Sch’dy exhibit covers bases on area’s pro baseball history

Schenectady Museum set to unveiled new exhibit on history of local professional baseball.
Chris Hunter of the Schenectady Museum shows off some of the baseball memorabilia in the new exhibit, which opens this Saturday.
Chris Hunter of the Schenectady Museum shows off some of the baseball memorabilia in the new exhibit, which opens this Saturday.

Matt Daskalakis loved pretty much everything about playing baseball at Albany’s Hawkins Stadium. Everything, that is, except for those 354 feet to the right field foul pole.

“That place had the makings of a fantastic stadium, but the fences were just too long, especially in right field,” said Daskalakis, a left-handed hitting first baseman who played for the Albany Senators of the Eastern League in the 1950s. “It was 354 feet down the line in right, and you don’t see that in the major leagues. I was a left-handed hitter looking at that every time I got up. It was crazy for me to go for the long ball.”

The bat used by Daskalakis and some old photographs from his personal collection will be among the many items on display when the Schenectady Museum’s exhibit on the history of local professional baseball, “Covering the Bases: The Science of Baseball,” opens Saturday and runs through Sept. 28. Along with memorabilia from the Albany Senators and the Capital Region’s current club, the Tri-Valley ValleyCats, other teams featured in the exhibit will be the Schenectady Blue Jays, the Mohawk Giants, the Albany-Colonie Yankees and the Glens Falls White Sox. Along with photographs and artifacts, also on display will be two interactive exhibits allowing visitors to measure their reaction time as well as test their throwing arm.

Interactive elements

“It’s a great opportunity to merge the science of baseball with all the wonderful history of the sport we have here in the area,” said Schenectady Museum archivist Chris Hunter, curator of the exhibit. “We have some very interesting photographs and some other great memorabilia, and we also have interactive exhibits such as a radar gun so people can figure out how fast they can pitch. It would have been nice to have a batting cage, but we didn’t have the room for that.”

The Albany Senators have the longest history of the professional teams featured, having been originally formed in 1885, and continuing — with a few idle years in between — through the 1959 season. Their last 22 seasons were as members of the Eastern League, all of them at Hawkins Stadium on Broadway in Menands, just north of the city. The place was built in 1928 and demolished in 1960.

The Capital Region’s other Eastern League team in the 1950s was the Schenectady Blue Jays, who played the Senators from 1951 through 1957, the Blue Jays’ final year. The Blue Jays, who played at McNearney Stadium in Schenectady, started their history in 1946 by playing in the Can-Am League.

“A big rivalry really didn’t develop between the Senators and the Blue Jays,” said Schenectady’s Frank Keetz, a former history teacher at Bethlehem Central and local baseball expert who has written books on the Blue Jays and the Schenectady Mohawk Giants. “The real rivalry, the one that created a lot of excitement between the communities and a lot of gambling as well, was between Schenectady and Amsterdam in the Can-Am League. The rivalry between those two teams from 1946 to 1950 was much greater than the Blue Jays and the Senators in the 1950s.”

Not a heated rivalry

Daskalakis, who traveled to cities such as Binghamton; Syracuse; Pittsfield, Mass.; Reading, Pa.; and Schenectady during his days with the Senators, confirmed that the Schenectady-Albany rivalry was not necessarily a heated one.

“It was a good rivalry, but not like you might think because we really didn’t get to know Schenectady,” said Daskalakis. “We got dressed in Albany and then took a bus to Schenectady, would play the game, and then hop on the bus and go back to Albany. It wasn’t like going to Syracuse or Reading, where we got familiar with all the venues, the hotels, the restaurants, the movie houses, which we normally would all frequent on road trips.”

The Senators won the Eastern League championship in 1954 with Daskalakis in the lineup. The Blue Jays won their lone EL title in 1956, the year the Senators finished sixth.

“Schenectady always had a top-notch pitching staff, but the ball was coming out of the sky,” said Daskalakis. “McNearney Stadium had a low center field fence. There was no background like they have for the hitters today. With that low fence, the pitch just came out of the sky and it was hard to pick up the ball.”

The exhibit also documents the history of the Mohawk Giants, Schenectady’s all-black baseball team which defeated Major League Hall of Famer Walter Johnson, 1-0, in an exhibition game in Schenectady in 1913.

“The interesting thing about the Giants was that they were supported by the white population of Schenectady,” said Keetz. “When you look at the Negro League teams in the big cities, they had these large black populations that followed them. But when the Mohawks played at Central Park, they were very popular with everybody. They created quite a following for an awfully long time in the area.”

Rapid changes

World War II and the breaking of the color barrier by Jackie Robinson in 1947 combined to sound the death knell of the Negro Leagues. As for the Senators and the Blue Jays a decade later, minor league baseball was fighting a losing battle with other options for a fan’s leisure time.

“Albany was losing its fan base because of a number of things,” said Daskalakis. “People were doing other things, like bowling and going for rides in their automobile. There was television, and people could actually watch the Yankees on the weekends. Things were changing.”

Professional baseball returned to the Capital Region, however, with the Glens Falls White Sox and Tigers (1980-88) and the Albany-Colonie A’s and Yankees (1983-94), all playing in the Eastern League. Memorabilia from those clubs are on display, including a baseball autographed by Bernie Williams, who won four World Series with the New York Yankees after playing for Albany-Colonie in 1989.

Another part of the exhibit shows the advances made in catchers’ equipment over the years. A sparkling new outfit used by the Tri-City ValleyCats hangs in the exhibit, in sharp contrast to another outfit used by local youth leagues in the 1940s.

“The ValleyCats were very helpful,” said Hunter. “They loaned us quite a bit of stuff for the exhibit.”

Representatives from the ValleyCats will be at the museum for a special program on Aug. 2.

‘Covering the Bases: The Science of Baseball’

WHERE: Schenectady Museum & Suits-Bueche Planetarium, Nott Terrace Heights, Schenectady

WHEN: Opening Saturday. Hours 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays through Sundays, through Sept. 28

HOW MUCH: Free

MORE INFO: 382-7890

Categories: Life and Arts

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