This is a good time of year for sports fans, with the National Basketball Association and National Hockey League seasons in full swing and the college playoffs in those sports (March Madness and University at Albany vs. Duke, anyone?) just starting. But some fans care only for baseball , and that, too, is in the news, with spring training well under way, the World Baseball Classic wrapping up tonight -- and Saratoga Springs' old collegiate-level team coming back.
That team was called the Saratoga Phillies and played at the East Side Rec Park from 2004 to 2009. It was warmly embraced by residents of the city, who came to the games and took the players (top-level collegians from all around the country, including Schenectady's Casper Wells, now a Major Leaguer) into their homes. Businesses bought sponsorships and advertisements, and gave the players jobs.
Adding to the community feeling was the fact that the Phillies didn't charge admission (the only team in the New York Collegiate Baseball League not to); the players passed the hat. The team also held fun events and conducted camps for youth.
But it all ended when the owners, who are from Troy and Guilderland, moved the team to Oneonta. Oneonta has a scenic stadium, Damaschke Field, that was much nicer, for players and fans alike, than East Side Rec, an old facility with small grandstands, poor amenities for players and a small snack bar. The owners moved, they said, because they were in debt and needed revenue.
Despite success on the field (including a championship in 2011) and at the box office and concession stand, the owners put the team up for sale because, they say, they wanted to be closer to home and play again in Saratoga. In December they sold it to an owner who will continue to field an Oneonta team in the New York Collegiate Baseball League.
The new Saratoga team will be called the Brigade and play this summer in the New England Collegiate Baseball League (the only New York team in that league). The owners also have plans to build a $450,000 stadium at Veterans Memorial Park (formerly Geyser Park), with bleachers, corporate boxes, bathrooms and a full-scale concession stand, if they can get the City Council's approval.
The owners haven't revealed the details yet, but they say they will not be seeking public money for the stadium. Presumably they'll be looking for a good deal from the city for use of the park, and will be charging admission. That's understandable and acceptable; they shouldn't be expected to lose money.
This kind of baseball is fun to watch, and the city should try to be accommodating. As long as the prices are family-friendly and the team remains involved in the community, the new incarnation of the Phillies can be expected to get the same kind of love the old one did.