ROCHESTER…It’s a blustery and rainy Tuesday afternoon at Frontier Field, the Buffalo Bisons are visiting to take on the Rochester Red Wings in a matinee, and an atypically small crowd of maybe 300 patrons are scattered throughout the ballpark stands.
Yes it’s early in the season, and there is plenty of time for baseball in the sun and big crowds, but here in Rochester, a season is shaping up that will be like no other.
Rochester has taken on the role of principal landlord for the homeless Scranton/Wilkes Barre Yankees, who are without a venue while their stadium is shuttered this entire season for a massive makeover.
Enter the Red Wings, who will act as a host for the Yanks for 37 of their home games. Add the Red Wings own schedule of 72 home dates. And oh, the Red Wings also manage the operations of the New York Penn League Batavia Muck Dogs down the road. Add to that the Yankees will host 7 additional home games at Dwyer Stadium. Now you’re talking almost continuous baseball all spring and summer long over in Rochester.
“We’re handling the load well,” reports Red Wings General Manager Dan Mason. “It adds a burden to all our staff, but we’ve planned all this out very carefully and this should all work out.”
Mason said that the first improvement revolved around setting up a second “home” clubhouse to accommodate the Yankees. “We basically converted the road clubhouse to that of the Yankees, and then transformed a supplemental dressing room and expanded it by taking up the space occupied by the wives lounge, and that is now for the visitors,” said Mason. “The service level is quite a bit different but it has come together.”
For merchandising purposes, the International League has dubbed the SWB Yanks the “Empire State Yankees” for the 2012 season, undoubtedly hoping to brand and merchandise the franchise in the Yankees hotbed of upstate New York. At the Red Wings team store, ample Yankees merchandise was on the shelf, and dual logos for both the Red Wings and the Yankees appear sporadically throughout the ballpark.
Frontier Field, the home of the Rochester Red Wings, enters its 16th year of existence and operations, and has held up well in an era where new and glitzy minor league ballparks have sprung up across the nation. “You’d be surprised at what a few coats of paint will do,” Mason mused as he pointed out ballpark enhancements made at Frontier Field since the place opened. One of the jewels in the International League, Rochester’s ballpark is in a superb downtown location, with fantastic sight lines, a view of the skyline, Amtrak rail line traversing just beyond the outfield wall, and food and entertainment options a plenty.
The Bisons and the Red Wings have a historic rivalry which spans several generations, and one of the most popular entertainment diversions at Coca Cola Field, the “Wing, Cheese. Celery” race, has been emulated in Rochester. Three mascots, “Altobelli”, “Ripken” and “Easter”, who are three of Rochester’s on field icons, race down the warning track for supremacy and bragging rights. Perhaps it’s time to try a 6 way race among the Buffalo and Rochester mascots? “Not a bad idea,” Mason responds. “Maybe we’ll set it up.”
Oh. The Bisons dropped a 5-3 decision to Rochester to go 3-3 on the season. The team comes home to open the 2012 home schedule at Coca Cola Field, Wednesday at 2 PM.