It’s a blazing hot Friday afternoon at Cantine Field. The collegiate-level Saugerties Stallions are warming up to the Guardians of the Galaxy soundtrack. Everyone, from the players to the grounds crew, is having a great time out in the sun, getting ready for a night at the ballpark.
Unfortunately, as has been the case more often than not this season, the Stallions lost.
It hasn’t been a smooth rookie year for the newest team in the collegiate-level Perfect Game Baseball League. Attendance is low, about 125 per game, and the team’s winning percentage is under .300. It takes time to establish a new franchise, but the Stallions are still performing below the league’s expectations — particularly on the business side.
Commissioner Jeff Kunion said Saugerties is the perfect place for a team. “Great facility, great government support, and I really think the community would be ready for us if they knew we were there,” he said.
There’s the rub — marketing.
“I think what probably went wrong is the fact that because the owner [Marty Radford] lives in North Carolina, he may have bit off a little bit more than he can chew,” said Kunion. “He didn’t market the team as thoroughly and properly as we would’ve liked to have seen.”
The league believes a change in ownership will be necessary.
“We anticipate finding a new owner because I think this owner has recognized that he’s not going to be able to be as involved as he would like to. And we’re going to try to find someone who’s obviously closer to Saugerties, whether they’re local to the town, or whether they’re from the general area in New York. We want to find somebody who can go in there and take advantage of what Saugerties has to offer.”
Justin Whittaker, a 2012 Saugerties High School graduate, is the team’s general manager. Like the players, he’s a college student on summer break. He attends St. Rose in Albany. This is an internship. He got the gig because of his local roots. “I know a lot of people, I have contacts, and I know what Saugerties needs in order to bring players in,” said Whittaker.
As GM, he’s in charge of all day-to-day operations. He contacts the players, letting them know where and when they have to be. He is in charge of transportation, field crew and league concerns as well as the press box staff and media coverage. This is a lot of responsibility for a college student, but Whittaker has taken it like a pro — and likely got a much more valuable internship as a result. After all, if he had sought an internship with a more established team, he’d probably be stuck on the lowest rung, emailing box scores and updating the team’s Facebook page.
The players are having positive experiences as well.
“We’ve had some close games, we lost a lot of close games, but I think we learned a lot from those losses,” said Pat Dorrian, an infielder from Kingston.
“It’s pretty laid back, you can really work on your game,” said outfielder Micah Riddick, an outfielder, also from Kingston . “And exposure, playing with different guys from all around the country is pretty cool.” When asked if he’d like to come back next year: “I’d like to stay.”
The league itself is relatively new; it completed its first season in 2011. It includes ten teams, all from New York State, which play 50 games in a two-month season, June and July.
The Stallions include players from 23 colleges and 11 states. Players are either recruited based on spring season success or apply themselves.
Housing for the many non-local players was a challenge. Most found homes with local families. Whittaker reports that many are already signing up to host for next year.
With an intensive schedule and days that often don’t end until the wee hours of the morning, players don’t have a lot of time for off-the-field hijinks. But pitcher Dalton Dahley and catcher Chris Reynolds have managed to do some exploring. Dalton, a native Virginian, made sure to visit New York City. “We went to the city last weekend, and a couple weekends before we went to a Mets game. It was awesome, a really good experience.”
Reynolds has been enjoying the rural life.
“A couple guys that I live with, we go fishing a lot. We bought poles and stuff. We’ve also been over to the ice rink before, played there, so we have some fun. There’s also an area we heard that some guys went hiking, so we might try that soon.”
All the players spoke highly of Cantine Field, saying it was one of the best facilities they’d seen.
Whittaker said the team has a positive impact on the local economy.
“We definitely help to bring more business to town because we have a lot of players who are coming from out west, and their families actually travel to Saugerties for an extended period of time,” he said. “There are also a lot of families from Jersey and they come to a lot of the games, and now they’re going into our town, seeing what we have to offer, supporting local business.”
The team has had some promotional successes. Bringing the district-champion 11-12 Little League team on the field was a good move, and the well promoted and well timed July 4 game before the fireworks attracted around 500 spectators — still not as much as the 2,000 more established teams attract, but not too shabby.
Head Coach Matt Righter also coaches the SUNY New Paltz baseball team. Before that, he was a big league pitcher for the Detroit Tigers for five seasons. He called Saugerties, “a great place to coach.”
Looking ahead, he sees potential.
“We have two weeks left. I’d like to see us finish on a strong note. I’d like to see everyone get through healthy, win a few games, end on a positive note, and I think we can do that. In the future, I think this is a place we can bring talented players. I think we could have a very good pitching staff here, and we have a few pieces to that puzzle now. High-quality, high character-guys. I think that would be the success for the program.”