because he fell, but he hit the ground after crossing into the coaches’ box, making him the winner. It was like sliding into home plate. Izzy lay on the ground for a few minutes while the stadium staff lifted can off his leg and comforted him. Like a player who had been momentarily injured, Izzy then got up and walked off the field. The prize was a team-autographed baseball.
Izzy’s lower leg was a little scraped, but not enough to prevent him from winding up the night with the rest of the kids in the ballpark and running the bases once the game ended.
Tonight, we go to Syracuse, which must be the only city in recent years to reject building a ballpark to renovate a deteriorating downtown, choosing instead to stick it in an out-of-the-way place where it cannot spur any economic development. I worked for the Syracuse newspapers during the debate on building a new ballpark, and still do not understand how the anti-downtown faction won that fight. Then our trip winds up in Auburn on Tuesday night.
Izzy’s report: Last night’s game was well, let’s say, terrifiic. I got thundersticks at the beginning when I walked in. One of my favorite parts was the catch on the field. Then I got autographs. My second favorite part was getting the mascot. I was with a friend named Sam in the fun zone and it was terrific. Then I got selected for the garbage race and won after I tripped and fell in the coach’s box. I won a ball autographed by the entire team. The last part was running the bases.