Ben Hayes, commissioner of the New York-Penn League, bristles at the idea that has persisted for 10 or more years that he, and the league, want to take professional baseball away from Batavia.
That simply isn't true, he said, during a press conference at the Quality Inn & Suites, Batavia, yesterday, where he introduced Dave Chase as the new general manager of the ballclub.
When asked with a question premised on the idea that Hayes or the league is looking to move the club, Hayes shot back, "It always starts with the assumption that the league wants to move the club. That is the part that I have a hard time with. Is the community supporting the club to the extent that it can? Can it make it on its own? That is really the question.
"This is going to be a really important year. Let's see if we strip it down and we go back to the basics, can Batavia support this ballclub? And if it can, fantastic."
In Dave Chase, the league is bringing in a baseball man through-and-through, with more than 40 years experience both in running organizations and in running the media operations that keep an eye on how baseball organizations operate. He's also been a commission of a college baseball league. He loves baseball and its history.
"Just for the record, guys, the only sport I recognize is baseball," he said. "The other ones just fill up the calendar."
And the baseball played outside of the major markets is the baseball that defines the sport and the nation, he said.
"I don't know if it's still there but at one time when you walked into the gallery Hall of Fame there was a quote above the entrance that said, 'To understand America, study,' and it says, 'baseball.' They left out a piece of the quote. It's 'to understand America study small-town baseball,' and that's what minor league baseball is. So when we talk about the national pastime being baseball, and I do recognize it as the national pastime, it's minor league baseball. I think don't think we're talking about Major League Baseball."
Both Hayes and Chase said repeatedly they hope the fans in and around Batavia embrace the Muckdogs and that Chase will do everything he can to ensure a quality fan experience.
As GM of a minor league team, Chase said he has many constituencies to serve. First is the Miami Marlin farmhands. There are also the fans, league officials, other franchises in the league, and corporate sponsors. He wants all of them to be happy with the team on the field and the experience in the ballpark.
For the Marlins, the priority is getting the field into shape and improve the clubhouses.
Chase and Hayes took a look at the field yesterday morning and they walked the outfield. They're not happy with the condition, they said.
"It looks like some of the maintenance that had been done in recent months or year were not done correctly," Chase said. "As a result, the playing surface of the infield is really rough. I would not want to put my son on it to field a ball and I wouldn't charge a baseball in the outfield either."
Work can't begin 'til spring and Chase indicated he's going to need to have some conversations with the baseball coaches at Genesee Community Collete, Notre Dame, Batavia High School, about field availability this year so that there is time to get the field ready for opening day June 18.
And he wants to meet with the coaches anyway, just as members of the local baseball community.
"I want to hear from other folks who are engaged in baseball," Chase said. "I want to hear from them because what is good for a part of baseball is good for baseball in the long run."
He also wants to hear from the fans.
"I want to hear what they like and do not like," he said. "I'm a one-man show at the moment so I may not be able to respond to them right away but my goal is to talk to them and for them to come and see me. Once we get the office cleaned up a little bit, we will invite people to come out and just talk baseball."
Some of the improvements needed at the ballpark -- cleaning up the office, new infield lights, new equipment in the concession stand -- is an expense the league will need to initially shoulder, Hayes acknowledged. He understands that the city may not have the funds available for infield lighting, but the current lighting doesn't meet league standards.
Hayes said he has various options to fund upgrades and operations for the Muckdogs in 2018, to make up for any revenue shortfall, but in the long run, if the team ever is sold, those deficits will be covered out of the share of sale proceeds that will go to the Genesee County Baseball Club.
The club, a community nonprofit, has owned the franchise for decades, but after the NYPL declined to allow the Rochester Red Wings an extension on its 10-year operating agreement, the league took over operations of the franchise. The Red Wings are entitled to 50 percent of the sale price; the league would get 10 percent; and the Club 40 percent. But Hayes said costs above revenue will be charged to the Club.
The amount of money the Club gets will play a role in the Club's ability to help recruit and retain a team in one of the region's college summer leagues.
Chase, who ran such a league, is mindful that is an option for local baseball fans.
"When you run out the New York-Penn, which is a quality short-season Class A league, we think Batavia has a good chance of supporting that, but if they can't, then some other baseball would have the option of coming in here," Chase said, and that option would be a college summer league.
When it comes to the quality of baseball, fans, he said, wouldn't know the difference.
"The young men who play the game, play as hard as ever and the fans get their summer fix of baseball," Chase said. "That that would be the next step. But we're not there yet. I think if the league was there that would have happened already."
It's been more than a dozen years since there has been an off-season without a Hot Stove League dinner, a favorite event with core Muckdogs fans, and when asked about it, both Chase and Hayes perked up and said they had just been discussing such an event at lunch. It may happen yet this off-season, Chase said.
Hayes said he picked Chase to run the club because of his experience and expertise.
"David has been in the business for four decades," Hayes said. "He's operated clubs from the low end to the high end and he knows what the values of professional baseball are and what the important things are."
There are two ways to look at Hayes hiring somebody like Chase. One is, the league wants to improve the financial position of the Muckdogs so the team can stay in Batavia. The other is to improve its curb appeal to help attract a new owner.
"There is a third option, too, and that is can we make this a stable market and can we keep it here," Hayes said. "And I don't think that that question has been completely vetted."
Surprisingly, Hayes said the first priority isn't to make the Muckdogs profitable. He said it was to get the fans more engaged with the team
"Financial viability really is not what I would say the number one," Hayes said, "It is very close to number one, but my closest number one is to make sure that as this situation stabilizes."
When it was suggested that there was a subtext to comments by Hayes that there was a dissatisfaction with how the Red Wing ran the ball club for the past 10 years, Hayes said that isn't the case at all.
"I think that they handled it and they did the job they did," Hayes said. "We've got to take a look at it and see if we can do the same thing if not better. If we can, great, and if we can't then the proof is in the pudding. Two people tried and we brought in two people who can operate a club properly. If neither one of them can do it, then maybe the market can't support it. Maybe that question will answer itself. This is a year for the city to show itself."