The Inevitable Arrives: Oneonta is Gone from the NYPL

In the last twenty-five years the landscape of the NY-Penn League has changed dramatically as Europe did after World Word I: omitting the small town hamlets that were once staples of the league and pushing the boundaries outside the areas of both New York The recent news of the Oneonta Tigers relocating to Norwich, Conn., is just the world of minor league baseball performing its own act of Darwinism.

I once visited Damaschke Field, which served as the home of minor league baseball since 1966, back in 1998. I was on my way home from a trip of Toronto and decided that a detour to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y would be a great way to end my vacation. The next day my friend and I happened to stumble upon Oneonta and decided to visit the ballpark. What I witnessed was something of a shock: a plain looking bleacher infested canker sore of a structure posing as a minor league ballpark. I was somewhat repulsed and quickly dismissed the thought of staying to view a game.

I was a much younger man twelve-years-ago and perhaps witnessing a game there would have opened my eyes to a different approach to minor league baseball, but I was hung up on the brand new stadiums of New Jersey: Skylands Park in Sussex County, Waterfront Park in Trenton and The Sandcastle in Atlantic City; I just could not open my eyes to a park that seemed to have passed its prime decades earlier. I predicted that it would only be a matter of time before this town would be no more among the map of the NYPL.

Flash forward to 2010 and that prediction is precise, but part of me wishes I was not such an ignorant bastard back in 1998. I could have stayed to witnessed a game at Damaschke Field and possibly enjoyed what I saw. I am not a big fan of spending copious amounts of cash for the taste of beer at a ballpark- so the beer ban policy would not have affected me in anyway-and I am sure the price of admission, which was a measly three dollars, would have been a bargain to my fiscally responsible mind-set. Unfortunately, I let my small minded thinking about ballparks get the best of me and I was on my home to Colonia, N.J-vacation complete.

If one were to look at the franchises that adorn the NYPL map twenty-years-ago, you would be able to find the towns of Niagara Falls, Watertown, Elmira and Geneva, N.Y.; flash forward five seasons later and all of those franchises had disappeared like European colonies in Southeast Asia. However, Oneonta still tugged along with the likes of Batavia, Auburn, Jamestown, N.Y.; Williamsport, Pa.; Pittsfield, Mass.; and St. Catherines, Ont.; however, the league was in the process of placing teams outside major metropolitans of New York, Boston, and Baltimore-Washington, D.C. and spread its franchises from down south to Maryland, west to Ohio and east to Massachusetts-this was definitely a much different NYPL.

The relocation of the Oneonta Tigers to Connecticut was inevitable and made sense, since Thomas J. Dodd Stadium, constructed in 1995, is a too good of a minor league stadium to remain vacant for a season. I also had the chance to visit Dodd Stadium in 2001 after the Baseball Winter Meetings in Boston-where I turned down a chance to intern for the Eastern League in Portland, Maine, which took some time to get over. The stadium followed the aphorism that if you build it they will come, but the location in an industrial area seemed anomalous to me, but with population of over 250,000 people compared to Oneonta’s populace of 13,000, it is perfect sagacity to launch a Single-A franchise in Southeast Connecticut. The switch in locations will not upset the balance of the league and could create a natural rivalry with the Lowell Spinners 100-miles up north in Massachusetts.

Damaschke Field should not remain vacant for too much longer itself, since either an independent league franchise or a college wood bat league would salivate at the chance to play in such a spot. I would imagine that New York Collegiate Baseball League would be an ideal location for such an enterprise and make geographic sense; after all, there are many former NYPL cities operating teams in the NYCBL and adding Oneonta to the revelry could just be a several phone calls, a few meetings and a handshake away from fruition.

The NYPL is now left with four stalwarts in Auburn, Batavia, Jamestown and Williamsport with close to 150 combined seasons of baseball-they are also the top four longest tenured teams to play in one city. I am sure that within the next ten years there will be another upheaval of small market teams locating to plush new ballparks near large population densities; however, my ignorant approach to small town baseball as a young man should not go unnoticed. If ever the prospect arises again, I will make sure that the wiser version of me will make the glorious decision of watching a game in such a venue like Damaschke Field.

Marc Viquez is a contributing author for Ballpark Business (www.ballparkbiz.com). A fan of baseball for most of his life, Marc has been traveling around the country writing about minor league baseball since 2001 for various websites and print publications. When he is not searching down a ballpark, he can be found teaching middle school in Indianapolis, Ind.

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Filed under Ballpark Visits, Market & Location, Original Articles, Stadium Issues

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