Minor League tour: Part VIII

Jonathan and Izzy Salant filed this report from their eighth stop ontheir nine-day tour of upstate New York Minor League ballparks, Alliance Bank Stadium in Syracuse .

In the Marx Brothers’ movie Animal Crackers, Groucho
is going to hire Chico and his band to perform. He asks, “What do you
fellas get an hour?” Chico says they get $10 an hour. Groucho then
asks, “What do you get for not playing?” Chico’s response: $12 an

After last night’s game, I feel like asking the Syracuse Chiefs how much they would pay us for not coming to their games.

Since Izzy and I began our baseball trip on July 23, the Chiefs have
gone 4-5. When we’re not in the crowd, they’ve gone 4-1. We saw them
lose a doubleheader to the Bisons in Buffalo, a single game to the Red
Wings in Rochester, and last night a single game to the Bisons again at
Syracuse’s Alliance Bank Stadium. The score was 7-2, though the game
was not decided until Buffalo scored four runs in the top of the ninth.
Buffalo scored one run in the first, while Syracuse came back with two
in the bottom of the frame, the last one on a solo home run by Chad
Mottola. Not only did he give the Chiefs the lead, but one of the fans
won a $50 gift certificate to a local furniture store because she
picked Mottola to hit a home run in the game. Buffalo tied the game in
the third and went ahead to stay in the seventh on a two-out single to
left by Ryan Mulhern with Asdrubal Cabrera, who had doubled, running on
the pitch and scoring.

As I said in an earlier post, for some inexplicable reason, Alliance
Bank Stadium was not built downtown but rather away from the center of
Syracuse, ensuring it would not anchor any economic development. The
park, though, is beautiful, despite the presence of artificial turf
rather than grass, just like the parent Toronto Blue Jays. When players
bat, the scoreboard lists what they did during their previous plate
appearances, which I’m used to seeing at major league games but not in
the minors.

We arrived a half-hour before the game to find long lines at the box
office, the only game we’ve seen on this trip with a large walk-up
crowd, though still manged to snare tickets five rows behind the
visiting dugout. It was Syracuse Firefighters Night, according to the
words emblazoned on the baseballs handed out to all the kids in
attendance. Izzy later used that ball to get a signature from Denny
McLain, the majors’ last 30-game winner, who was signing autographs at
the park. McLain, who also threw out the first ball, played for the
Chiefs before reaching the Detroit Tigers and winning two American
League Cy Young Awards, 1968 (when he went 31-6 and the Tigers were the
world champions) and 1969.

Izzy got a stuffed Scootch mascot, and got autographs from both Scootch
and the new mascot, Pops, who is a train engineer with a baseball head,
glasses and a big grey mustache out of the Old West.

Chiefs used to refer to Native Americans, but when the team moved into
its new stadium in 1997, it decided to show some respect — the
Onondagas, who gave their name to the county in which Syracuse is
located, has a reservation to the south — and changed its name to the
SkyChiefs. It reminded me of Texaco, which used to brand its gasoline
Fire Chief and Sky Chief. This year, the team returned to the Chiefs,
though with a train motif and no reference to Native Americans. Pops is
one addition to the new theme. Another are concession stands bearing
names like Grand Central and Polar Express. And there was a steady
stream of freight trains rumbling along the tracks behind the left
field fence.

The loudest cheers went for a player on the opposing team, Jonathan Van
Every (great first name). He was the Taco Bell designated strikeout
victim, so if he whiffed, everyone on the park would get a free taco.
Sure enough, with two strikes, the crowd erupted in a cheer of, "Ta-co,
ta-co.” Van Every took a called third strike and the place erupted.

Finally, a lesson for Izzy and all the other kids who play baseball:
When you hit the ball, run everything out. In the bottom of the fifth,
Chiefs’ designated hitter Sal Fasano hit a ground ball to third base.
Thinking it was foul, he remained at home plate. The ump, though,
called it fair, and Matt Ginter had all the time in the world to toss
the ball across the diamond to Mulhern for the out.

Our trip winds up tonight in Auburn, where we visit renovated Falcon
Park. When I first joined the now-defunct Syracuse Herald-Journal in
1984, one of my earliest stories was about a state legislator, Michael
Nozzolio, who bought all the tickets for a game, handed them out to his
constituents, and then threw out the first ball. It was at the game
that I met the late Leo Pinckney, whose name adorns the New York-Penn
League division that Auburn plays in. Pinckney led the successful fight
to get Auburn into the NY-Penn league, was the team’s president, and
served as the league’s president.

Nozzolio is still in the legislature, and once a year still buys out the ballpark. We will occupy two of those seats tonight.

Izzy’s report:
Last night’s game was really fun. I got an autograph
from Denny McLain, got free candy and met both mascots and got them to
sign my glove. Now I have almost every mascot in upstate New York
signing my glove. This was my first time seeing artificial turf. It
looks kind of funny.

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