By Slidell Montgomery
Barry Bower is proud of every detail of the Muckdogs. As he was showing the BEAST around Dwyer Stadium in Batavia during a rain delay prior to the scheduled start of last Thursday’s game. Bower, who is Chairman of Batavia Regional Recreation Corporation, spoke of them being a community-owned and operated team. He spoke of the Muckdogs being featured in a Hollywood motion picture last summer, and he also spoke with equal pride of Batavia being–as far as he knew–the third smallest market in professional sports.
Who are the two smaller markets?
Cocking his head over his shoulder towards the visitor’s dugout, Bower said, “Oneonta’s one of them. I don’t know who the other one is.”
The Onenonta single-A Tigers stalked into Batavia last week on a season-opening tear. They were 8-1, had shutout the ‘Dogs the previous night 2-0 and were now waiting for a field-flooding, thunder storm to pass so they could resume their dominance of The Pinckney Division of the New York-Penn League.
After the abrupt but brief deluge–one that was accompanied by violent and very nearby electrical activity–moved east, the fans came out from under
Players and fans stuck in ‘Dogs dugout during rain delaythe shelter of the aluminum grandstand and milled around the puddled-over concession area waiting for an announcement that play would begin as soon as the tarp was cleared from the infield.
Over at the visitors bullpen Tiger pitchers skipped stones across the pools of rainwater in right field that would land in the gaps, alleys, and various batting lanes of everywhere from right-center over to straight-away left field. They left their jetsam there to likely be found later by unwitting outfielders.
‘Dogs first baseman Rob Calfiero from Long Island watched from the home team’s bullpen as the grounds crew (which includes the ‘Dogs ubiquitous media/radio guy Jonathan Meyer) tried to unclog drains and find places to push the flood waters.
“The main difference between college ball and playing up here is getting used to wood bats,” said Calfiero, who graduated with a degree in management from Villanova this year. He is being platooned with left-handed hitting first baseman Ryan Barthelemy. Calfiero bats right but says he sees a lot of right-handed pitching. “They don’t platoon us because of pitching. It’s pretty much two games on, two games off.”
At this level, coaches certainly cannot be hiding hitters from challenging situations. Calfiero also said that, more difficult than facing right-handed pitching or the adjustment of switching from the lethally explosive aluminum bats, so pervasive in amateur baseball, to the more pitcher-friendly ash and maple bats of the pros, is the fact that in A-ball “You never get a pitch to hit. You see nothing out over the plate. It’s all in tight (he gestures with both fists as though they are hand-cuffed to his sternum) or way outside. Nothing’s over the plate.”
In this early stage of the season it must seem that way for a few of the ‘Dogs. As a team they are hitting .251. The two first basemen are hitting a combined .200, with 1 HR, 7 RBI, and 17 strikeouts between them in the first 15 games.
On the upside, catcher and Californian Mark McRoberts, back after hitting .350 in 6 games for the ‘Dogs last season, is hitting at a .419 clip so far, with a pair of doubles and a team-leading 3 homers. Shortstop Carlos Rodriguez of Dominican Republic is hitting .339 and leads the squad in both hits (20) and stolen bases (7).
On the mound, Venezuelan Erick Arteaga has given up only 4 runs in 21.2 innings but has yet to gain a decision. Carlos Cabrera, also of Dominican Republic, is 2-0 with an ERA of 0.95.
Playing the rest of their 76-game schedule with only three days off between now and September 4 won’t leave a lot of time for individual instruction. And the road can be tough. Six times over the course of the season the Dogs play a home-and-home series with the Jamestown Jammers where they alternate successive nights at each other’s stadiums, for up to three games. When the ‘Dogs play in Jamestown though they drive back to Batavia after the game.
“We get in about 1 or 2 in the morning,” says Cafiero.
All the players on the Muckdogs are housed with someone from the community to whom the player pays a modest fee from his modest salary.
The ‘Dogs have been on both sides of a three-game streak this year but went into Wednesday night’s game, the last of a five game road trip, against the Mahoning Valley Scrappers of Niles, OH (a city near Youngstown), having won four of their last five. They were 8-7 overall and one game back of the Pinckney Division-leading Jammers.
“They’ve got a real nice park down there,” Calfiero said of the Scrappers, “Some guy with a shoe store or factory or something gave them a bunch of money to build a park. It’s right by the mall.” He grinned and said, “At least they’ve got a mall. Here, you have to drive a half-an-hour for,” he paused, searching the infield with his gaze, “for anything.”
About an hour and forty minutes after the scheduled start of the game, the PA announcer declared that the game would be postponed until the next day and played as part of a doubleheader. When asked what the young ‘Dogs would do with their night off, pitching coach Warren Brusstar said, “I don’t know. It’s their first one.” Then he looked out into the storm-traced twilight sky, over the right-center field wall, perhaps remembering a night off from his playing days, and said, “There’s not much to do around here.”
Next night, the ‘Dogs dropped the first game of the doubleheader to Oneonta 6-2 but came back to win the late game 4-3, setting them off on their recent winning campaign.
Upcoming Muckdogs Home Games:
16-18 TUE-THU vs. Mahoning Valley
MON-SAT games begin at 7:05 PM/ SUN games start at 4:05PM. For directions and info visit www.muckdogs.com.