By Budd Bailey, Buffalo Sports Page Columnist
I didn’t have too many highlights during my brief and insignificant career as a baseball broadcaster. I did some games of the Buffalo Bisons from 1979 to 1982 for WEBR Radio. However, I found myself filling in as an announcer for a game with Jay Moran in Batavia in 1993 or so. I always think of that night when I return to Batavia’s Dwyer Stadium, as I did last week for a game.
Let me set the scene for you. The then-Trojans were losing by a run to some New York-Penn League opponent entering the bottom of the ninth. But Batavia loaded the bases with no one out. The home team seemed likely to win, although the method was obviously in doubt.
I described the final play of the game this way, more or less:
“Base hit to right field. One run will score. Williams is rounding third, and here comes the throw. And it … is … cut … off … by the first baseman, who throws to third. The runner is out there … but … it … doesn’t … matter. The game is over, and Batavia wins.”
Sometimes the eyes see things that make so little sense that it takes the mind a moment to sort them all out. This was one such occasion. Class A baseball is filled with players who are first- and second-year pros, and they learn the game right before our eyes, making baseball trips to Batavia something of an adventure.
I went along this time with a couple of friends who are big-time baseball fans – season-ticket holders to Buffalo Bisons’ games no less. They carried along the local knowledge that comes with previous trips in the recent past to Dwyer Stadium. In other words, we parked on a side street, well out of range of foul balls.
Once we paid the reasonable $8 charge for a general admission seat (there are only a handful of $11 box seats ringing the area close to the field), we entered the facility – without going through a metal detector, for what it’s worth. Greeting us was Dewey the mascot. We picked up $1 scorecards at the souvenir stand, and picked three seats behind home plate.
This game turned out to be a battle of first-place teams. Batavia, an affiliate of the Miami Marlins (no, Derek Jeter didn’t seem to be in the ballpark), took a 15-9 record into the game. Its manager is Tom Lawless, a former major-league infielder remembered as the only player ever traded for Pete Rose. The Muckdogs were in first place in the Pinckney Division – and faced the challenge offered by the Lowell Spinners, a Boston Red Sox farm team. The Spinners were in first place in the Stedler Division with a 17-6 record.
One of the interesting stories of the night from a Batavia standpoint was Sean Reynolds, a first baseman. It was his return to Dwyer Stadium, and he had a good one.
The fourth-round draft choice of the Marlins in 2016 checks in at 6-foot-8, 243 pounds. He has enormous power, and led the New York-Penn League in home runs and RBIs last season. But Reynolds has had big trouble making contact. He set a league record last year for strikeouts, and had 145 whiffs to go with a .182 batting average and nine homers in Clinton, Iowa, this year. So back he came to Batavia.
The move worked out well, at least initially. Reynolds had two homers and five RBIs in leading Batavia to the 8-6 win. Both homers were no-doubters. Reynolds received a signing bonus of about $600,000, so maybe this was a step toward a return on Miami’s investment. The Marlins can only hope.
Meanwhile, the scorecard came with some information about the game and teams, which was nice to have. The current standout for Batavia is Milton Smith II, a center fielder. Here’s how hot he has been in the season’s first month – Smith went 2 for 5 against Lowell on this night, and his batting average dropped from its previous mark of .417. Hey, Derek – help is on the way to Miami … eventually.
Lowell’s roster came with information on how each player was acquired. Nick Decker was a second-round pick of the Red Sox in 2017, the highest pick of those on the roster. The outfielder had an unusual night; he walked his first three times up and struck out in a fourth. For someone who never hit a baseball, Decker’s box score line was crowded: 1-1-0-2 (one at-bats, one run, no hits, two RBIs).
It was a rather typical pro baseball games in at least one way. There were four home runs in all to go with a total of 20 strikeouts (including the last three outs of the game). There’s too much of that sort of statistic at all levels of the pro game these days. Lowell had four errors, including two on pickoff attempts that led to runs. It’s hard to win that way. By the way, there is a lot of foul territory behind first and third bases in Batavia, which means overthrows can lead to extra bases easily.
Here are some other random notes about the experience of visiting a Muckdogs’ game:
* It was Dollar Dog Night at the ballpark, as you could pick up a Sahlen’s hot dog for only $1. There was a limit of eight franks per transaction, a rule which champion speed-eater Joey Chestnut probably would want to be declared unconstitutional.
* On the concourse behind home plate, there’s a series of informational signs about the history of Batavia baseball. Did you know that the first African American manager in Organized Baseball worked in Batavia? We still remember you, Gene Baker. Meanwhile, a sign salutes those who played in Batavia and went on to reach the majors. Chase Utley and Ryan Howard might be the best players on the list, as both – especially Utley – are potential Hall of Famers.
* Speaking of speed-eaters, one of the between-inning promotions was a two-way competition to see who could down a hot dog the fastest. It was a good partner with the chugging competition, where two people threw down a mug of root beer in short order.
* There was no pitch clock used in the game. As someone who spends part of his summers working the clock at Bisons’ games, I noticed that even if the rest of the crowd probably didn’t.
* Most of the “organized” parking for the game is located down the right-field line. In other words, when a foul ball is launched in that direction, the patrons who parked there have reason to be a little nervous. Just as a reminder, the PA system played the sound of glass cracking whenever a ball is hit out there.
* An organized conga line was staged after the eighth inning, as the group went from third to first base. I hadn’t seen that in a ballpark since Gloria Estevan played a concert at Pilot Field about 30 years ago.
* The insects arrived in the ballpark shortly after the sun set. One tip: bring bug spray.
* I’m happy to report that WBTA in Batavia is still broadcasting the Muckdogs’ games, just as it did when I filled in about a quarter-century ago. The station’s microphones are located in the Wayne Fuller Press Box, a nice tribute to the late broadcaster who worked on a variety of levels including the Buffalo Stallions’ indoor soccer team. Let’s hope that current Muckdogs’ announcer Pete Zehler has some good stories like mine to tell about his time in Batavia when he moves on in his career.
(Follow Budd on Twitter @WDX2BB)