Chamber Awards: Recognition icing on the cake for Muckdogs owners after successful inaugural season
The Batavia Muckdogs’ selection as the Genesee County Chamber of Commerce “Entrepreneurial Business of the Year” is the icing on the cake, says team owner Robbie Nichols, who was the catalyst and driving force behind the rejuvenation of summer baseball at Dwyer Stadium in 2021.
Speaking on behalf of co-owner and wife, Nellie; son-in-law/general manager Marc Witt, and his staff, Nichols said he is “really thrilled that the county recognized our hard work and hard effort that we put into this season.”
“And we are just thrilled with the season -- the way the sponsors, the season ticket holders, and all the fans took to us – and we’re so extremely pleased with the way the year turned out. Getting an honor like this is just the cherry on top.”
It was January 2021 when Nichols, a longtime professional hockey player in the American Hockey League and hockey/baseball owner in Elmira, approached the Batavia City Council with the idea of fielding a team in the Perfect Game Collegiate Baseball League. Negotiations between the two entities were fruitful, and baseball was back in Batavia after a one-year hiatus.
Attendance increased significantly from 2019 – Nichols said the per-game average exceeded 1,700 with more than 500 season tickets sold. Fans enjoyed the numerous promotions, which included the KMS dance crew, kids running the bases, and in-game host “Kin Dog" (Batavian John Kindig).
Outside of baseball, Nichols attracted dance competitions and clinics, PRIDE Festival, Challenger Baseball, GLOW Academy Youth Baseball and Battle of Badges, high school baseball, Alzheimer’s Walk, Muckdogs Monster Mash, among other events, to the stadium at the intersection of Bank and Denio streets.
Furthermore, the Muckdogs’ players always were available for community appearances and marched in the City’s Memorial Day Parade.
Nichols said he appreciates the way the fans responded to the team.
“It was just a fun season,” he said, “and it’s even crazier as we approach this season. Games already are close to being sold out for next year (2022). We’ll do even better this year. That’s what we're so excited about.”
When it was mentioned that the word “entrepreneurial” was in the title of the Chamber award, Nichols acknowledged that it fits him to a T.
“I think people have always said that (about me). If you look at my background, I guess that would be a pretty accurate word,” he said. “I was signed by the Detroit Red Wings and I was playing in the American Hockey League and I had a hockey card business on the side. And I made more money (with that) than I did for my NHL contract.”
He recalled that he made and sold T-shirts when his team was going to the championship game.
“People are leaving the doors and I'm out on the ice, selling T-shirts as people are walking out. We won the championship. So, I’ve always had that entrepreneur … trying to make it make a buck with a side hustle,” he said.
Nichols also mentioned “a rumor” that a show called The Flint Tropics was based on his seven years managing the Flint (Mich.) Generals.
“They said that they copied all of the crazy things that I did as far as promotions; a lot of stuff they did in that movie was stuff that I did on the ice,” he said. We will do any promotion – and we’ve got some crazy ones coming up this year.”
Although his permanent address is in Elmira, the 57-year-old Nichols said that Batavia has come his second home – literally.
“My wife and I have bought a home in Batavia now – right around the corner from the ballpark,” he said. “We’re really honored the way the City of Batavia has treated us. We can’t ask for better folks; they’re just like family.”
In his nomination of the Batavia Muckdogs for the award, lifelong Batavian Tom Turnbull said the city and county have been enriched because of Robbie and Nellie Nichols’ hard work and community spirit.
“While the Batavia Muckdogs may not seem like a new business due to the continuation of the name (from the former New York-Penn League), the new Batavia Muckdogs … are not only an incredible local business success story but have enhanced the quality of life for the residents of Genesee County,” Turnbull wrote.
Top photo: Robbie and Nellie Nichols on opening day 2021. Photo by Jim Burns.
Game photos below by Philip Casper
This is the first of four articles highlighting the 50th Annual Chamber of Commerce Awards. The annual dinner is Saturday at Batavia Downs, with hor d’oeuvres at 5 p.m. and dinner at 7 p.m. For more information about the dinner, call the Genesee County Chamber at (585) 343-7440.