History. Community. Baseball. Three things Naomi Silver knows something about.
In 1956, 57 years after the Rochester baseball franchise was formed, the St. Louis Cardinals, which had owned and operated the Red Wings for the previous 27 seasons, decided to abandon the city. Naomi's father, Morrie Silver, made it his one-man mission to save baseball for Rochester.
Silver formed Rochester Community Baseball, Inc. In 72 days, Morrie sold enough stock in the team -- 8,882 shares to local investors -- to buy the team from the Cardinals, keeping it from being either shuttered or moved.
Today, Rochester is home to the only minor league baseball team that has operated in the same city since the 1800s.
Batavia is also a historic baseball city. The New York-Penn League was formed in Batavia and Batavia is one of only two cities -- along with Jamestown -- that still has teams connected to those original six franchises.
The Muckdogs trace their lineage to 1939.
It's that history, and the importance of baseball to the community, that attracted Naomi Silver and Red Wings General Manager Dan Mason, to the Muckdogs.
Prior to the 2008 season, the Muckdogs were on the ropes.
The team lost $150,000 in 2007. It seemed nearly certain the NY-Penn League would force the team to move to a larger market. Silver and Mason heard about the dire straits of baseball in Batavia and decided to do something about it.
Rochester Community Baseball stepped in and paid off all of those debts and agreed to operate the team and see if the franchise could once again become a profitable operation.
Fewer than 200 cities in North America have professional baseball teams.
In cities such as Ithica, Elmira and Watertown, baseball fans are bereft each summer of the opportunity to see future stars swat homers the way Ryan Howard did a few years ago at Dwyer Stadium. They miss the joys of showing up at the ballpark and visiting with friends or mentoring grandchildren while watching young pros hone their skills in one of the most storied and historic leagues of professional sports.
"For Batavia to have a team is a great asset," Mason said. "It’s something that a lot of other cities would love to have. The pride that it generates, and the memories it generates for the fans in any minor league community, is something that is a great asset to the quality of life in that town."
Credit Rochester Community Baseball with saving the sport in Batavia, for now. It's the reason the Red Wings will accept a special recognition award Saturday from the Genesee County Chamber of Commerce. But it doesn't guarantee baseball in Batavia in 2011.
Even after winning a championship in 2008, the first year the club fell under Red Wings' management, the team still lost $100,000 in 2009.
This year's campaign is critical, Silver said, in determining the future of baseball in Batavia.
"I would have thought that last year we could have broken even," Silver said. "This year, we most definitely must break even. We should be better than that."
Fan support is important, but minor league teams survive on business sponsorships. At one time, local businesses were very supportive of the Muckdogs, but the sponsorships fell off in recent years. Muckdogs General Manager Travis Sick is working hard -- with help from superfan Russ Salway -- selling corporate sponsorships. The level of local business support, Silver said, will be key to determining the future of the Muckdogs.
"We’ll know in a relatively short time what the outcome will be,” Silver said. "We’ll be able to tell very soon what our sponsorships are going to be like. We won’t know if we’re going to draw more people until the baseball season starts."
It's clear that Silver and Mason care a good deal about baseball, history and community. It's woven into the mission and culture of Red Wings baseball, and it's why there's a Batavia Muckdogs team this year.
Now is the time, according to Silver, for the community to step up the effort to support baseball in Batavia.
"We definitely want to get people involved in this," Silver said. "Everyone has a stake in this in Batavia. Whether you’re a fan that should be making a decision to come out to the ballpark or whether you’re a business and would hate to see baseball leave Batavia, we hope they'll all get out there.
"There’s hardly a community I can imagine," Silver added, "that would want to lose an asset like this."