Many baseball stars got their start with the O Yanks

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By John Bernhardt
Grand Canyon University, Northeastern, Malloy College, Morehouse State, Monmouth University, Canisius College, Southern University, Mercer College, Brown University, the University of Georgia, St. John Fischer, the University of Mount Union, Ave Maria College, Louisiana College and, of course, SUNY campuses at Albany, Binghamton, Cortland, Oneonta, and Oswego.

The public address announcer’s identification of colleges and universities gave the evening the feel of a college recruitment night as much as a baseball doubleheader. Yet, a diamond littered with young men with the immediate goal of improving their baseball fortunes in preparation for an upcoming collegiate season with the flicker of a dream in the back of their minds of much, much more baseball glory made for interesting theater over the weekend at Oneonta’s Damaschke Field.
For over three decades ending after the 1998 season, Damaschke was the home of the Oneonta Yankees. Every summer sports fans in Delaware and Otsego counties would trek to Oneonta to watch the Yankees, a Single A short season New York Penn League minor league affiliate of the Bronx Bombers.

Those O-Yankees fielded some pace setting NY-Penn League teams winning a record 13 regular season championships and 11 League titles. The Buck Showalter Yankees of 1985-86 established a NY-Penn League winning standard winning back-to-back regular season crowns and one League title. Shoalter’s ‘86 Yanks went 59-18 throughout the regular season.

Some famous major league stars, guys like Willie McGee, Mike Lowell, Brad Ausmus, J.T. Snow, Rafael Santana, Andy Pettitte, Don Mattingly, Bernie Williams and Jorge Posada, and a pretty famous football guy named John Elway, got their first taste of professional sports at Damaschke.

Team moved on
Former Yankees owner George Steinbrenner ended all the fun when he packed up all the Yankee baseball gear and moved his NY-Penn team to Staten Island. Steinbrenner’s gambit ushered in an era of baseball uncertainly in Oneonta, but the city gained a new short season franchise, the Oneonta Tigers. The Tigers stayed 10 seasons, leveraging the city to make renovations to Damaschke in 2007, but then fled town after the 2009 campaign. Since that time Oneonta has fielded a team in the New York Collegiate Baseball League, the Outlaws, thus the flood of college IDs during my recent Damasche visit.

I had a blast this weekend. The weather was hot and sticky, perfect for a baseball tan. The admission and concession prices are more than reasonable, the Outlaw staff friendly and engaging, the umpires - guys who arbitrated recent high school games, and the baseball, although far from flawless, was definitely entertaining.

It was heartening watching so many youthful baseball apprentices giving their all while expanding their craft of the game. The Outlaws have two local stars who are easy to root for, Chris Pindar, a dynamic outfielder, who only graduated from Oneonta High a few short weeks ago, and Michael Calkins who pitches at Tampa University. Pindar is a right-handed batting, left-handed fielding package of energy, lightning fast, a .281 line drive hitter who can go get a ball in the huge expanse of outfield at Damasche. Calkins, a left-handed pitcher, was a freshman this spring on the 47-12 Tampa University team.

Putting up numbers
Pindar’s outfield mates are racking up some impressive numbers for the Outlaws. Jack Levine, a sophomore from Brown University, is raking at a .365 clip and Brian Kraft from Grand Canyon University is hitting .325 with 20 RBI’s.

Oneonta trailed, 5-1, in the twin bill opener, before a defensive meltdown by Syracuse Salt City with two outs in the bottom of the last inning allowed the Outlaws to tie the game. Salt City infielders couldn’t close the deal misplaying four straight chances. With the bases loaded, trailing 5-3, and a 3-2 count on cleanup hitter Heath Holder, the Outlaw runners were off on the pitch. Holder’s ground ball took a wicked hop bouncing off the Salt City shortstops chest just far enough to allow both runners to score. The final out of the inning came via a rundown with the potential winning runner for the Outlaws trapped between third base and home plate. Baseball excitement indeed!
The Outlaws dropped that game in extra innings but stormed back to win the nightcap, 8-4.

Team drawing well
The NYCBL transition of baseball in Oneonta resonates with local baseball fans. I sat alongside a couple from Delhi, season ticket holders at Damasche for over 20 years. They look back fondly at the Yankee years but say little consideration was given local fans by a new regime after longtime owner Sam Nader sold the team during the Tigers final years in Oneonta. The Tigers exit to Connecticut and the beginning of the collegiate game had ignited new interest in baseball at Damasche.

NYCBL attendance figures bear out the long time fans observation. In their first 10 home games this year, the Outlaws are averaging over 2,100 fans a game, almost 10 times the rate of the NYCBL team next on the attendance list. In fact, two of every three fans to watch a baseball game during the 2013 season so far in the 11-team league have watched games at Damasche.
Oneonta Outlaw baseball. Ride the wave, catch the fun at Damasche.