Waiting on Pegula

For the first and last two weeks of the season the hottest topic around Dwyer Stadium that every long time and new fan alike are begging for an answer to is simple, will we have a team next season, are we done, is this it, is the longest serving team in the NY-Penn League disappearing with the likes of Utica, Oneonta, St. Catherines and all the rest who could not keep up with the big city markets?

The answer is simple yet worrisome, nobody knows.

Batavia is not only one of the only two remaining teams of the original six in the league, the other being the Jamestown Jammers owned by Bob Rich of Rich Products who also owns the Buffalo Bisons along with other affiliated teams, it is the birthplace of the NY-Penn League.  Yes, the league was formed at a hotel that has long been torn down, and now fans wonder if the team is also going to soon be a faint memory of what was in this small city in between their Triple-A counterparts in Rochester and Buffalo.  Looking at where the team will end up means you have to take a look at where they currently sit and how they got here.

SAVIORS:

The fact the team still exists is thanks to the Rochester Red Wings, Triple-A affiliate of the Minnesota Twins and neighbors about thirty minutes north, who took over operations of the team just before the 2008 season trying to make due with a newly hired general manager that quickly was shown the door leaving questions of not only what he did in the months leading up to the season, but how he was ever hired in the first place.  Though many are not fans of how the Red Wings operate the Muckdogs and the belief single-A can not be run like triple-A, there is a simple fact that without them the team would probably be long gone.

To that extent, fans owe the Red Wings a huge debt of gratitude.  The Red Wings will leave with more than just a thank you however, they stand to make a nice profit the day the Muckdogs are sold.  Rochester is owned by local stockholders, so a long term commitment to a team that is struggling is out of the question, the patience and money is not there.  So with that the question becomes who is the right fit, who would keep our team in Western New York, and not only that but make it profitable?

PEGULA TEST:

Yes, the Muckdogs can be profitable in the city of Batavia!  Fortunately we have someone just up I-90 who we can create an evaluation of the type of person needed based on Buffalo Sabres owner Terry Pegula; unfortunately though he has absolutely no interest at all in owning a struggling baseball franchise.  Let’s face it, our beloved Muckdogs are a tough sell, they can not skate very well, most have some nice teeth, and if you say drop the gloves there’s at least a minute of confused silence.  However, it does not mean we can not use what he has done and compare, in other words a new owner should pass the “Pegula Test”.

Mr. Pegula is an owner who came into Buffalo and noticed immediate things that needed to be updated for both the fans and players, he spent enough to buy the Muckdogs on locker room improvements alone, he knew the history of the Rochester connection and purchased the Amerks as well to rekindle the old fire, in other words he was not afraid to invest and make the game of hockey better for the cities of Buffalo and Rochester.  Considering how many Western New Yorkers share the hockey passion it is common sense that this is exactly the type of owner we need in Batavia, but for baseball.

Simple fact is the Muckdogs have fell behind and ownership has nobody to blame but themselves.  As a minor league lifer spending the last fourteen years traveling the country from big cities to small rural towns, it’s clear why the team is struggling and showing losses year after year.  No it is not a former General Manager as is often the scape goat by some, no it is not the community who does not support the team, no it’s not the Red Wings, it is all at the top and has been since at least the mid-90’s when the stadium was built.  That is why Batavia needs an owner that can pass the “Pegula Test”, one that can see the problems and fix them, not pass blame or expect someone else to fix it while they watch and take credit.

9th INNING:

From the outside looking in the Muckdogs problems are troublesome to a potential buyer who would want to keep the team in town.  The team loses money each season, attendance is low, the stadium needs upgrades, the market is smaller than most others in the league, there’s just no guarantee of success.  Looking deeper though, this could actually be more of an opportunity than a let down, let’s explore…

Sale price could be very friendly to an owner who will keep the team in Batavia.  The Red Wings have insisted they want to help the sale of the team to someone who will commit to keeping them the Batavia Muckdogs, not someone who wants to pack up and move to West Virginia.  In other words, motivated sellers.

– New investments can lead to new opportunities.  It’s no secret that Dwyer Stadium was built in the mid-90’s where boring and lifeless were the key ingredients, they took a historic yet falling apart stadium and replaced it with new but drab.  Though a new stadium with a historic feel would best fit Batavia, much of what needs to be done is minor and could improve the atmosphere immensely.  New stadiums routinely increase attendance 30-40%, offers many opportunities for naming rights that the team currently does not have, basically investment sparks interest from fans and businesses alike who want to be part of the action.  A new owner who will make that up front investment can work backwards, the opportunities are there almost untapped.

– Batavia is almost like a new franchise, yes that’s hard to believe given they are the oldest team in the league, however the gap of people who are clueless about the Muckdogs or who they are is astonishing!  For the past fifteen or so years the approach has been to announce the team is there and hope people show up, community outreach is minimal, ties to schools and kids is non-existent.  If you ask around most high school players think the team is made up of local players, not professional athletes.  It’s a fresh market but with the benefit of already having a loyal fan base and one of the most marketable names and logos.

– Currently the only draw at Dwyer is the games themselves, including collegiate and high school games.  There’s no meeting rooms, one office, no indoor batting cages to rent in the cold winter, they are almost literally locked down for at least five months out of the year.  Stadium improvements and additions could fix this problem making it a location that can be used all year long which increases revenue.

– New ownership can send the message loud and clear, the old days are over!  New ownership that invests in the team, the community really, sparks interest where the message can be crafted to fit what they plan to do with the team.  This of course should be making the Muckdogs an integral part of the community!  No, the Muckdogs will never draw 5-6,000 fans per game, but 2,000-2,500 is within reach along with increasing revenue from other improvements and marketing in a virtually untapped market.

LAST AT BAT:

The Batavia Muckdogs are on deck for their last at bat with two outs in the bottom of the ninth.  Nobody knows when that final out will be recorded, nobody knows if going into 2013 is the symbolic final walk to the plate, for all anyone knows the Muckdogs could be watching that final out from the on deck circle never getting a chance to step in the box and take their final hack under new leadership.

When it comes down to it the only word that can be used to describe the situation is sad, it’s sad to think the team may end up with the likes of Hornell, Bradford, Niagara Falls, and Olean – original NY-Penn League teams that no longer exist.  What’s sadder though is the fact that it was not the community who failed Batavia, it was the last fifteen years of ownership that did not see the changes around minor league baseball failing to keep up with the times, it was their conscience effort that let down the community.

We will never know when that last swing will take place, or if it already has, so for now Muckdogs fans sit patiently in the on deck circle wondering if there’s a chance to take that one big hack to knock it out of the park.  Yes, it’s sad that unless enough to buy the team and improve the stadium is found in my seat cushions, a new owner comes along that passes the “Pegula Test”, or someone has a direct line to Oprah, we may never find out, that fans will be the saddest of all, never having that chance!

So in the end it comes down to if the Muckdogs will limp away with head down held low because of poor decisions made the last fifteen or so years, or if someone new will emerge and put a shot in the arm to not only save the team but help the Western New York community, the Batavia community, to make the team a center point of a small city that so desperately needs the pick me up, question remains where is our Terry Pegula?

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Want to help? Head on over to www.muckdogs.com and pick up some new threads or other merchandise, soon the Booster Club application will be online, or for business owners look to sponsor the team as they can work with any business, any size, in any capacity!

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Mike Janes is the COO of Four Seam Images LLC – a minor league image wire and partner of AP Images; CEO of Resolute Images – a WNY based sports photography service; Owner of Mike Janes Photography LLC covering sports all over the country for several media outlets; contact him at mjanes@fourseamimages.com

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