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Life on the road: Staten Island and Rochester

Yeah, site updates haven't been as prolific as many of you would like. But life on the road cuts down on the time devoted to site updates, and it's been a blast presenting awards to the Staten Island Yankees and Rochester Red Wings. Here's a look at our travels.

Yeah, site updates on Ballpark Digest lately haven't been as prolific as many of you would like. But life on the road cuts down on the time devoted to site updates, and it's been a blast presenting awards to the Staten Island Yankees and Rochester Red Wings. Here's a look at our travels.

First stop: Richmond County Bank Ballpark, home of the Staten Island Yankees (short season; NY-Penn League). The occasion was the presentation of the 2008 Ballpark Digest Executive of the Year award to SI Yankees President Joe Ricciutti in a pregame ceremony. It was the perfect night for a ballgame, and the Yankees braintrust put together a nice little pregame ceremony with Ricciutti and his whole family, an event covered in the local media.

If you've not been to Richmond County Bank Ballpark, make a point of going. The ballpark is located on the northern tip of Staten Island, next to the Staten Island Ferry Terminal. We came over from Manhattan during the rush hour, and getting to the ballpark was a breeze: we walked right off the New York subway stop into the ferry terminal and onto the ferry for a lovely ride past Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty. Once there, it's a short and well-marked walk from the terminal to the ballpark, hich is one of the loveliest in all of the minors, thanks to its waterfront location. We cited Ricciutti's turnaround of the SI Yankees operations as the reason for the award, but he started with a great ballpark that had been woefully underutilized. From the grandstand you have a wonderful view of the Manhattan skyline, especially about 10 or 15 rows up; from most seats you'll look past the batters' eye and onto Manhattan. It's not a very big ballpark, but there are plenty of concessions, specialty stands and a kids' play area within the ballpark. If you go, be prepared for some noise: a crowd of 2,500 sounded twice that big and made a lot of racket when the Yankees rallied. Of course, it's easy to have a noisy ballpark when there are hundreds of kids running around and having a good time. Which, of course, is the whole point of hard work at the ballpark at the end of the day.

Next up: a train ride on the Empire line through Hudson Valley and Albany and up to Rochester. This is the way baseball teams used to travel, and it's a eminently civilized way to go. Indeed, the core of the old International League was located on this very rail line: Toronto, Buffalo, Syracuse and Rochester. In fact, the train line goes right past the Syracuse and Rochester ballparks.

If you've not been to Frontier Field, make an effort to go. We'll have a longer article on the ballpark later this week, but for now it will suffice to say a Rochester Red Wings game is one of the best experiences in the minors. The Red Wings have been around pretty much since the International League debuted, so there's a rich heritage of baseball in that community — and the community ownership plays a big park in making a Red Wings game such a great experience. (Perhaps community ownership is the way to go: this season two of our best ballpark experiences have come at community-owned teams in Columbus and Rochester.) We honored the Red Wings with the 2008 Award for Ongoing Excellence, and it's an award well-deserved by Gary Larder, Naomi Silver, Dan Mason and the rest of the Red Wings community board and front-office staff.

The ballpark, now one of the oldest in the International League (!), is located on the edge of downtown Rochester and benefits from both the downtown skyline and Kodak headquarters views from the skyline. It is one of the top parks of baseball on many levels. First, there's really not a bad seat in the house; even the berms down each line give great views of the playing fields, and the Red Wings have made the most of a small footprint by utilizing every square inch of real estate effectively in a very traditional baseball experience. The ballpark is clean, and the staff is easy to find: Red Wings employees are expected to wear dress shirts and ties to every game. Even the ballpark organist, Gary Costello, who cranks out the tunes nightly.

Spend time with Larder at the ballgame as I did and you see what make the Red Wings special: it seemed like everyone in the ballpark knows him, as I learned during a tour of the park under his watch. We're not talking staff here, but rather fans of all sorts: old timers who remember Silver Stadium when it was the home of the Red Wings and young kids wondering where the closest ice-cream stand is. Larder is president and CEO of the team, but he's not a denizen of the executive suite: he watches games from his own season ticket. Tradition and stability plays a big role in the fortunes of the Red Wings: team chairman and COO Naomi Silver is the daughter of former Red Wings owner Morrie Silver and the largest shareholder in Rochester Community Baseball, Inc. She's carved her own distinct legacy in the baseball world: Frontier Field was built under Silver's and Larder's watch, and they engineered the affiliation shift from the Baltimore Orioles to the Minnesota Twins, a relationship that's helped both sides. 

The participants in the Ballpark Digest award included Desiree Silver, Naomi's daughter and one of the politest young ladies we've encountered at a ballpark. I have a hunch — and a hope — that a third generation of Silvers will be a big part of baseball in Rochester in the future. –Kevin Reichard

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