Triple-A Yanks Know There's No Place Like Home
Scranton/Wilkes-Barre plays first "home game" in the Empire State
ROCHESTER, N.Y.—Ah, home, sweet
home. If only the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees could remember what it felt
If home is where the washing
machines are, the nomads of the International League arrived there Monday.
Displaced by a year-long upgrade to their PNC Field, the temporarily dubbed
Empire State Yankees suited up in their home whites for their first of 37 contests
in Rochester's Frontier Field. Forgive the players for feeling like it was just
another stop on a 144-game road trip, particularly when they were squaring off
against Rochester's first born, the Red Wings.
Righthander Dellin Betances, who
surrendered all five Red Wing runs and threw just 44 strikes among his 96
pitches, cited his unfamiliarity with the park as a contributing factor in his
prolonged control struggles.
"It was definitely weird, because
we were not in Scranton," Betances told the Scranton Times-Tribune's Donnie
Collins following the Yankees' 5-3 loss. "We really try not to think too much
about it. But this was the first time I had ever pitched here, and it felt like
a road game."
Betances and his Yankee
teammates will be living in hotels all season, checking out every time the team
leaves its adopted base in Rochester. Their only familiar real estate will be the
visitors' clubhouse at Frontier Field, which has been transformed for the
season into a second home clubhouse.
For nearly half the team, Monday
was the first visit to Rochester thanks to an extended exhibition schedule that
kept them in Florida until the major league roster was pared to 25 just before
"I went on the exhibition trip
at the end of spring training and packed for three days," said second baseman
Doug Bernier, who spent the 2009 and 2011 seasons with Scranton. "And I was
actually living out of that suitcase until last night. So a three-day trip
turned into about two weeks. We've just been doing a lot of laundry and just
trying to make the best of the situation."
Indeed, Scranton's two-man
clubhouse crew, who will work every Empire State "home" game this season, was
overwhelmed with bag after bag of dirty clothes, left in the laundry room by
Yankee players desperate for something clean to wear off the field.
The team's fantastic journey has
disrupted life for them as well. Clubhouse assistant Mike Macciocco will spend
half the season on the road, traveling with the team for its home games. He
recognizes already that the vagabond lifestyle may take a toll on his
relationship with his girlfriend back in Scranton.
"She don't like this too much,"
he said with a grin. "It's kind of been rocky. It's tough to leave for the
At least he gets to travel back
to Pennsylvania when the team hits the road. Mike Vander Woude, the club's
director of broadcasting and media relations, is resigned to not returning home
until the All-Star break in July. Unlike the players, he leased a two-bedroom
apartment so his wife and two young children could come visit during the
"My son turns five in June, so
he's going to start kindergarten in the fall, and my daughter just turned
three," said Vander Woude, who lives in Dunmore, Pa., a short 10-minute drive
from PNC Field. "You make adjustments. The great thing is, with Skype and with
cell phones and everything else, I get a chance to video chat with them every
day so they don't forget what I look like. You make do. And in the grand scheme
of things, it's going to be one season."
While it will be a struggle for
the club, it's a bonanza for Rochester-area Yankee fans, who typically turn out
in large numbers to support their team as the visitor. Threatening weather held
Monday's crowd in check, despite an unusually balmy game-time temperature of
74, but the diehards were out, clad in their Yankee gear.
Sporting his new Empire State
Yankees cap and a Derek Jeter t-shirt, Richard DeFiore, of Greece, N.Y. (a
Rochester suburb), was among the crowd gathered at the end of the Scranton
dugout before the game, hoping to augment an extensive autograph collection. A
Red Wings season seat holder for 25 years, DeFiore proudly claims to have been
third in line to snatch up Yankee season tickets as well.
Ron Christopher, another
longtime Red Wings regular, has been a Yankee fan since the 1950s. His Bronx
Bomber autographs number more than 1,300, including greats like Yogi Berra,
Mickey Mantle, Joe DiMiaggio, and Johnny Mize. While he's excited by the chance
to see New York's up-and-comers as many as 45 times this season (including the road
eight games they would normally play at Frontier), he won't take the outcome of
the games between his two favorite Triple-A squads too seriously. "It's a
win-win situation," Christopher said. "I can't lose."
Elizabeth Finn, who attends
about 15 Red Wings games each season, sat with her father near the first-base
dugout. A Yankees fan from birth, she was ecstatic when she heard Rochester
would be assisting Scranton through their difficult campaign.
"I asked for a ticket package
for Christmas," she said. "I have vouchers for eight games already. I'm going
to try to go to at least 20. I think probably most of them are going to be
That's music to the ears of Red
Wings general manager Dan Mason, who anticipates the crowds growing as the weather
warms. Though Monday's paid attendance was 2,824, the actual body count was
significantly lower. The crowd was so quiet throughout much of the game you
could pick out individual voices and clearly hear vendors hawking peanuts and
bottled water from up in the press box. Foul balls into unpopulated sections
rattled around until they ran out of steam and were scooped up.
"It's still April and it's still
a Monday night," Mason said. "Even for the Red Wings it's always a tale of two
seasons. There's what we draw before kids get out of school and what we draw
after. In less than half the season we draw over three-quarters of our
He's not alone in expecting the
crowds to pick up.
"It seems like even when we come
here as the visiting team we get a pretty good response," Bernier said. "So
it's kind of exciting. I think we're excited to see how the fans treat us.
"Sometimes on the road you never
know what you're going to get. You get booed and heckled. We get that here, but
overall you get a lot of people that are rooting for you, people who know who
you are, who want some autographs and stuff. People here are really nice and
friendly and we appreciate that."