Minor League tour: Final Stop

Jonathan and Izzy Salant filed this report from their final stop ontheir nine-day tour of upstate New York Minor League ballparks, Falcon Park in Auburn.

Izzy and I wound up our baseball trip at Falcon Park in Auburn last night, and we truly saved the best for last.

It was New York state Senator Michael Nozzolio Night, where the veteran
state legislator buys up all the general admission tickets for an
Auburn Doubledays game and hands them out for free to constituents.
Almost 3,000 fans filled the park on a warm Tuesday night. Nozzolio
didn’t buy up the box seats, which is where we sat, front row adjacent
to the visiting Jamestown Jammers dugout. I had covered Senator
Nozzolio, then a state assemblyman, when I covered Albany for the
now-defunct Syracuse Herald-Journal, doing a story in 1984 on how the
lawmaker bought up all the seats and gave them to his constituents, and
then kicked off the game by throwing out the first ball. I did a
similar story in 1992, as the Washington correspondent for the
Herald-Journal and The Post-Standard of Syracuse, on how the late U.S.
Representative Frank Horton did the same thing. I don’t recall there
being box seats at the time, so Nozzolio and Horton, both using their
campaign funds, bought out the entire stadium to treat their
constituents to a night at the ballpark. They were known as the Auburn
Astros then, long before Falcon Park was renovated (thanks in part to
state funding that Nozzolio obtained) in 1995.

The field itself was named for Leo Pinckney, the late president of the
team and of the NY-Penn League, who died last year. The Doubleday
players wore gold patches in the shape of a crown with ”Leo” on their
sleeve, a tribute to the man dubbed Auburn’s "King of
Baseball.” His picture also adorned the program, which was printed
”in memory of Leo Pinckney.” I had met Pinckney, sitting in his
customary seat near home plate, when I did my earlier stories at Falcon

On this night, which happened to be my mother’s 80th birthday, Senator
Nozzolio was not going to throw out the first pitch. Instead, he
invited Izzy, with me accompanying him with a camera, to do so. Izzy
got a ball with the Doubledays logo, stood in front of the pitching
mound, and let the spheroid fly. It crossed the plate in the air. We
were told later that it was one of the better first pitches they had
seen in a long time. Izzy would later also get an official New
York-Penn League ball, tossed to him by Jammers right fielder Dustin
Kaats after he caught a fly ball ending the seventh inning.

Izzy posed for pictures with the team mascot, Abner, named for Abner
Doubleday, who may or may not have invented baseball but definitely
grew up in Auburn. Abner signed his mitt, but there was no stuffed
mascot to take home. Izzy also got some autographs before and after the
game of some Doubledays.

After Izzy threw out the first ball, the game was almost an
afterthought. The Doubledays won, 4-2, despite making more errors —
five — than runs scored. Twice, bunts by Jammer Bryan Peterson were
thrown past first and turned into two-base errors. First baseman Victor
Santana overran a pop up between first and home, only to see the ball
fall behind him. There was also a muffed ground ball and a errant throw
from the outfield that got past everybody. We also saw Doubledays
pitcher Marc Rzepczynski pick off Rigoberto Silverio at first base,
only to have Silverio beat the throw to second.

Despite all that, the Jammers scored in only one inning, the inning
with the muffed ground ball, botched pickoff and errant outfield
throw. They threatened in many other innings but couldn’t get a key hit.

The Doubledays, meanwhile, got a home run from Shawn Scobee early in
the game, and then broke a 2-2 tie in the seventh when Santana smoked
a ground ball toward first base with Ben Zeskind at second. Ben Lasater
made a great stop, but Santana beat the throw to pitcher A.J. Battisto,
and then Zeskind, who never stopped running, slid into home ahead of
Battisto’s throw. Auburn scored its fourth run in the last of the
eighth on a two-out single by Luis Sanchez off pitcher Steve Cishek,
who regularly broke 90 and sometimes hit 94 and 95 on the radar gun.
Doubledays pitcher Joe Wice struck out the side in the ninth to finish
the game.

After 10 games and nine stadiums in nine days, we ended our trip. Home
teams went 8-2. The Syracuse Chiefs went 0-4. Mets’ farm teams
(Brooklyn and Binghamton) went 0-2. The Buffalo Bisons went 3-0.
Frontier Field in Rochester was the best stadium we visited, with NYSEG
Stadium in Binghamton and Joseph L. Bruno Stadium in Troy deserving of
honorable mentions. Damaschke Field in  Oneonta was the most
fan-unfriendly stadium, with those two rows of season ticket-only box
seats separating the rest of us from the dugouts and the field. I was
surprised that most of the minor league parks did not have diversions
for kids like they have in Bowie and Frederick in our home state of
Maryland, where kids can ride on a carousel, climb on a moon bounce and
play games.

The most unforgettable highlight was Izzy throwing out the first
pitch at the Doubledays game. The biggest disappointment was the rain
that canceled the baseball clinic in Cooperstown. I still can’t believe
we saw Bowie score 10 runs in the top of the ninth inning to beat
Binghamton, and remain most impressed with Jammers’ manager Darin
Everson, who first threw Izzy a ball he fielded in the third base
coaches’ box and then signed it after the game, taking the time to chat
with Izzy and pose for a picture with him.

Izzy’s final report:
Last night’s game was better than the other one I
said was the best game ever. I got to throw out the first pitch. I got
a ball — my sixth — I got to meet the state senator and I got to have
the last mascot sign my glove. Now I only need the Oneonta Tigers’
mascot to sign my glove. I thanked the state senator, Michael
Nozzolio, for letting me throw the first pitch. That was the best game
ever on my final report. I’d love to do another baseball tour some time.


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