Muckdogs' fan beating the drum to sustain 71-year tradition of pro baseball in Batavia
If the Muckdogs don't last in Batavia, it won't be because Russ Salway didn't put every ounce of passion he has behind the effort to save the team.
The Le Roy native spends at least 10 hours a week in an office at Dwyer Stadium calling on local and regional businesses trying to sell season ticket packages and special event attendance as well as stadium advertising.
If you bump into him around town, he's likely going to want to talk at some point about the Muckdogs and the need for fan support this season -- this season, especially.
Salway has also set up a group on Facebook called, appropriately enough, Let's Keep the Batavia Muckdogs in Batavia.
Russ Salway doesn't work for the Muckdogs or the Rochester Red Wings, who took over management of the team three years ago. Salway is a volunteer.
"We are obviously operating with a small staff, so we can't get to everything," said General Manager Travis Sick. "So to have somebody like Russ, who is so familiar with the community and knows a lot of people, is a great help.
"He's a tremendous help to us," Sick added. "A lot of people say they want to help, but very few come through like Russ. He's great."
Salway said he is putting so much time and effort to promote the Muckdogs because he can't image Batavia without minor league baseball.
"If we lose the team, we'll never get another one," Salway said.
Last season, the Muckdogs lost about $150,000. That deficit was covered by Rochester Community Baseball, the community group that owns the Red Wings. Club officials say they can't sustain those kinds of losses indefinitely.
"The Red Wings are definitely behind baseball here, but we need to show some improvement," Sick said. "This is still a business and we can't sustain a hundred-thousand-dollar loss year after year. I don't want to call this a make-or-break year, but we've got to show some improvement."
And Salway says he's making progress. He's finding more people and businesses willing to make a commitment to the Muckdogs this season.
"People are really stepping up," Salway said. "There is no reason we can't make this work."
Sick said season ticket sales are slightly ahead of sales from this time last year.
Salway has become such an integral part of promoting Muckdogs baseball, that it's hard to forget it's not his real job. He has worked for O-AT-KA Milk Products for 15 years, where he mixes ingredients for speciality drinks.
His schedule allows him to go to Dwyer Stadium to field phone calls for a couple of hours during the week. He runs the Facebook group from home at night.
You might think all of this extra time spent on a volunteer effort might put a strain on his personal relationships, but Salway said that his fiancee, Kellie Porter, is 110 percent behind his effort and even puts in volunteer hours herself.
Both Salway and Porter are doing it, not just for the community, he said, but for their children.
"My kids grew up down the road from Dwyer and we've been going to games for years," he said. "I want the team to remain for years so I can take my grandchildren. It's such a great thing for the community. It's a safe, family-friendly environment. It's really the last place in the county were you can go and see old friends and make new ones."
Sick said it won't take much for the team to show progress -- if more people would just go to one more game a year and a few bring some friends, that would help. The team draws about 2 percent of the population to games. If that number just ticked up a notch to 3 percent, it would make a huge difference, Sick said.
The Muckdogs are part of a tradition of professional baseball in Batavia that goes back to 1939. The New York-Penn League was founded in Batavia. Salway said Batavia shouldn't lose that continuity and that sense of history.
The next big event in the life of every Muckdog's fan is the Hot Stove Dinner on Friday at the Batavia Party House. It may be possible to purchase tickets ($25) at the door, but it would be better to buy them in advance at Dwyer Stadium.