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Minor League Season At The Dutch Was Always About More Than Baseball

As a sportswriter, as a fan and as a father, I never went to Dutchess Stadium for the baseball alone.

Yankee Stadium? Sure.

Dutchess Stadium? No.

Oh, sure, I enjoyed watching the Hudson Valley Renegades at The Dutch because they were ours. I liked the idea of watching young players who someday would end up in the Major Leagues; there were countless of them in the franchise’s first 26 seasons.

And, well, I also felt something of a kinship with the franchise – having seen what minor league baseball could do for communities, I used my pulpit as a sports columnist for the Poughkeepsie Journal back in late 1993, early 1994, to advocate for bringing the team here once we had broken the news that the former Erie (Pa.) Sailors were looking to move to our area.

Rich Thomaselli Commentary

I didn’t make a lot of friends in the county Legislature during those six months. I didn’t make a lot of friends among some taxpayers who were reluctant for the county to foot the ball for the facility and take ownership of the Stadium.

However, I did make a boatload of like-minded friends who had the same vision that I did and, 26 years later, we were all correct in our assumptions – the Renegades are one of the greatest assets we have in this area.

But today, well, today came a different kind of news that really wasn’t a surprise to many, but was nonetheless devastating for all: minor league baseball was canceled for the 2020 season by Major League Baseball due to the effects of the coronavirus pandemic, leaving us without our beloved Renegades and without professional baseball for the first time in a generation.

But it was never so much about the balls and strikes, never about the hits and errors, never about the wins and losses. I am quite certain that many fans feel the same way. Instead, it was about going to the Stadium to see what funny and crazy stuff my friend of 35 years, public address announcer and now team Vice President Rick Zolzer, was going to say.

It was about taking my boys there a dozen years ago, when they were 7 and 3, and watching them battle their droopy eyelids through nine innings and constantly ask, “We’re staying for fireworks, right Dad?”

It was about taking my boys there last year, when they were 19 and 15, and watching two teenagers wade through about $100 in concessions and constantly ask, “We’re staying for fireworks, right Dad?”

It was about getting in a conga like with Rookie.

It was about watching some lady get in a box and blow herself up between innings.

It was about sitting in the stands on a warm summer night, laughing with old friends, making new friends and, while I will neither confirm nor deny, possibly enjoying an adult beverage while getting up and showing off our best moves when the ‘Gades scored and Zolz would play “Hip-Hop Hooray” throughout the Stadium.

Funny. A few days ago I celebrated 34 years as a sportswriter. One of my most vivid and cherished memories is when the Renegades played their inaugural game, a road contest in Massachusetts on June 17, 1994. If that date happens to jog your own memories, well, it should. It was the day the New York Rangers had their parade up the Canyon of Heroes after winning hockey’s Stanley Cup for the first time in 54 years. It was the day the New York Knicks won Game 5 of the NBA Finals against the Houston Rockets. And it was the day and night of the infamous O.J. Simpson slow-speed Ford Bronco chase through Los Angeles’ highways.

The next night was the home opener at Dutchess Stadium, and I remember very little about the game itself other than writing this line as the lead to my story: “As always, Santa delivers,” a reference to the Renegades’ Roberto Santa, who drove in the game-winning run in extra innings to send the Dutchess Stadium crowd home happy.

I remember the legendary Nolan Ryan peering over the outfield fence to watch his son Reid pitch for the Renegades, so as not to cause a disturbance while sitting in the stands.

I have a fond memory of taking my sons to games in 2009 and 2017, when then-New York Mets superstars Carlos Beltran and Matt Harvey, respectively, played at Dutchess Stadium in rehab assignments.

I saw countless players pass through that eventually went on to the big leagues, guys who even played in the World Series.

I caught up with countless coaches and managers whom I remembered from my own youth watching play in the majors.

You know what? Maybe it was about the baseball, too, now that I think about it. But at this level, the minor league level, you don’t create these memories simply by showing up. These are the kinds of memories that unfold over a lifetime – or, at the very least, a generation.

This summer will not be the same. And our memory banks will be that much poorer.

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