The collegiate-player version of the Batavia Muckdogs finished out its inaugural season in a way that was rare when professional ballplayers passed through town -- with a stadium full of fans excited to see a team they embraced in 2021 because the team embraced this city.
"It’s been great," said Tom Turnbull, a regular Dwyer Stadium visitor, and local community leader. "You can see the spirit, the vibe, the college kind of rah-rah that the players have and it’s carried over into the stands. People are just happy to have the Muckdogs back. It’s just been a wonderful year. They’ve been a part of the community and when you go to a concession stand and the owner is working the cash register, you know they’re invested in the city. It’s been fantastic."
For a Thursday evening, the stands were packed and there was a palatable excitement in the air.
"We’re thrilled, my wife and I pleasantly surprised," said owner Robbie Nichols during a conversation at a table where fans were bidding on player jerseys. "You can sea from the crowd tonight the support we’ve recieved. We had a short season to put it together. You’ll see next season, this place will be packed every night."
The reason for the success, Nichols noted, is the team -- not just Nichols and management staff, but coaches and players -- have gotten involved in the community over the past couple of months, in a way the pro players of the previous era never did.
Community is what is also about Nichols said.
"We always say, my wife and I are the holders of the keys but this is a community team," Nichols said. "You see people over there in line, talking, having a beer, people bringing their grandkids to the game, and that’s what it’s all about. It’s America’s game. It’s about bringing your family to the ballpark and Batavia answered the bell and this crowd is amazing."
Community is a big reason Nichols announced before last night's game that he's offering Coach Joey Martinez and two-year extension on his contract.
"It’s community first," Nichols said. "Wins and losses are important but it’s how we are out in the community, attending events and doing things. I think our team did a great job this year and we want to continue that. That’s what I want to continue. I like working out in the community helping everybody we can especially special olympics, challenger division baseball, the parades we did, reading to people, the veterans, all the stuff we did, that’s what I’m most excited about."
The players enjoyed the year, too. Players who have more college eligibility after this season have said they want to come back to Batavia next year. That will go a long way building a stronger baseball organization. Martinez only had a short time after the Muckdogs joined the Perfect Game Collegiate Baseball League to recruit players and few potential players knew anything about Batavia. After this season, Nichols noted, that will change. He said this year's players will go back to their schools and tell the best players on their teams, "you want to go to Batavia."
“I think the team is really going to improve next year," Nichols said.
This year, the Muckdogs finished just out of the running for a playoff spot with a final record of 22-19, one game behind Geneva for the coveted second playoff spot of the Western Division. If not for a rainout and some rescheduling confusion with Geneva, maybe the Muckdogs would have had a better shot at the playoffs, but last night's loss to Niagara wouldn't have helped matters.
Starter Julian Pichardo, who has been the ace of the staff this season, got hurt by three first inning errors and gave up a couple of solid base hits allowing Niagara to score three first-inning runs. Pichardo battled through 3 1/3 innings giving up four hits, three runs (only one earned), and striking out two. He finishes with a 4-2 record and a 2.46 ERA.
Abner Benitez had a big night at the plate going 3-5 and driving in five runs. He finishes the year with a .282 BA and 27 RBIs.
"Next year going to have win early and win often (to make the playoffs)," Nichols said.
Photos by Philip Casper. Top photo: Dewey wishing there was more Muckdogs’ baseball in Batavia this year.
Young fans at Dwyer catching some up close pregame action while the players warm up.
Charlie Szykowny & Julian Pichardo
Coach Jose ’Skip’ Martinez after being offered a 2-year contract extension by Robbie Nichols
Dancing on the dugout with Dewey
Blair Frederick charging towards first after a successful bunt
Blair Frederick crossing home plate
Julian Pichardo thanks the fans as he walks off the field for the last time in 2021