By: Mathieu Starke
Sunny days, family entertainment and a break from the stress that comes with being an adult. That’s what many people may think about when they hear the words ‘minor league baseball.’
For some communities that came to an end when Major League Baseball (MLB) realigned the minor league baseball (MiLB) system. Teams like the Charlotte Stone Crabs, a former Single-A affiliate of the Tampa Bay Rays who played in Port Charlotte, FL, had to close their doors for good after losing their affiliation. For other teams, they found a way to adapt. Among those teams were the Batavia Muckdogs.
The Muckdogs, who had been the Class A Short-season affiliate of the Miami Marlins, were among the teams not invited into the new MiLB alignment. The organization, with a history that dates back to 1939, was bought by CAN-USA Sports, and proceeded to join the Perfect Game Collegiate Baseball League (PGCBL).
“We’re a sports management company. We own the Elmira Pioneers baseball team, and about 10 years ago we did the same thing. Their team was affiliated and we took them out of that, and put them into the Perfect Game Collegiate League,” said CAN-USA Sports General Manager Marc Witt.
Batavia’s history within the MiLB wasn’t always smooth sailing. It saw years where it had to suspend operation due to financial reasons. The Rochester Red Wings and the now defunct New York Penn League ran the team at various times, and the Genesee County Baseball Club still own the name and logo of the team. Witt noted that when they took over Elmira they boosted attendance significantly, something they also saw in their first season operating Batavia.
“People were a little skeptical about ‘oh wow, you’re losing your affiliation’,” Witt said. “We doubled their attendance.”
According to stats gathered by Ballpark Digest, Batavia’s attendance jumped 127% from the 2019 season to the 2021 season. Season ticket sales jumped by more than six times what they had been. A lot of that could do with Batavia’s new focus on interaction with the community.
“When you deal with pro athletes, sometimes it’s a lot more of a challenge. Sometimes these guys think they’re bigger than life, if that makes sense. So, the community I understood was, a lot of these guys weren’t a part of the community,” Witt said referencing the time Batavia was still affiliated.
“We did something so simple. We made our players walk in the Memorial Day parade, and the town went nuts. They were running up and getting autographs, taking pictures with the Muckdogs. Granted they weren’t the affiliated Muckdogs, but some of these guys are D1 and D2 (National Collegiate Athletic Association) athletes,” Witt said. “Another great example, we started a local dance team for our games, called the LeBeau Salon Dimond Dance Team. So, all these girls are local girls, seniors in high school, freshman in college, kind of that age. They dance at the games to entertain the fans, but people just eat that up. They see it’s their daughter, cousin or friend on the team, and come out and support it, and the fact they get to go out on the field where these players play and perform before each game, it’s become like a community scene. People have been like ‘you guys make us feel like we’re a part of the team even though we are fans.’ Things like that, they all add up.”
While the intentions of the MLB can be debated until the end of time, what happened happened. As unfortunate as it can be to see some teams have to lock their gates for good, others have found ways to thrive.
“It’s the communities team. We may own the team, but they have the keys to keep it open,” Witt said.
Clearly the transition to the PGCBL is going as smoothly as could be hoped for. And unlike in years past, it appears the club is putting special emphasis on its community existence.