STILLWATER — Members of the Tri-City ValleyCats organization wore smiles as they began work Tuesday, transforming an open field into a field of dreams for the Red Storm travel baseball program based in Stillwater.
Such work has become the norm for the ValleyCats organization as part of its annual “4 in 24” program, in which the summer occupants of Joseph L. Bruno Stadium help youth programs remake fields of their own.
This, though, isn’t a normal summer for the ValleyCats. On the day the organization spent time helping another, the ValleyCats — and every other Minor League Baseball team — received confirmation they don’t have a 2020 season of their own to play because of the coronavirus pandemic. In a long-expected move, Major League Baseball informed its feeder system Tuesday that it won’t provide its affiliated teams with players for a 2020 season, so there will not be a season for minor-league squads such as the ValleyCats.
“These are unprecedented times for our country and our organization as this is the first time in our history that we’ve had a summer without Minor League Baseball played,” Minor League Baseball President and CEO Pat O’Conner said in a statement. “While this is a sad day for many, this announcement removes the uncertainty surrounding the 2020 season and allows our teams to begin planning for an exciting 2021 season of affordable family entertainment.”
That’s something the ValleyCats have provided for years in the Capital Region for area baseball fans.
“We are obviously disappointed with this outcome, but understand the decision given these unprecedented circumstances,” ValleyCats president Rick Murphy said in a press release issued Tuesday evening. “The health and safety of our fans, players, staff, and the community remains our top priority.”
“Despite the challenges ahead, we are committed to being an active member of the Capital Region community for the long term and look forward to reopening the gates at ‘The Joe’ for our 2021 season,” ValleyCats general manager Matt Callahan said via the same press release.
That commitment showed Tuesday in Stillwater. There, the ValleyCats helped create a brand-new field for the Red Storm travel baseball organization’s five teams, ranging from 8- to 12-years old, from Stillwater and Mechanicville. Just a few hours into the project, delayed from its planned April start dates due to COVID-19, a crew of 20 volunteers had skimmed the infield, began spreading infield mix for the basepaths and home plate was ready to be placed in the surveyed diamond.
“It was an open field with an assemblance of a ball field on it for years, just a playground and an open field,” Stillwater Supervisor Ed Kinowski said. “The level of effort is proof of how good it is for a win for Stillwater to have the ValleyCats put a ball field in, for the fathers and families of our town and surrounding towns.”
Normally the ValleyCats staff and volunteers transform four diamonds in 24 hours. This year, that time frame is more in spirit with the program. The work will take place with masks on, less hands-on shovels and rakes over a few more days.
The new Red Storm diamond is being built from a rarely used field, almost from scratch.
“Every field has a life of its own, has its own advantages, its own challenges,” Callahan said at the work site. “This one hadn’t been used in quite a while. . . . We’ll get a good chunk of this done today, and then we’ll probably have to come back to put some finishing touches on it.”
Red Storm 10U coach Greg Pecora was on hand to assist with the transformation.
“We’ve been trying to build a program, but the problem was we were limited to where we could play,” Pecora said. “We used the Mechanicville-Stillwater Little League fields as much as we could, but during a normal year, they have games going on. We needed a place to play, and Stillwater really didn’t have a field for youth baseball.”
Pecora worked with Kinowski and the ValleyCats to apply for help with the location. The ValleyCats announced that the Best Ave. field along with Lansingburgh Little League, Shatford Little League in New Lebanon and the City of Watervliet softball field would be part of the 2020 transformations.
Pecora said an actual home is a key to continued success of the Red Storm.
“As you see throughout the Capital District, if you don’t build a baseball field right, it doesn’t get used,” Pecora said. “We might have been able to put a field in, but nowhere near to this level.”
The ValleyCats will leave with a solid diamond in place, and the Town of Stillwater has contracted with a fence company to install a permanent outfield fence with Kinowski and other volunteers building two dugouts.