Written by Mark Firkins
If spring gets me excited for baseball and summer brings out my passion for the game, what does fall bring? Fall brings, hmm… well, fall brings mixed emotions. The season offers plenty of exciting baseball. In the minors, if you’re still playing in September it means your team has had a good season and has made it into the playoffs in your league. It also means if you’re fortunate enough to be on the 40 man, that MLB rosters have expanded and it’s a possibility you get a call up to the big league club.
Labor Day and Fall are also a sad time for me. My two hometown teams, The Rochester Red Wings (AAA affiliate of the Twins) and The Batavia Muckdogs (A affiliate of the Marlins), wrap up play Labor Day weekend. Neither team will qualify for post season play this year. Which means that on Tuesday, September 4th, I start the all too long countdown until I see live baseball again in Western New York. It will be 7 months until I once again visit Frontier Field and take in the view of Kodak HQ and the skyline of downtown Rochester. It will be more than 9 months until Batavia, the NY PENN League, and quaint Dwyer Stadium opens and I find myself sitting in the summer sun, past the visitors dugout by first base.
No more dollar hot dogs nights. No more $1 Genesee Beer on Thirsty Thursdays. No more seeing AAA players so close to the major league level and wondering which players will make the big league club next season. No more watching first year players in short season rookie ball. It really is bittersweet and cruel to have the season end on Labor Day before summer officially ends September 21st. September offers some of the finest weather in these cities. There’s still plenty of warm days with gorgeous, clear blue skies. Nights offer a crisp and comfortable coolness, perfect for jeans, hoodies, and your favorite cap. I get it though. Kids are back in school, families (my own included) have to get back into a routine, high school sports and activities take over, and it’s time for young players to go back home, and/or prepare for fall and winter league baseball.
I look back at this past season as a season of firsts and personal success for me. This was my first year as a MiLB writer and one that included press privileges at the above named facilities. In Rochester, I was able to view the game from the press box above home plate, watch batting practice on the field, walk the outfield grass and warning track pregame. I wandered the stadium concourse and seating bowl and could sit in just about any open seat, getting any view I needed, and get up close to see the logos and brands of bats players were using (more on that in a future article). In Batavia, I was provided the opportunity to meet and interview 4 different players (which are all available to read in my older posts). I watched freshly drafted prospects develop into professional players in 3 short months. I saw players improve their swing, fielding, and pitching, game after game. Unfortunately, I also saw players get sent back to the Gulf Coast League and even released shortly after the season began, but that’s also part of the business and game. I connected with Jeremiah Jackson, an exciting top prospect drafted by the Angels this past June. Although we were thousands of miles apart, he playing in the Arizona Rookie League and me travelling through New York, Pennsylvania, and Ohio all summer, I was able to check in on his progress, look at the box scores regularly, and see plenty of video clips of his play posted on social media.
I attended 42 NY PENN, Eastern, and International League games combined in 7 different cities. I viewed some of the most gorgeous baseball skies and sunsets that can be seen. I viewed some of the funniest promotions and on field contests for both kids and adults to play. I ate some of the best food and treats one can possibly enjoy, honestly, does anything taste as good and beat ballpark food? I feel fortunate and blessed to have seen players ranging in age from fresh out of high school to seasoned MLB veterans play the game with such passion, joy, and pure enthusiasm. I met up with old friends and fellow travelling baseball lovers, including Malcolm MacMillan from theballparkguide.com who I met up with twice this season. Malcolm is one of baseball’s travelling authorities on ballparks/stadiums, their scenic views, host city and the food they all offer. I made new connections, both in person and through my twitter account who followed along with me on my journeys and I now consider friends.
I witnessed Sean Reynolds of the Batavia Muckdogs crush 17 home runs this season, twice as many as the next closest player in the league. On three occasions I watched a no hitter go into the 7th inning. One game featured pitchers from both teams taking their no no’s into the eighth only to be spoiled by a solo home run from one team and a bunt single from the other. On July 22nd, the Batavia Muckdogs and Mahoning Valley Scrappers combined for 32 hits, 24 runs, 4 errors, and used 10 pitchers to complete a game. On August 30th, these two teams met again for a double header. Game one ended in a 2-1 Scrappers win, with each team recording 5 hits. Game two had the Muckdogs on top 1-0 with each team combining for 5 hits total. Two games featuring excellent pitching and defense performances from both clubs, keeping hits and runs to a minimum.
It’s no secret that my sons Thomas and Travis are my main travelling partners and witnesses at most of these games. Thomas has been away at college and this summer had the opportunity to take a job in the Adirondacks (5 hours away, northeast of Rochester, NY) that fit well into his field of study, Environmental Science. He was home for only a brief period at the beginning of summer but we did manage to squeeze in a few Rochester Red Wings games together. Travis attended just about all other games with me, kept score, tracked down some foul balls as souvenirs, and was my road warrior, travelling the I-90 through New York, Pennsylvania, and Ohio. Although his name didn’t appear in the writing credits, he certainly helped and collaborated with many of the articles I have posted.
Labor Day, September 3, 2018 is now upon me. It’s the last game of the season for the Batavia Muckdogs. Our family tradition is that everyone goes to the first and last game of the season. This means my wife and daughter will join Travis and me (Thomas is moved back into the dorms and at school). We’ll be some of the first fans into Dwyer Stadium when the gates open at noon. We’ll enjoy lunch pregame, wander the small concourse for a while, take a good look around, then take our seats around 12:45. The game will start at 1:00 and end around 4:00. We’ll have our family picture taken by an usher after the game in front of the dugout, soak in the view one last time, then be the last ones to leave the stadium. It won’t be until June 2019 when we’re allowed back into Dwyer, 9 long months.
The MiLB season began for me on a raw, bitter cold, 34 degree April night, covering a Rochester Red Wings game. It will end on a steamy, humid, 91 degree September day, watching a Batavia Muckdogs game. I have so many notes and ideas for future articles thanks to all of the games and players I’ve seen this 2018 season. You can be sure that in the off season I will be busy putting it all together for you to read and enjoy. Thank you to the staff at the Rochester Red Wings and Batavia Muckdogs for being such gracious and hospitable hosts; allowing me access to their press box, stadium, field, and players for me to interview. Thank you to my family for understanding what the love of this game means to me and why I do what I do during baseball season. HUGE thanks to you, my Real McCoy Minors audience and twitter followers who have read, liked, retweeted and shared my articles for others to enjoy!
For now it’s goodbye Minor League Baseball. I understand you need to take a break. I’ll impatiently be waiting for your return next spring (try to do a little better job with opening day weather though? PLEASE). Thanks again MiLB, I guess it’s not really goodbye, it’s until we meet again, next April.