The morning after I watched the Rochester Red Wings at Frontier Field, I woke up at my Rochester Extended Stay America hotel, showered carefully to avoid touching anything and headed out. Auburn is less than two hours’ drive from Rochester, and with an evening game in Auburn, I had most of a day to kill.
I began the day by destroying an Italian sausage skillet at Denny’s. It’s one of those moves that seems brilliant at the time, but one you regret pretty soon after.
I hopped back on the interstate and made my way toward Auburn, which is just south of Syracuse. I did a bit of shopping in Syracuse and toured the city for a bit before making the quick drive to Auburn to check out Falcon Park
I’d never been to a game in any league lower than AAA, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. I was excited, however, to watch the Auburn Doubledays because at the time, they were a Blue Jays affiliate. The Doubledays play in the New York-Penn League. I like this league’s name, and always have. It’s just got a cool sound to it. The NYPL is a Short-Season A league, meaning the players have a season that runs only from June to September. Outside of rookie ball, it’s the first stop in pro baseball for many young players.
Auburn, at the time, had two players I was anxious to see: Marcus Knecht, a Canadian from the Toronto area who was drafted in 2010 by the Jays, and Jonathan Fernandez, the son of longtime Blue Jays great Tony Fernandez.
I arrived in Auburn around 4:30 p.m. and had a quick dinner at Arby’s. (Boy, I was really eating well on this trip.) I did notice, however, that several businesses in Auburn had signs posted to remind residents that the Doubledays were playing that night (a pretty cool idea):
Prior to my trip, I scouted out Auburn’s Falcon Park on Google Maps
and saw that beyond its outfield fence was a grass hill. This, I thought, would be ideal for snagging batting practice home runs, so I wanted to get to the park early.
Falcon Park is smack dab in the middle of an Auburn neighborhood. You drive through an area filled with houses, then the ballpark suddenly appears. Across the street from the stadium is a large — and free — parking lot
. I parked my car and noticed I was only about the fifth or sixth car in the lot. The Doubledays 1998 NYPL championship is celebrated with an official street sign:
Quickly, I headed to the area beyond the outfield fence
and it looked like Easter morning. Several baseballs sat undisturbed in the grass and no one was around to claim them. I started picking them up and to my excitement, they were official NYPL balls. As I gathered them and hunted for more, a few more balls plunked down on the grass near me. (Note: If you’re snagging balls in this way, it’s best to keep your head up … or down, or whatever you think is safest. You have absolutely no warning when balls fly over the fence and essentially no time to react. And despite being nearly 400 feet from home plate, they’re travelling at a remarkably good pace.) Here’s a look at the hill where I had so much success:
In all, I gathered 11 balls. I was celebrating my spoils when I heard someone yelling at me from across the parking lot. He looked friendly enough, so I wandered over to him to see what was up. He was from New York City and was in Auburn visiting family. His kids were playing in the waterpark that’s just behind Falcon Park, and he was chilling in the parking lot. He asked if I was picking up balls, and I couldn’t really lie. He asked for one, saying he collects balls from different stadiums. I guess he’d wanted to get one of his own, but had to keep an eye on his kids. I picked out my second-best ball and gave it to him; he was thrilled. About this time, a scary meth head sauntered over and said, “I’ll give you, like, $5 for a ball.” He also managed to use the F-word about a dozen times in the course of our 10 second conversation. I weighed my options: A) I doubt he had $5, and B) I’d rather give him a ball and have him go away. I went with option B and he took it without saying thank you. Before the guy decided to come back and take all my baseballs, I said goodbye to the guy from the Big Apple and dumped my remaining nine balls in my car.
I love the look of the front of Falcon Park, and for what it’s worth, the entire park:
Then, a neighbor who literally lives next door asked me if I wanted him to take my picture in front of the building:
I asked him if he’d ever been to a game, and he hadn’t. Funny. I bought my front-row ticket next to the Doubledays dugout
for $7, then headed into the souvenir shop. Oops, the door I entered was actually the team’s office. I realized this when I was surrounded by desks and computers instead of souvenirs. As I said, the ballpark is pretty low key. But back to my ticket. You’ve got to love paying $7 for a front-row seat.
Until the park opened, I wandered around a bit and took a few more photos. Here’s one looking into the field through an opening in the left field corner:
And when the gates finally opened, I rushed into the park to see what was what. The main concourse at Falcon Park is very small and intimate. The team is actually owned by the community, which gives the venue a pretty neat feel. You definitely get the sense that the citizens stand behind their team.
Falcon Park has box seats in its lower section and general admission bleachers in the upper section, but the park only seats 2,800 people. There’s just one concession stand, which is located to your right as you enter the main gate. I bought a hot dog and was impressed with the facility’s prices. I wasn’t too hungry so I didn’t overeat, but it was tempting; nothing on the menu cost more than $4
! (Beer, of course, was more.)
I headed down the walkway behind the first base-side bleachers and saw the team’s championship and division banners, the Auburn Baseball Hall of Fame
and the kids area. A party deck is also located on this side of the field. Behind home plate is a large, open area full of vendor tables. Here are a few photos:
A souvenir stand is located down the third base side, and I couldn’t resist buying a Doubledays hat. I bought the team’s third cap, a red New Era cap with one of the neatest logos in Minor League Baseball: A letter “A” wearing a Civil War cap and sporting a gigantic mustache. Best of all, this official MiLB cap cost just $20 — much better than $45 for an MLB hat, right?
I found my way to my seat on the third base side after getting a couple autographs
at the Doubledays signing booth in the main concourse:
And then, I got a ton more autographs on my team ball, which I’d bought upon entry. In all, I got 17 signatures (I think) on the ball. The players were the friendliest I’ve encountered. Perhaps it’s their age and their enthusiasm, but they definitely still had passion for the game and its fans. It was nice to see.
My seat was pretty close to the action. It was neat to see the players warming up just a few feet away, and also to be able to watch the goings-on in the dugout during the game. Here are a couple photos to show my view:
On this night, the Doubledays were playing the State College Spikes, which is a pretty cool name. Their name refers to a young deer, called a Spike, and also ties into baseball cleats. They’re from State College, Pennsylvania and are affiliated with the Pittsburgh Pirates. The game was pretty exciting, with a ton of offense. Here’s an action photo from my seat:
The Spikes snuck by Auburn 11-10. Here’s a picture of the scoreboard taken early in the ninth inning:
While I normally like to move around the stadium as much as possible, I was seated beside a pretty neat gentleman — a guy in his 80s who was attending the game by himself. We hit it off pretty quickly and he was a blast to watch the game with. He was a long-time season ticket holder and had lots of good stories about the team. Anyway, I did my touring around, but had a great time sitting with this fellow fan. I never even found out his name, but he made my Falcon Park experience really enjoyable.