Hello from Troy, N.Y.
Normally, I write each blog post in chronological order, and while I’ll do so for this post, I want to start off with a really cool photo:
This is me with Tri-City ValleyCats manager Stubby Clapp! Keep reading and you’ll see how I got the fortune of meeting him.
I often begin each road trip with a really long drive, but this time, my first city was only around five hours from where I live. I’ll have lots of photos from things I saw on the drive in a later post, but let’s jump forward to once I got to the Tri-City area. I arrived in Troy, N.Y., around 4 p.m. and checked into my hotel. I stayed at the Best Western Plus Franklin Square Inn Troy/Albany, which is definitely a great choice if you’re coming to Troy to watch the ValleyCats. Here’s the outside of the hotel:
The hotel is easily accessible, sitting just a couple minutes’ away from the highway. It’s also just a short drive from Joseph L. Bruno Stadium, home of the ‘Cats. (It’s less than three miles away and the amount of time it takes you to reach the park depends on the number of green lights you get.) And here’s something that’ll interest baseball fans — for years, teams that came to town to play against Tri-City stayed at this hotel. So, if you look at some New York-Penn League rosters from throughout the 2000s (the ValleyCats were formed in 2002) you’ll see that a number of current MLBers stayed here while paying their dues in the Minor Leagues.
When I got to my room, I was impressed. Not only was the a/c blasting to keep the room nice and cold, it was clean and spacious. Here’s a look from the door:
And another showing the Samsung LCD TV and desk, which is where I’m sitting as I write this:
I didn’t have long to enjoy the room, however, as I needed to get to the ballpark the locals call “The Joe” quickly. ValleyCats media/production manager Chris Chenes, who was really helpful prior to my visit, would be meeting me at 5 p.m. to give me a media pass and tour of the park. When I arrived, I stopped quickly to get a photo of the front:
A ticket office employee took me inside to meet Chris, and as soon as I went through the gates, I saw that the Brooklyn Cyclones were taking batting practice:
(I resisted the urge to run to the grass berm behind the outfield fence and try to catch a home run.) Instead, I learned a lot about the history of the team and stadium from Chris. When I visited The Joe in 2010, which you can read about here, I didn’t have the fortune of a tour. So, it was great to speak with Chris, who’s been with the team in several roles for years. The game I saw in 2010 was the opening game of the NYPL championship against Brooklyn. The ‘Cats won that game and went on to win the title, and during this most recent visit, I saw the banner from that win hanging proudly in the home plate concourse:
Chris took me up to the suite level, where we checked out the production room. There’s SO much that goes into the production of a game, even at the Minor League Baseball levels. We saw the computer that runs the music and sound effects and another that runs the video board. The production staff certainly are kept hopping during the game. The game’s promo was “Halfway to Valentine’s Day,” so each player’s profile shot had been adjusted accordingly for the video board:
The team is having a winter-themed game this week and Chris gave me a sneak peek of the player profiles for that game:
We then moved into the press box, where I got an interesting lesson about the history of baseball in Troy. Professional baseball in this city dates back to 1871’s Troy Haymakers. That team, through a lengthy and interesting series of events (I’ll detail it all on my website rather than here) eventually became the San Francisco Giants.
Not surprisingly, there are also ties to the New York Yankees. Between 1935 and 1951, the Amsterdam Rugmakers (definitely one of the funniest baseball team names ever) were the Class C affiliate of the Yanks. In 1942, the Rugmakers hosted the Bronx Bombers in an exhibition game, and a 27-year-old Joe DiMaggio came to town to play that game. In one of the suites, there’s a photo snapped on that day:
Chris took me through a couple suites, which are nice inside …
… and have a great view of the park:
Then it was time to head back to the concourse, where we ducked our heads into the home team’s clubhouse area. This cool quote is displayed on the wall where the players walk by it repeatedly:
And I also snapped this shot of the team’s indoor batting cages, which are used when it’s rainy enough that BP is canceled:
When I told Chris I’m from Canada, he said, “I’ll introduce you to another Canadian.” I had to think for a moment, but then I realized he was talking about Stubby, who’s an enormous figure in Canadian baseball. He didn’t have a long Big League career, but he was a Minor League legend as a player and also did a lot for the Canadian game internationally. It was Stubby who delivered the walk-off single in the 1999 Pan American Games to help Canada beat the heavily favored American team. And you might also know him from having one of the best manager freakouts in recent years.
Anyway, Stubby wasn’t free right away, and Chris had to set up an interview for a local newspaper reporter, so I stuck around and watched the Cyclones take infield practice as I waited. I think they’re set for catchers, don’t you?
(As an aside to the smorgasbord of catchers — during the anthem, I counted 26 Cyclones in uniform standing in front of the dugout, and this doesn’t include the six to eight guys in the bullpen. Take out the four members of the coaching staff and you’ve still got nearly 30 players in uniform. What gives?)
As I waited, I snapped photos of a handful of things that caught my eye. The ValleyCats’ dugout:
The closest I came to a ball all night:
And first baseman Jesse Wierzbicki’s glove hanging on the dugout rail:
Suddenly, Chris came over to me and said Stubby was waiting. Sure enough, I looked around and saw him standing on the concourse. I went over and said hello and talked to him a bit about The Ballpark Guide, which was awesome. We also joked that both being Canadian, we could let our guard down in front of each other and say “eh?” at the end of sentences. He was really friendly and I can definitely see why he’s so well liked in baseball. He’s the third manager I’ve been lucky enough to meet on my travels, and he gave me more time than anyone, which was impressive as first pitch was less than an hour away. Thanks, Stubby! And thanks to Chris for setting it up. Afterward, Chris had to get back to his myriad pre-game duties, so we parted ways and I started touring around myself.
One of the best features of The Joe is the bar area behind left field, called the Top of the Hill Bar & Grill. Here’s a panorama from this area:
It’s got a ton of seating options, too – everything from tables to barstools to a small set of bleachers to the grass berm and finally, Adirondack chairs:
You can see into Tri-City’s bullpen from this area, and from the grass berm in the right field corner, you’ve got a great view of the visitors’ pen, which is where I soon went to watch Brooklyn starter Luis Cessa warm up:
When the game begun, I took a spot behind home plate where I had this perfect view on an excellent night for baseball:
After an inning, though, it was time to check out the food selection. Everyone you talk to raves about Buddy’s BBQ, and as a result, the lineups are often long. So, when I eyed a relatively short line, I grabbed a spot and got an order of salt potatoes, which is a Buddy’s specialty. I’ve never had them, although I’ve seen them in Binghamton and Syracuse, I believe. They’re small potatoes that are rolled in butter and aren’t as salty as I expected. And they were delicious:
Hey, this should count as a vegetable, right? I washed ’em down with an Arnold Palmer, which the park also has available:
With dinner down, I returned to the hill behind left field, where I took this photo of the bullpen guys:
And another panorama, now that it was getting darker:
Throughout the rest of the game, I continued to move around, from the third base side where I got a photo of Stubby in action:
To behind home plate:
To the first base line, where I made sure to document my media pass:
In the eighth, I visited the team shop where I talked with an employee named Ryan, who I had met earlier. I bought a shirt, which will be included in a future post. I also saw an awesome game-used section and resisted the urge to go nuts:
In an exciting game, Tri-City won 6-2 to improve their record to 41-14. They currently have the best winning percentage in Minor League Baseball:
Afterward, Chris was on the field interviewing outfielder Preston Tucker, who was named the player of the game after a two-hit, three-RBI performance:
Shortly after the final out, the team was hosting an on-field renewal of wedding vows for any couple interested (to keep with the Val Day theme) as well as fireworks, but I decided to skip these events and head back to my hotel.
I woke up this morning, enjoyed a giant complimentary breakfast at the hotel, which was tasty, and then after a bit of blogging, headed out toward New Britain.
All in all, the first day of my trip was perfect, from the hotel to the game to the tour and everything that came with it. And from here on out, it’s all new parks for me!