The Niskayuna Baseball organization wants to be able to host several Cal Ripken Mid-Atlantic tournaments on its main field at Jeff Blatnick Park. But the field conditions aren’t right for that to happen.
Enter the Tri-City ValleyCats.
The New York-Penn League team will help Niskayuna Cal Ripken make the field suitable for the kids to play their regular-season games, as well as any tournaments that it will host. Niskayuna Cal Ripken is one of four Capital Region youth baseball/softball organizations to be part of this year’s ValleyCats’ “4 in 24 Extreme Field Renovation Project.” The other organizations who will be aided by the ValleyCats are Cohoes Little League, Coxsackie-Athens Little League and the Town of Hoosick Youth Baseball/Softball League.
April 16 is the day that the ValleyCats will simultaneously work on the fields.
“This is an amazing opportunity the ValleyCats are providing us,” Niskayuna Baseball president Chris Mennillo said. “We couldn’t be happier.”
Niskayuna’s Cal Ripken major field will be renovated. That is the field where Mennillo wants to host the Ripken Mid-Atlantic tournaments not just for the 11-12-year-old division, but the younger divisions.
“Last year, our 9-year-old team won the state championship tournament and played in the Mid-Atlantic tournament down in New Jersey,” Mennillo said. “When we went down there, we thought it would be nice to host a Mid-Atlantic tournament here in Niskayuna. We didn’t have enough fields to do it. We have the one major field. We could, maybe, get an 11-12-year-old tournament, but we couldn’t qualify for anything else.
“Now, by doing this, it’s going to open it up where we can qualify for Mid-Atlantic tournaments all the way down to 8 years old.”
The major division plays with distances of 50 feet between the pitcher’s mound and home plate, and 70 feet between the bases.
In order to host tournaments for the young divisions, the distances need to be shorter.
Right now, the major field isn’t set up for that.
“When [the ValleyCats] come in and do this work for us, we’re going to retro-fit it so that we can do both 50/70 and 46/60,” Mennillo said. “It opens up the ability to use that field for our [major] and some of our younger kids. It’s one of our showcase fields at Blatnick Park. It has the lights. We can now bring kids up from all age groups and have games on this field.
“It’s going to be a nice experience for the kids.”
Had the ValleyCats and their partners, BlueShield of Northeastern New York and Hannaford Supermarkets, not accepted Niskayuna Baseball’s application, Mennillo estimates the cost to retro-fit the field would be around $3,000 to $4,000. That cost could have been passed on to the families who sign their kids up to play.
“It definitely allows us to make the cost more manageable,” Mennillo said.
Started in 2002
The ValleyCats have been helping renovate Capital Region youth baseball and softball fields since 2002, the year they came to Troy from Pittsfield, Mass. In December, the team announces the application process for the Youth baseball and softball organizations to apply for the project. The team goes over the applications before announcing the winners.
“When we moved to the Capital Region in 2002, part of our mission was to be ambassadors to the game of baseball and promote youth athletics, and in particular baseball and softball,” ValleyCats general manager Rick Murphy said. “At that time, we didn’t have the resources, so we started out with renovating one field at a time.”
The renovations begin early in the morning. The VallleyCats full-time staff helps with the renovations, and there is a project manager at each location.
Murphy explained how the renovations work.
“We lean on the various leagues to supply us with some volunteers,” Murphy said. “The goal is to, by sunset, have the field renovated. Eighty percent of the game of baseball is played in the infield. What we’ll do is come in and skin the infield. We’ll take the grass that’s there out and we’ll replace it with brand new sod. We’ll rebuild the mound, and we’ll rebuild the plate area. We’ll get some plate mix. The batters’ boxes, we’ll put in clay bricks.
“What we find in your fields is the trouble spots are the batter’s box and in front of the pitching mound. Typically, there’s a big hole [there]. We’ll laser-level to make sure they’re at regulation distance and height, as well the dimensions to the bases. A lot of times, we’ll find the dimensions from home to first is off.”
In 2011, the organization decided to step up the process and renovate four fields in a 24-hour period.
“We thought about an extreme makeover concept,” Murphy said. “We would identify four fields, and try to renovate them in a 24-hour period. It became so successful, and our staff got so energized, and the community came together and the results are phenomenal. It’s something that we’ve continued since. We’ve renovated over 20 fields since we’ve come into the Capital Region, and it’s something we’ll continue to do every year.”
In the first year the ValleyCats did the “4 in 24,” they worked around the clock, renovating one field at a time.
“What we found is at 3 o’clock in the morning, we were still laying sod over in Scotia,” Murphy said. “What we decided to do is to be more efficient. We have four projects going on simultaneously. That gives us ample time to renovate a field in 24 hours.”