Tales of Minor League Baseball Summers

July 08, 2020 - 2:01 pm

This pandemic that we're all living through has taken away an awful lot of things... some more important than others, of course. The losses of life, employment, and countless things big and small add up to hit me a different way nearly every day.

This week the story came that the Batavia Muckdogs might not come back when all this is said and done. There will no doubt be lots of industries affected forever, but the minor league baseball world is one that I used to live in... at least for a couple summers.

So I dug out an old scrapbook my mom put together for me on my 18th birthday, and sure enough... I've got some stories to tell that can hopefully deflect from all that's piling up these days.

Two crazy summers with the Astros/DoubleDays, and that has a quick story too...


Last Game

For two full summers and part of a third, I worked at storied Falcon Park, in Auburn, NY. My first real summer job, that involved something along the lines of getting "working papers" when I turned 14 years old to get a couple shifts, to full summers the following two seasons, it was an easy pick on something to do with my nights. My friends and I had all turned that age in high school where you enter the work force. I spent time with the Brand Names in Auburn, and a pool supply store too, all in the interest of saving up for my first car. But it's the nights at Falcon Park that stick with me, and that see the most in that scrapbook my mom put together for me.

I started in 1993, working in the concessions stand... It was a tiny operation in a flaming dump of a stadium. No really it caught fire once, but that might have been a summer before I worked there. I'll admit some of these memories will be a bit time-fuzzy because I grew up going to Auburn Astros games too.

In fact... I went to a Cubs/Astros game when I was maybe 8 years old, and didn't realize that I didn't see the ACTUAL Cubs and Astros until I was about 13. You can fool kids, ya know?

Falcon Park was old, and falling down. We had a lot of the staples that minor league parks have picked up over the years. There was the old guy "Billy Jane" who danced to "Country Boy" EVERY single night. The home plate bleachers he danced in caught fire one night because the supply closet underneath those high school caliber bleachers went up in flames too. Right field had a HUGE Marlboro Man that might have been the foul pole or was just a giant man on a cowboy towering over the wall out there. I remember stories in the paper about the grading of the field being all out of wack.

The place was in rough shape.

There was one game where the scoreboard shorted out, so I was one of three employees that walked across the field with a white board, from the 3rd base side to the 1st base side, to tell the fans the score and the inning.

Astros 3

Cubs 1

Bottom 6

We did that until the scoreboard was turned back on, and then walked out with the three signs again and we'd written:




Problem is... if you could see us all at the same time and read it left to right, it read "Waiting For Thanks"... and yes that has always bothered me. SOMEONE that day had to have thought we were jerks for coming out with that. Yes, I still think about that.

The week leading up to the final weekend at the old Falcon Park, was a big one. We were sending off the old park, expecting huge crowds for what I remember to be a double header. Last night at the old park, and... FIREWORKS!*

*Now, for you young kids out there, this was before fireworks were blasted off at every game.

So the stage was set: Huge crowd, big night, and a sendoff for the ages. Then the rain clouds came. My duties in concessions were always immediately canceled out on the threat of rain and the need to tarp the field. Single A Auburn had a tarp with holes in it, and cinder blocks to hold it down haphazardly.

That night, the call came through. The emergency grounds crew personnel was to go to the bullpen. We might have to tarp the field.

You haven't LIVED until you have had to do this. Maybe you've seen the YouTube videos of people flying away with the tarp or getting pinned underneath it. These threats are real. The scientific/unscientific rolling of the tarp is an adrenaline rush likely tripled when you don't know what you're doing. I kinda didn't.

But the tarp goes out without incident, and we're all just waiting for the rain to stop, to move the show along, and send off the park.

Problem is... we have a packed house, and nothing to keep the people entertained. So we began working on our manager/boss/I don't know what he was he was probably 26 and just getting his baseball business management career started but I'm pretty sure his name was Mark. The group made a suggestion to keep the crowd into it... keep them in their seats.


The suggestion isn't taken seriously at first. Ten minutes pass. Rain still falling and pooling on the tarp. Another minute goes by. Another. And somehow, by the grace of the baseball gods, this guy looks at us, smiles, and just says:


Imagine yourself in that moment. 15 years old, at work, and the boss gives you the green light for that.

Bullpen door opens, and we sprint out onto the field, in front of a packed house, and go crocodile mile slip and slide tarp sliding for about 5 minutes. It is a DREAM COME TRUE. My early days of watching "Baseball: Funny Side Up" that featured tarp sliding at a MLB game have led me to this moment of pure bliss.*

*The bliss had a slight chance of sliding into a cinder block.

Grounds crew slides, fans go wild, game ultimately resumes and finishes, fireworks go off, and the old Falcon Park is given a proper goodbye.


New park

The first year at the new Falcon Park, we were living the good life. Clean bathrooms. No fires. I worked, again, in the concession stand eating too many French fries and pizza slices. To close the 95 season, the ceremony wasn't a big change in the look of the park, it was the club name.

The Astros weren't going to be the Astros anymore. They were going to do something crazy and cool. Rumors of Snow Leopards, or Snow Owls, or Snow something came about because if you live in this part of the world you always talk about snow stuff.

So the week leading up to the game, the field is just a mess. We are digging trenches under the outfield wall to get standing water to drain out into the park behind it. We are coating the field in diamond dust and constantly working to dry out what had been maybe a week of rain. At one point the fire department was called to bring in giant drying fans onto the field as well. I must have been 8 hours a day for 3-4 days with the crew trying to get it ready. When you're a teenager, these are grueling, but fun summer days. Besides, I was working in baseball kinda!

Oh, and we went tarp-sliding again in the days before that. Nicer tarp this time too!

Tarp Slidin

I can't be sure which one is me... butt in the air on left maybe, back left, or maybe backward hat.

The field got ready in time, the name Double Days became a thing. I should mention that I snuck into the business offices with another guy I worked with and we snooped enough to find out Double Days was going to be the name before it went public. If we had twitter we coulda leaked it. Instead we spent the entire day mocking it. Double-what? Double-Dips? We were the coolest two guys you could know.

And that was BEFORE I made the switch to selling food in the stands. I was too young to sell beer, so I sold peanuts. I also juggled bags of peanuts. I made the local news once. I'm here to tell you it didn't get me NEARLY enough tips.


I don't think this was an actual program insert... I think my mom made this for the scrapbook =)

Park change, name change, season change, my part-time employment change... it's all stored away in those memories of minor league summers. The season is short, and the games are an event in the smaller towns.

Falcon Park is where I grew up...

I always think of CCR's greatest hits because every night cleaning the stadium we heard most of them. I got free batting gloves cleaning the visitor clubhouse.

I got the satisfying job of cleaning the dugouts every night - a mix of peanut shells, tobacco spit, and gauze mostly. I'm not bs-ing here... it was a GREAT nightly duty. Baseball has that little bit of cleanliness to it that is satisfying. Chalk a baseline, mow some grass, or drag some dirt.. the dugouts felt the same to me. I was getting it ready for the next night and the look mattered.

I made a stand for myself and REFUSED to do the Macarena on top of the dugout every night. I didn't wanna do it. I didn't have to do it.

Minor League Baseball is a little different anywhere you go, but it's just got so much amateur hour purity to it:

Young kids in the stands that only know "Baseball!"

The sounds of the game and the super bright lights in dark small towns.

Eclectic fans that make every game.

Throngs of fans in for dollar hot dog night.

Kids working summer jobs.

Players with big dreams.


BTW - Manny Acta was the manager.

Minor League Baseball... nay SINGLE A, in this case. It's just its own corner of wonderfulness. What a time...

I hope it all comes back for every reason possible.

For everything it means, or could mean, to everyone involved.

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