Batavia has a rich baseball history, and Bill Kauffman and Bill Dougherty, each in their own way, have written about that history. Last year, Dougherty released "A View from the Bleachers: Batavia Baseball," and Kauffman, whose latest book is "Poetry Night at the Ballpark," has used Batavia baseball in his books and essays to frame his love for a life lived at human scale where neighbors rub shoulders and crack wise between pitches.
In anticipation of at least one more Batavia Muckdogs baseball season, we sat down in the stands at Dwyer Stadium with Bill and Bill to talk baseball, writing and life in Batavia.
Baseball in Batavia, at least professional baseball, is listed on the endangered species list, soon to join the dodo bird and the passenger pigeon on the list of treasures lost to history. We know we have the 2016 season, and we are pretty sure there will be a 2017 season, but beyond that, the profiteers in the commissioner's office of Ben J. Hayes can't wait to yank the franchise away from the league's ancestral home.
It's a myth that the Muckdogs lack sufficient local fan support. While Batavia ranks dead last in total attendance, it's actually one of the more stoutly supported teams in the league, ranking eighth in per-capita attendance, drawing a healthy 6 percent of the city's population on an average game night.
"Baseball is one of the things that gives Batavia its character, its flavor, its savor," Kauffman said. "It keeps us from drifting into the great American nothingness that has consumed so much of this country. This is the birthplace of the New York-Penn League, and the league, unfortunately, is on this crazy madcap expansion where it stretches now from Burlington, Vermont to Morgantown, West Virginia. It’s insane. It's driven transportation and lodging costs way up and makes it very hard for small market teams to survive. If Batavia lost its franchise, I think the league would lose its heart and soul."
It's debatable, of course, whether the league still has any heart or soul, having some time ago crassly moved its headquarters out of New York to St. Petersburg, Fla.
Writers love baseball for the same reason some sports fans have drifted to faster-paced contests. It's the lulls between pitches, between hitters and between innings, that give baseball its grace, making it a game for fans with active minds and a gift for gab.
"There’s a lot of room in between things in baseball and the things that fill up that room are to me what make it a real special experience," Kauffman said.
Minor league baseball is its own special treat, says Dougherty, especially at this level, short-season Single A, where even the most experienced player hasn't even played 100 games yet of professional ball and many, when they first walk onto Dwyer's lush infield, haven't seen their first professional pitch.
"They come here, and they're not too polished, but as the season goes on you notice a definite improvement in overall play," Dougherty said. "They know what to do and some of the plays you would actually say, ‘that’s a major league play.’ I appreciate the ambiance and seeing the players develop right before your eyes.”
The name of Kauffman's book comes from a somewhat historical, or perhaps, ignominious night in Batavia baseball lore, the night and when he and Club President Brian Paris decided that rather than playing canned music -- which they both hate -- between innings, they and a few others would read poems about baseball.
"You can already tell, this was a horrible idea," Kauffman said.
After the few innings, Paris asked the fans, music or poetry? The cry of the fans -- decidedly not fans of Charles Bukowski and Marianne Moore -- filled the air, "music."
They read more poetry.
"The fact that it didn’t go over well, it was a Batavia thing," Kauffman said. "If it was San Francisco, people would go, ‘oh, that’s cool,’ but Batavia is unselfconscious and I like that."
The Batavia Muckdogs open their home schedule tonight at Dwyer Stadium. Game time is 7 p.m.