The city of Batavia, New York has known baseball for over a century. After the founding of a team in the city in 1897 during the playing tenure of Jack Burns, the franchise has seen names such as Doc Ellis, Cito Gaston, Manny Sanguillen, Ned Yost, Andy Ashby, Chase Utley, Ryan Howard and, most recently, some of the Marlins’ brightest budding stars don its garb. But despite how rich its history in the game is, the county of Genesee may have seen its last MiLB affiliated game played on its surface at Dwyer Stadium.
Since 2008, the financial funding situation for the Muckdogs has been a unique one. With the team up for sale due to financial losses from the non-profit Genesee County Baseball Club, the nearby Rochester Red Wings volunteered to operate the club.
“The Genesee County Baseball Club became strapped for funds and in order to sae baseball in Batavia, the Red Wings offered to manage the club under Red Wings Management,” Red Wings’ Director of Communications tells us.
In return for running the team, the Red Wings would gain a share of the team’s ownership with each passing year. That share was set to cap at 50% this past season. Despite another very generous offer from the Red Wings to virtually run the team for free, it was decided on December 19 that, with the GCBC unable to satisfy their half of the team ownership agreement, the franchise would be surrendered to the New York Penn League.
“The Red Wings will receive 50% of the sale price (5% per season of operation for a maximum of 10 years,” Rowan said. “We still offered to operate Batavia next season and were denied.”
If a new Muckdogs’ owner cannot be found, the league has stated that there is no guarantee the team will play in 2018. In the ten years the team has been up for sale, only one suitor has come along but was denied purchasing power because of its intent to relocate the franchise to Bowie, Maryland, a territory occupied by the Orioles’ Bowie Baysox.
Lack of interest in buying the Muckdogs may be being driven by the condition of their park, Dwyer Stadium. As a frequent visitor of the park built in 1996 and baseball photographer, Mike Janes points out to us, it isn’t the age of the stadium that is problematic; it is the lack of improvements and upkeep of it that have led baseball fans to seek a more desirable experience.
“Dwyer is a throwback to what Minor League Baseball used to be,” Janes said. “The park doesn’t have a ton of amenities that newer parks have. There is room for improvement throughout but that could be done drastically for very little as compared to building a new stadium somewhere else.”
Going into further detail on the state of Dwyer Stadium, Janes states that the stadium is in definite need of some TLC but also says that all of the improvements needed could be completed at a reasonable cost. Overall, Janes says that although the atmosphere is different from most newer stadiums, it isn’t a long ways off from being a competitor in the crowded northern New England baseball market. However, the financial situation surrounding the team with GCBC operating completely off of donations and volunteer work and the Red Wings running the team at a loss while also having a primary objective to their own baseball team, the work the park needs is simply not monetarily possible. According to Janes, fans have worked together with GCBC in order to give the park the facelift it needs but those efforts always seem to fall by the wayside.
“Dwyer is hard to compare to other places since most others are in bigger cities but even in its current state, it still manages to stack up against others,” Janes said. “In general they need a massive cleaning, painting, many seats need replacing (city put in some new ones few years ago), and just bringing it back to what it should of been all along. Small group of fans have been discussing doing a volunteer cleanup for years, but nothing ever materializes. Auburn which has an identically aged stadium as Batavia uses local prisoners to clean the park. That was also suggested by a season ticket holder but hasn’t happened.”
While the conditions of Dwyer from a fan’s perspective are subpar but not terrible, life through a player’s eyes there is quite grim. As one former Muckdogs player tells us, despite great support from Batavia fans and natives, due to the state of the field and clubhouses at Dwyer, the team perferred and eagerly awaited the occasions they got to play at other New York Penn League venues.
“The people of Batavia are nothing but supportive and invested in us as players and that was really nice to have that support system day in and day out. When we’d walk around town, people would always wish us good luck,” he said. “Other than that, though, the facilities definitely gave us a little extra adversity to deal with compared to some of the other teams in our league. We would always look forward to road trips because the fields we played on when we traveled were almost always better than our home field and the same could be said for the hotels. I really think a move would benefit the club.”
With the decision now in the hands of Minor League Baseball as to the future of the Muckdogs, there is nothing left for the city of Batavia to do but wait. While an exodus by the MiLB from a city and group of fans synonymous with baseball for centuries would be heartbreaking, it wouldn’t necessarily mean the death of the Muckdogs altogether. Because the GCBC own the rights to the team’s name and logo, the ‘Dogs could find partnership in either the independent or amateur ranks. But as for the MiLB, from a business standpoint, if a potential owner does not rear its head and very soon, relocation is hard to argue against. Expect the resolution from the league to be announced in the coming months ahead of the start of the short season in June.