Much to the delight of baseball fans in the small, Upstate New York town of Batavia, their beloved Muckdogs just won’t go away. A team that has been either on the verge of collapse or rumored to be on the move for more than a decade received yet another lifeline earlier this week.
New York-Penn League President Ben Hayes told The Daily News that the Muckdogs will be back in Batavia next season, a surprise announcement considering the league has been trying to sell the team since taking it over from the Rochester Red Wings last December.
“We are coming back, that is 95 percent,” Hayes told the newspaper. “The only reason it’s not 100 percent? If the community says ‘We don’t want you anymore.’ But as far as our intent? The league is going to be here. If the community of Batavia wants us, we will be here.”
The Muckdogs remain on the market, but Hayes told the newspaper that the team will be back in Batavia next season—new owner or not. Hayes did not immediately respond to an interview request.
The change of heart seems to come from the city’s recent investment in the ballpark and commitment to the team. As new general manager Dave Chase previously noted, the city helped the league fund a new infield, new infield lighting, an updated scoreboard and a renovated team office.
“There was not an inch of the place that didn’t need upgrading,” Chase, a 41-year veteran of minor league baseball, said of Dwyer Stadium.
The Muckdogs face the challenge of playing in one of the smallest markets in the minors (Batavia has a population of roughly 15,000 people) and in a 22-year-old ballpark that lacks any of the amenities featured in modern stadiums. In a good season the Muckdogs average 1,000 fans; last year they drew just 806 per game. Perhaps the team’s biggest asset is its name and logo, which is popular among youth baseball teams.
Hayes tabbed Chase in the offseason to give the Muckdogs a professional appearance. Chase takes over for the Red Wings, Batavia’s Triple-A neighbor the saved the franchise from bankruptcy before the 2008 season and signed a 10-year operating agreement with the New York-Penn League. The Red Wings will receive 5 percent of the proceeds from an eventual sale of the team for each year it operated the Muckdogs—bringing their total to 50 percent. The community-owned Red Wings’ operation of the Muckdogs came at a cost, with the team averaging a $172,000 loss through the 2016 season, according to its annual report.
Chase, in an interview last week, said that he did not know if the team would be around next season. He viewed his role as a short-term job, preparing the Muckdogs for sale while keeping the team running.
“My goal was to get [the team] running for this season,” Chase said. “I would like to play a role for a new buyer. I’m not sure we could ever be profitable in Batavia, but I think there is enough we could do to reduce deficits and possibly turn it around completely.”
It appears Chase will get a chance to make the latter happen.