There's no place like home

Murnane Field at Donovan Stadium is one of the many historic baseball stadiums in the PGCBL. (Photo Courtesy/FrontierNet)

Story by Chris Real, Perfect Game USA

A baseball stadium utilizes a number of senses of a human being. There’s the sound of a cracking bat when it is struck with the ball. There’s the smell of the fresh cut grass, the hot dogs and all the concessions offered in the stadium. The eyes witness the majestic landscape of taking in America’s greatest past time. All of these go into a wonderful experience thousands share everyday when they watch a baseball game.

In the PGCBL, some of the nicest stadiums of collegiate summer leagues can be found in the towns of northern New York where these teams call home. One of the oldest stadiums in the country is found in Elmira, home of the Pioneers, which has been there since 1888.

Most of the parks have been used for the New York Penn League, a Class-A Short Season league in the minors. According to PGCBL President Jeff Kunion, these stadiums provide quality amenities for players and fans.

“They provide full stadium services for the fans, for the players,” Kunion said in a recent hpone interview. “It really provides the proper atmosphere to really entertain everybody.”

He added that PGCBL franchise owners, and the city where the stadiums are occupied, work out a contract that allows them to use the stadium during the season.

“The league [PGCBL] steps in and helps when necessary, but the primary relationship and the long-term relationship is truly between the owner of the team and the city that they play in,” Kunion added.

Peter Faughnan and Todd Kirkey are both General Managers within the PGCBL. Faughnan is the GM of the Utica Brewers and Kirkey is the GM of the Watertown Rams. Both expressed their gratitude for the stadiums they play in during the summer.

The Watertown Rams call their summer home Alex Duffy Fairgrounds Park. Its 2,000 seat capacity makes it one of the largest in the PGCBL. According to the PGCBL website, the park was opened in the 1800’s and was inhabited by a team in the Empire State League in 1910. And for Kirkey, he believes the playing surface at Alex Duffy Fairgrounds is one of the best in the league.

“Best feature by far is the playing surface,” Kirkey said. “I think it’s pretty much a league wide opinion that this is, it’s not the best, but one of the top two in the league. Our guys are very lucky they don’t have to touch the field and the grass is always green here.

“The city of Watertown does a great job taking care of the ballpark. They are very meticulous, I mean it’s always perfectly edged, the grass is, in my opinion, the best in the league.”

Despite the up and down East Coast summer weather, the Rams still draw a crowd.

“Traditionally we’re usually in the top half of the league in attendance,” Kirkey said. “We’d like to pursue that, obviously to continue. Last July was great for us when the weather turned and in the playoff games, we were over 1,000 fans per night.”

Last year, the Watertown Rams won their first division title since 2006 and made it into the playoffs. They finished the season with a 29-19 record, but Kirkey believes last season could just be the start of something special for the Rams and the people of Watertown.

“It certainly helped last year that we won a divisional title for the first time since 2006, so we certainly have turned the corner in terms of recruiting good players to play here and I think our attendance has kind of reflected that,” Kirkey said.

One year, Kirkey said that the total number of fans doubled the stadium capacity. For some, that would seem like trouble trying to find room when there are twice as many fans as the stadium allows, but this is his favorite memory of the Rams’ stadium.

“I’m going to go back to an exhibition game we played back in 2007 against Niagara, Kirkey recalled. “We were back in the NYCBL, packed seat-wise it’s about 2,000 people. There had to be 4,000 people. There were people sitting, people hanging on the dugouts, we had some seating areas down the lines usually for our annual firework game on July 5th and this place was just an absolute madhouse and zoo.

“There were people everywhere. I remember it was my first year here as GM, and my god, we sold more burgers and hot dogs that night than we might have sold the whole season. I would probably say that’s my favorite memory.”

This season at Alex Duffy Fairgrounds, CiCi’s Pizza and Coldstone Creamery are new additions to the concessions that people can buy to cool off during the hot summer day games.

The 4,000-seat Donovan Stadium at Murnane Field was once home to the Class A Level Utica Blue Sox, who originated in 1944, and is now home to the Utica Brewers. For Brewers GM Peter Faughnan, he describes the park as a “family atmosphere.”

“It’s definitely a walking ballpark as far as for fans,” Faughnan said. “It’s a walking, family atmosphere park because the stands and the concession area are established behind the bleachers. It’s really fan friendly, families can come, and they can hang out in these big areas where some parks are smaller. I also think too for the players, it’s a legit ballpark based on the dimensions.

“You don’t see many home runs. Last year I saw three home runs hit. I think it’s either 405 or 410 to center field. I think it’s great for players who are looking to get to the next level.”

And for collegiate players in the PGCBL and the fans that go out to watch any of the teams, they can expect to have a Minor League baseball experience, an experience that Kunion wants players and fans to have.

“Going to one of our games is like going to any other minor league game,” Kunion said. “We try and operate them like minor league franchises. You’ll see all the crazy on-field stuff from dizzy bat races to running around the bases with a lawn mower to water balloon tosses, pie eating contests to hot dog eating contests. We try to put on a fun time for the fans.”


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