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Ballpark Visit: Dutchess Stadium / 1

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When Dutchess Stadium opened in 1994 as the new home of the relocated Erie (PA) franchise, it was a watershed moment for the league. Just like the folks around Augusta, the folks in the Hudson Valley were thrilled to have a team to call their own. This, too, was a place that had always been overshadowed by the New York City sports scene. But, unless you grew up near there (which I did), it’s hard to understand how disconnected most folks in this area are from New York City in their day-to-day lives.

FAST FACTS

Opened: 1994
Capacity: 4,300
League: NY-Penn League (short season)
Parent: Tampa Bay Rays
Ticket Prices: Premium (Section 112), $14; Box (Sections 101-111), $12; Reserved (Sections 200-207), $10; Reserved Grandstand (Sections 302-307), $7; General Admission, $5; Children/Seniors (Mon.-Thur.), $4.
Phone
: 845/838-0094
Website: hvrenegades.com
Parking (all sections): $5.
Address: 1500 Rt. 9D, Wappingers Falls, N.Y. 12590
Directions: From the east: I-84 W to Rt. 9D (exit 11) North, one mile to ballpark on right. From the north, south or west (west of Hudson River): NYS Thruway to exit 17 Newburgh, to I-84 over the Newburgh Beacon Bridge to Rt 9D (exit 11). Go north one mile to ballpark. From the north (east of Hudson River): Rt. 9 South to Middlebush Rd./CR-93 (1 mile), Left onto Rt. 9D. South five miles to ballparkl on left. From South (east of Hudson River): Sprain Brook Parkway North becoming Taconic Parkway North to I-84 W. Exit Rt. 9D (Exit 11). North one mile to ballpark on right.
Text and Photos by
: Mark Cryan

Before 1994 the NY-Penn League was been described as a “chain link and bleacher” league, when many of the league’s facilities were little more than high-school fields, and most of the others dated back to an earlier era. In 1994, the landscape was changing, and the NY-Penn League saw two new facilities join their league, Dutchess Stadium in Fishkill, N.Y. and Skylands Park in Augusta, N.J. Both ballparks boasted luxury boxes and modern amenities, and both parks were in the shadow of New York City. This was uncharted territory for the most of the minor leagues, where the conventional wisdom was that fans wouldn’t come watch minor-league baseball when there was a big-league team just a short drive away.

Despite a location less than seventy-five miles from midtown Manhattan, the Renegades were a great draw right from the start, trailing only the New Jersey Cardinals in attendance while drawing 138,000 fans for the 1994 season, over 3,600 per night.

Keep in mind that the previous year, the league’s top two draws were, ironically, the Glens Falls Redbirds (who became the New Jersey Cardinals) at 78,725, and the Utica Blue Sox at 77,645. (As Ken Brett said in his infamous Lite Beer ad, “Utica?!”) Most of the other teams in the league didn’t break 50,000 in ’93, but in ’94, teams playing in three new markets led the league in attendance (New Jersey, Hudson Valley and Vermont). And Hudson Valley and New Jersey were the Dodgers and Giants of short-season A ball, making the leap together into the outskirts of the nation’s biggest city in a move that defied the conventional wisdom of the time. But, the more things change, the more they stay the same. With the addition of new facilities in places like Brooklyn, Staten Island and Aberdeen (MD), the NY-Penn League now has several teams drawing over 6,000 fans a night and over 250,000 for the season. This puts Hudson Valley closer to the middle of the pack in attendance with around 4,600 per night and about 175,000 for the season. Times change, but MiLB just continues to march ahead in facilities and attendance.

Around the World (from Erie to Fishkill, at least!) in 71 Days
It’s a bit ironic that Dutchess Stadium is going strong with a well-established affiliated team after fifteen years, and Skylands Park has lost its affiliated team and is struggling to find success with an independent Can-Am League team. The park in Augusta feels more substantial, with the entire grandstand made of concrete and a large covered concourse the wraps around the back of the stadium. The entryway and approach to the park in Sussex are also more striking, although Dutchess Stadium does feature some truly beautiful mountain views beyond the outfield walls.

But, the pace of construction probably contributed to the less elaborate appearance of Dutchess Stadium. With a building timetable of just 71 days, the team still proudly boasts about the last seats being bolted into place as the first fans came in the gates on Opening Night.

The ballpark doesn’t quite rise out of the cornfield like Kevin Costner’s Field of Dreams, but it does spring up just off a winding two-lane road in the countryside. The parking, mostly gravel, surrounds the park on the home plate and first-base sides, and you pay a parking attendant at a little wooden “toll booth.”

The main grandstand is capped with a simple green metal peaked roof atop the luxury-box level. The seating area consists of concrete on the lower rows of box seats, and center of the grandstand, and aluminum and girder construction down the sides. All the seats are in the grandstand; there are no standalone bleachers. The lower seats are green, and the upper sections are burgundy, complementing the earth tones of the grandstand’s split face stone surfaces. The result is a nice, clean look with good sight lines.

This park was built when it was still standard for the concessions to be located at ground level on the concourse behind the grandstand. The main concession stand is an outbuilding just to the first-base side of the entrance, at ground level. The small walk-in souvenir shop and ticket office are located just to the third-base side of the entrance and connected to the main grandstand by the elevator to the upper level, consisting of luxury boxes and the press box. The suites are fairly basic, with the outdoor seating consisting of green seats occupying the top two rows of the grandstand above the burgundy seats that make up the rest of the center sections.

While the roof on the luxury box level provides some feeling of cover, there is actually no roof over any of the seats, and the concourse is partially covered. This is not a big issue most nights, as the concourse is wide enough, although it’s unlikely that the designers realized quite how many carts, stands, and booths would be added to the covered portion of the concourse. On a rainy night, what cover provided by the overhanging walkway on the luxury box level quickly fills up, and the concourse doesn’t seem to drain very well after a rain, so you’ll probably get wet one way or another.

Party Time!
Just because it’s not the fanciest ballpark doesn’t mean they don’t know how to party, though. The parade of carts, stands, tents and other point of sale locations on the concourse and at other locations throughout the park create a jumbled, colorful look that evokes a county fair or a circus. Combined with music, multiple mascots and colorful murals on many of the ballpark’s flat surfaces, Dutchess Stadium has a festive feeling that comes through even when the weather is not cooperating. One of the keys to this atmosphere, and one of the trademarks of a Goldklang Group team, is an excellent sound system, with a distinctive PA announcer. Just like their sister team in Charleston, S.C., the Renegades have a PA man that converses with the crowd, roams the stands with a wireless microphone and headset, and even pops up on the field on occasion. The Renegades man does this without overwhelming the game, without shouting, and without sounding like an over-caffienated local morning DJ. Rick Zolzer, the ‘Gade’s announcer, has been part of the game presentation since the beginning and has become a part of the team’s personality. He also has an offseason gig as PA man with the NBA’s New Jersey Nets, although it’s hard to imagine he has as much fun there. I doubt he’s ever announced a Mascot Wedding at Izod Center.

Furry Creatures
Ah, yes, the mascots, another of the staples of the Veeck-Goldklang game presentation. The Renegades original mascot was Rookie, who was introduced to fans at the start of the 1994 season. A six-foot-tall raccoon was a natural fit, giving the team a kid-friendly animal character to roam the ballpark. But one popular mascot wasn’t enough. Perhaps with visions of Charles & Diana level publicity, the team almost immediately introduced Renee, a female raccoon who became the love of Rookie’s life. Still not content with two mascots, the Renegades have added a son, Rascal, and a grandfather, Roofus.

Four mascots roaming the ballpark is quite a lot, although I don’t think you ever see all four of them together. These characters are certainly the center of the experience for the kids, as the only other kid-specific ballpark amenity is an area at the very end of the third-base side with some inflatables. After fifteen years, it is surprising that there’s not a more extensive kids area or playground of any kind.

Just below the kids’ zone is an open-air picnic area at field level, and at each end of the grandstand, there are small, attractive landscaped areas. The plazas at the end of the first base side of the grandstand features table seating and a beer counter with no lines.

The Operators No-Hitter
The old saying is that you never know what you’ll see on any given night at the ballpark; a no-hitter, a triple play, or maybe somebody hitting for the cycle. On this night, we witnessed the minor-league operator’s equivalent of a no-hitter. After a two and a half hour rain delay, the remaining crowd of die-hards saw the rarest of baseball oddities, a pre-game fireworks show. It was an excellent decision by Eban Yager and his staff; with the weather finally clearing up at around 9:15 p.m., they faced the choice of a fireworks show around one in the morning with curfew and noise problems and nobody left to watch them, or shooting the pyrotechnics before the game. So, we were treated to a spectacular show, and then stuck around for about three innings before calling it a night. Thankfully, it was summer vacation, and the kids didn’t have to get up early in the morning. But it just goes to show, you never know what you’ll see.

Rain Delay Theater
Perhaps the Renegades staff might want to pay me to stay away, since over two years, I’ve made two visits to Dutchess Stadium, and I’ve spent a total of about six hours at their beautiful little ballpark, and watched a total of three innings and lots of rain.

Personally, I don’t have anything against a little rain delay, as long as I’m not pulling tarp. There’s still beer and ballpark food, and the kids love to run around in the rain. And, if there’s something to watch on the videoboard, you’ve got a full night’s entertainment. In this case, we got to watch the movie Sand Lot on the big screen. Yes, there is a big video board at Dutchess Stadium, and it’s very clear and very bright. Another reminder that the NY-Penn League is all grown up now. Oh, and the rainbows were beautiful both times.

Food
Food is varied, but with limited concessions space, they are not as extensively themed as at some ballparks in the Goldklang Group. Standards like hot dogs, pizza, nachos, beer and soda are supplemented by chicken fingers, hamburgers and more. With a decent number of points of sale, there are rarely big lines, and their prices are reasonable for the New York area. This is a ballpark with lots of great food smells, and it’s hard to stay in your seat for long with the aromas beckoning.

Dining and Attractions
Many visitors will undoubtedly make the Renegades a day trip out of New York City, but lodging is a good deal cheaper in the Hudson Valley and there are a number of attractions, so it’s worth considering an overnight stay. There are several things to do nearby, including a notable historic site, a water park, some great hiking, wineries and the beautiful campus of West Point. It’s also easy to get into New York from the Hudson Valley, see Transportation, below.

Get Some History and Get Fed
Downtown Newburgh has some attractions, but some of the surrounding neighborhoods may make this a destination best visited during the daytime. Washington’s Headquarters State Historic Site in Newburgh was where George Washington made some of the most important decisions of the Revolutionary War. Tour the private home that was his base of operations just a few blocks from the waterfront eateries listed below. For more information, including schedule, visit the park's website.

Hit the nearby Newburgh Waterfront just off Front Street, which has been recently redeveloped and features a host of restaurants and shops right on the Hudson River. Experience seafood, Cuban cuisine, live music, and more.

Get ‘Gunked
Enjoy local wines and tour the wineries on the Shawangunk Wine Trail. The Trail is composed of ten family-owned wineries from New Paltz in Ulster County to Warwick, in Orange County, all within sight of the Shawangunk Mountains.

You will find sparkling wines, vinifera and French/American varietals and blends, and even fruit wines. Check the website for special events, including Lobster Fests, jazz concerts and strawberry festivals.

Get Across the Hudson
The Hudson Valley is also about to witness the opening of the world’s longest pedestrian bridge. A renovated railroad bridge spanning 1.25 miles, the Poughkeepsie Highland Railroad Bridge will offer spectacular views from high above the Hudson. An October opening is scheduled. For more information, visit here.

Get Wet
Fishkill is a long way from the beach, but you can still have some wet summer fun at Splashdown Beach, “America’s Biggest Little Waterpark.” Just a few minutes from the ballpark, Splashdown Beach’s attractions include slides, wave pools, and a boardwalk, as well as pizza and Nathan’s hot dogs. They are open from late May and early September. For more info, including prices and operating calendar, see the waterpark's website.

Get Patriotic
With a beautiful campus on the banks of the Hudson River and a proud tradition of leadership, The United States Military Academy at West Point is definitely worth the trip. But, be aware that West Point is not open for self-touring. Visitors may take guided tour with a small fee that leaves from the West Point Visitors Center. A valid photo ID is required for all adults 16 and over, so be prepared.

The student body, or Corps of Cadets, numbers 4,400 and each year approximately 1,000 cadets join the “Long Grey Line” as they graduate and are commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant in the U.S. Army. Known for rigorous academics, a grueling physical program, and leadership and character development, West Point was founded on March 16, 1802. A favorite expression at West Point is that "much of the history we teach was made by people we taught," and many of America’s most noted military leaders are West Point graduates. West Point also competes in NCAA Division I athletics, and a trip to a football game could possibly be combined with a late-season Renegades game in a year when the Black Knights of Army open at home (which they do not in 2010). See Army's sports website for more information.

More info and directions for a visit to campus.

Hotels
The Quality Inn  serves a complimentary continental breakfast, has a fitness room, wireless Internet access, and a multilingual staff. I’m not sure what value that has, as you are reading this in English, but it sounds nice. This hotel also has a 24-hour front desk, and my favorite quality in a hotel, it’s smoke-free. Quality Inn & Suites, 849 Route 52, Fishkill, NY; 845/897-9300.

The Holiday Inn has free breakfast, a fitness center, on-site self-serve laundry facilities (a nice amenity on a long baseball road trip), and an indoor pool. This is a newer facility, and it’s close to a to a good number of restaurants and shops, including Wal-Mart, a Chinese buffet. There is also a Holiday Inn in Fishkill, so don’t be confused. Holiday Inn Express, 21 Schuyler Blvd., Fishkill, NY; 845/896-4001.

The Hampton Inn offers the usual Hampton amenities, including complimentary breakfast, pool, laundry/valet services, coffeemaker in the room, high speed internet access, and most notably, if you’re traveling with kids, a playground. Hampton Inn Fishkill, 544 Route 9, Fishkill, NY.

Transportation Options -- NYC Day Trips
One other option when staying in the Hudson Valley is traveling into New York City by train. For those who might be intimidated by New York City traffic, this is a great option. Catch a Metro-North commuter train at the Poughkeepsie station and enjoy a 90-minute-long ride along the scenic Hudson River, arriving in New York City at Grand Central Station. My kids love the train ride into the city, and you will recognize Grand Central from its many movie appearances. From Grand Central, all of New York City is easily accessible by foot, taxi, or best of all, subway. But, avoid rush hour if possible, as the trains are packed and Grand Central can be a little hectic.

There are some deals on tickets, including $1 tickets for kids on weekends, and while the adult fares may seem pricey to some, when compared with gas, tolls, and the cost and hassle of finding a place to park in New York City, it’s a steal. And the Amtrak Station in Poughkeepsie is an attractive brick structure with an interesting historical display on the walkway above the tracks. Amtrak Station, 41 Main St., Poughkeepsie, NY.

For Metro-North information; visit www.mta.info then select “Metro-North Railroad,” then “Hudson Line.”