BATAVIA – The sun was beginning to descend over the left center field wall at Dwyer Stadium as Batavia Muckdogs pitcher Tyler Prospero, from Batavia, delivered the game’s first pitch from the mound. At home plate, Elmira’s South Trimble connected on a right center field softball that was easily caught.
And with that, a team of Batavia Muckdogs had again taken over the ground in the town of Batavia.
Friday night’s game was the first home game for the new Batavia Muckdogs, one of the newest franchises in the Perfect Game Collegiate Baseball League. It was also the first time that a Muckdogs team had played a home game at Dwyer Stadium.
“I love Muckdogs. I went through the wall last year. It was so terrible not being able to see them play, ”said Karen Kopper.
Fans packed the stadium at 299 Bank Street, enthusiastically welcoming the ‘Dogs.
Many fans wore vintage clothing from the former New York Penn-League Muckdogs, the last team to use the name. There were several different styles of hats – red or black bottoms – jerseys and t-shirts noting the 2008 championship season of the founding team in 1939 from the original New York-Penn League team from Batavia.
Kopper, who grew up on Ross Street, not far from the stadium, said she has been a baseball fan since she was a little girl and took the train to Cleveland to see Bob Feller’s field. (“I probably shouldn’t have told you that,” she laughs, “You’ll know how old I am.”
Kopper might have been one of the senior supporters at a stadium packed with all ages, but she was already in mid-season form. A new spiral-bound scorecard sat on the seat to her left, waiting for her to pencil out the squad rosters and take step-by-step scoring once the match began. She was also accompanied by a small stuffed animal, a light brown dog that she had put in a Muckdogs uniform and also wrapped in a mask “in case it was necessary”.
“When a player is doing really well, I toss him in the air, throw him and catch him,” she said, giving the bear a flick to demonstrate it.
Kopper, who now lives in Buffalo, was expecting a good season. She said she believes this team, which she met at a player meet for season ticket holders earlier in the week, is closer than any professional Muckdogs team she’s followed.
As for the game, she likened it to an orchestra.
“You see different hitters coming in and you watch the infielders move to where they think the ball will go,” Kopper said. “There is nothing more exciting than watching a hot turn (third base) play at first base.”
The former Muckdogs last played at Dwyer Stadium on September 4, 2019, a playoff victory over the Lowell Spinners. The Muckdogs would lose the next two games of the round and be eliminated from the playoffs.
There has not been a Muckdog season in 2020 as minor league baseball has closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. With Major League Baseball’s restructuring of the minor league system, the New York-Penn League was no more, along with the Muckdogs.
Enter the Perfect Game Collegiate Baseball League, a league made up primarily of recent Division I college players looking to move up the baseball ranks, and Robbie Nichols of CAN-USA Sports LLC. who already had a team in the league (interestingly, Friday’s opponent, the Elmire Pioneers).
Nichols saw an opportunity to continue Batavia’s baseball legacy and took over the Muckdogs name for the PGCBL. The new Muckdogs will play a 48-game schedule that runs through July. The Muckdogs started their season Thursday with a 7-0 win over Elmira.
On Friday, they took the field in Batavia.
“There should be baseball in Batavia,” said Brad Rogers, who served as general manager of the New York-Penn League Muckdogs for more than a decade from 1984 to 1995. “Fans in that area are great. proficient in baseball, thank goodness it’s back.
The new Muckdogs also include four local players – Prospero, the starting pitcher from Friday; Colin Noeth of Byron, Nathan Hinkley of Albion and Jerry Reinhart of Batavia. They received the loudest cheers in pre-game presentations and sparked the interest of fans.
“I love baseball. I am very excited to support a local team, ”said Larry Conway of Batavia. “They have guys from Batavia and the surrounding area. I love this idea.
Conway has been coming to Muckdog games for years. His friend Jeff Twardowski has been present for a dozen years.
“Where else can you go to a baseball game without having to travel 40 miles or more?” Twardowski asked.
Cassandra Prong from Corfu attended the game with her extended family, including three young sons who love baseball. Prong estimated that she had been attending baseball games in Dwyer for at least 25 years, since she was a young girl.
“Now I can bring my own types, and these are the same seats I grew up with,” she said. “It’s been a great return to normalcy, and the fact that the community has turned out like this is fantastic. “
Many longtime fans noted that returning to Dwyer felt like an old day at home at the stadium.
“I have been coming here for years. Always the same seats and knowing the same people, ”said Conway.
Rogers said that upon entering the stadium he met several people he had known for years.
“It’s nice to be able to see them again,” he said.
For others, Friday’s game was their first appearance at a football game in Dwyer.
“I can’t wait to come back,” said Danielle Bell of Batavia, who was with an Alexander Tri-Town baseball group who attended the opening ceremonies and joined the players on the field.
Tyler Lang, one of Alexander’s ball players, said it was exciting to be with the players. However, he was looking forward to the popcorn and “eat all I can eat”.
David Owczarzak, in a pinstripe Muckdogs jersey, and his daughter Kendall, in a Muckdogs baseball cap, made the trip from Buffalo. They come to a lot of games. David said he wanted to see what the known team would be like, while Kendall said she “loves watching baseball and spending time with my dad.”
A night at the baseball stadium also provided a sense of optimism after 15 long months of living with a pandemic and numerous restrictions.
“It’s nice to get closer to normal, to be able to get out of something like that,” said Tom McGary of Batavia, who was present with his son, daughter and wife.
“It’s a great place to bring the family,” said the Vine Street resident. “I hope for good competitive baseball. Lots of home runs and good throws.
A trio of young fans may have been hoping for a lot of foul balls. Caron Colantoni from Batavia was with friends Ben Landers from Batavia and Owen Flynn from Le Roy. They each had on baseball gloves and said being at the game was exciting “and we hope to catch the foul balls and get them signed by the players,” Caron said.
The opening night ceremonies found energetic introductions from the Muckdogs – high fives, low fives, side fives, arm bumps and jumping high fives. Then there was what Nichols had previously teased would be something that had probably never happened before in Batavia. A helicopter crossed Bank Street and flew over the pitcher’s mound where the pilot dropped a bullet towards Nichols, who caught the bullet in a faded leather glove.
The Muckdogs are also at home tonight for a game against the Jamestown Tarp Skunks. Game time is 7:05 p.m.