When times were rough and it looked like the failures in the management of the Batavia Muckdogs franchise was going to cost the city a team, New York-Pennsylvania League president Ben Hayes admits he was on the fence.
He said after the sixth inning of tonight’s game that it was tough for him to back keeping one of the NY-P’s original franchises in the league because of how bad things were. But he didn’t pull the plug because of Batavia’s history and because of the job done by the Rochester Red Wings.
He was impressed that the first playoff appearance for the franchise in eight years has brought out plenty of fans – 789 to be exact - on a chilly Wednesday night in September.
Combine the on field victories and the progress made in rebuilding the historic franchise and the league feels good about the Batavia situation.
“This is a win-win,” Hayes said. “What Naomi Silver and the Red Wings – Dan Mason, Gary Larder – what they have done is an experience in professionalism that is top-notch in Minor League baseball.”
Of course, everybody knows about the terrible financial problems that nearly left Dwyer Stadium without a team this summer, and how Naomi Silver and her Red Wings stepped in the bail out the team.
When the situation looked its worst, Hayes ducked phone calls by the media. The Muckdogs were not my beat at The Daily News, but I heard reporters talk about the frustrations of not getting a phone call (or three) returned.
He had no problem speaking to me now that I'm at The Batavian, shortly before the Muckdogs picked up a 3-2 victory over Lowell to advance to the league championship series.
Hayes was sitting with Silver and expects that the disappointing attendance figures for this season will not be a problem next year after the Red Wings get a full offseason to work on promotions.
“They got started very late in the marketing season,” Hayes said. “The other clubs started marketing two weeks after the season. The Rochester Red Wings didn’t take over operation of the club until the end of March. It was very, very late in the season, so to speak. I don’t think you will see anything different, but over an extended period of time the momentum will be a lot different. The problems have been fixed (with the stadium and the finances). Now they can focus on other things.”
While the former professional baseball player turned league president is optimistic, he realizes that there is still work to be done – the biggest of which is the support of local baseball fans, or rather, lack their of.
Batavia was 13th out of 14 teams in the NY-P in attendance at 43,167 during the regular season. Those numbers are going to have to go up.
Hayes says that the sellouts can’t just come on the 4th of July. Batavians need to get out to watch some quality Minor League baseball at a reasonable price.
If not, the talk about the franchise leaving town that engulfed the city of Batavia last winter could be back in the future. He has faith that the Red Wings will do a good job with promotions, but says it is up to the locals if we want professional baseball in Batavia.
“It really depends on the community and the fans, and if they are going to support the team,” Hayes said. “There has to be enough revenue for this team to survive. The cost of umpires, the cost of travel – all the costs associated with being a minor league club. It’s not an image, it’s an endeavor. In order to put the product out there for the community, the community has to support the product.”