by West Coast Craig
ONEONTA, NY â€“ I figure itâ€™s a good time to talk a little baseball. Let’s start with the in-the-news Johnny Damon.
You think when Jumpinâ€™ Johnny popped up at 2nd in Game 4 and then raced to 3rd he was thinking â€œHey that worked out pretty well, I bet thatâ€™s at least a $20 million a year move right there.â€ Probably not, but it did cross Scott Boras’ mind. The uber-agent had the worst misreading of a market since New Coke. Now, less than three weeks from pitchers & catchers, Johnny and his formidable forehead still donâ€™t have a team. When he does, it wonâ€™t be for much more than the $6 mil the Yanks offered. Last I read, even after his foot-in-mouth comments about being willing to sign with somebody else and then get traded back to the Yankees, Tampa Bay is a leading contender because heâ€™d like to stay close to his Orlando home. Maybe Boras can finagle him a long enough contract so he can use the bullet train they plan on building between the two cities. Regardless, thereâ€™ll be a boatload of money involved, even with the big pay-cut he’ll swallow. Youâ€™ve all read about it ad nauseum.
Johnny Damon racing out of town.
What you probably havenâ€™t read about is that the Oneonta Tigers are leaving town as well. Oneonta, a stoneâ€™s throw from Cooperstown and the Baseball Hall of Fame, is where I grew upâ€¦
A little college town in upstate New York where back in the days of basic cable, you got for Yankee games, Channel 9 for Mets, and channel 38 for the Red Sox. That meant a split in the fan base but the Yankees got the lionâ€™s share because of the Single A Oneonta Yankees, who played at rickety old Damaschke Field, across the train tracks in Neawha Park. A dog pound was between the tracks and the right field bleachers, so when trains went by the dogs would start barking and howling louder than the fans at the game. Sometimes youâ€™d get trapped by a long line of D&H boxcars on the way out. Tickets were cheap; if they werenâ€™t being given away in some local department store or bank sponsoring a free night. Itâ€™s a no-frills park. The box seats are just folding chairs and even stranger, they never sold beer – wanting a family atmosphere. As I recall, people just got lit at the row of bars that was just a short stroll away and after the game, some of the players would head over that way as well, surely with fake IDs since most of them werenâ€™t 21 yet.
The players that came through included a number of big names. Don Mattingly played there. Bernie Williams did, too. Whenever I watch an Angel game now, and hear the over-exuberant voice of Rex Hudler, I think of the ball I got with signatures of everyone on the 1978 O-Yanks. I later noticed he had signed twice, meaning I went up to him a second time without realizing it. I wonder if he noticed my gaffe and was just being polite to a ten-year-old kid (though, as a later-admitted marijuana user, maybe he was stoned and didnâ€™t notice – it wasnâ€™t called Stoneonta for nothing). John Elway played there in 1983, when he was drafted by both the Yankees and the Baltimore Colts. He didn’t want to play for the Colts and used the Yankees to get traded to Cookie’s Broncos. Some of my earliest baseball memories are from Damaschke Field, including some horrible ones Iâ€™d rather forget: Like when I was playing in high school and a can-of-corn fly-ball in LF skipped off the top of my glove, caromed off my head and ended up in center. I didnâ€™t appreciate it when my coach had a batting helmet brought to me out there the next day at practice.
The Oneonta Yanks moved to Staten Island in 1999, and the Detroit Tigers took up the reigns of a franchise that had been affiliated with the New York-Penn League since 1967. The original owner and local legend Sam Nader sold the team two years ago and the group that bought it made some nice improvements but didnâ€™t hold any real promotions last year – not even those sponsored free nights – and they never got the beer license, so attendance plummeted. The fact the team stunk may have had something to do with it. Maybe they saw this scenario unfolding and were pulling a Major League move, trying to fail and thus pave the way for relocation. But the O-Tigers couldnâ€™t come up with a Wild Thing or a Willie Mays Hayes to save the day. The team is now in Norwich, CT.
So, Johnny Damon doesnâ€™t have a team and neither does Oneonta. With the 2010 season just around the corner, can we work out a deal here? What do you say, Johnny? How about you and Boras give a little something back this year and bring a new team to Damaschke Field? And when you do, perhaps you ought to get a beer license.