I wonder if local fans were so finicky in 1926.
I wonder if they applauded and embraced Babe Ruth when he — in an exhibition game — hit what is proclaimed to be the longest home run in baseball history, at Artillery Park in Wilkes-Barre.
Because in the past five years, Northeast Pennsylvania has struggled to keep a minor league franchise content, let alone getting a Hall of Famer to voluntarily play in the area.
In the past half-decade, NEPA’s fussy fanbase and a never-ending saga of local politics have given the New York Yankees every reason to leave Scranton/Wilkes-Barre in the rearview.
But consider yourself lucky, Wyoming Valley, for the boys of summer are back in town.
At first, the Wyoming Valley embraced its Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees, setting a local attendance record in the inaugural season of 2007.
It took the Yankees just three years to win the Governor’s Cup, the grand prize of the International League. The previous NEPA home team, the Red Barons, could not capture a title in 18 years.
But how did NEPA residents reward the Yankees? They stopped going to games.
After more than 580,000 fans walked through PNC Field turnstiles in 2007, attendance dwindled to about 360,000 in the champion season (2009) and an all-time low of less than 300,000 in 2011.
Fans blame ownership’s failure to put them first, exhibited by the team having just seven giveaways days from 2007-2011. However, that is fixed.
In 2013, there are 18 giveaways, $1 beers on Thursday, $1 hot dogs on Monday and buy-one-get-one free ticket days on Wednesday, all made possible by a new regime in the front office.
New President and General Manager Rob Crain and company have gone so far as to succumb to the suspicion that locals did not like the “Yankees” brand, renaming the team the RailRiders, a name voted on by fans, and introducing a new color scheme.
All that should be more than enough to please the fans. But still, many pundits had a different reason for not supporting the team.
Critics pointed to an outdated bowl-shaped stadium that mimicked the Philadelphia Phillies’ old Veteran’s Stadium.
“The Vet” was abandoned by the Phillies one decade ago. Perhaps our ugly, archaic PNC Field should have gotten the same treatment sooner, but finally in 2013, there will be a new look.
Gone is the Veteran’s Stadium-build. Instead, the ballpark is a 360-degree venue — in other words, there is no such thing as a “bad” seat.
This new-age stadium was thought up years ago by former Lackawanna County Commissioner Bob Cordaro.
Say what you will about Cordaro, who was jailed last year on corruption charges, but he fought to get this team here, maybe by playing dirty. It may have even cost him his job.
In 2006, Cordaro desperately recruited a new suitor, who would eventually be the Yankees, to inhabit PNC Field after the Red Barons announced they would move to Lehigh Valley.
Enter: classic NEPA “he said, she said” politics.
Cordaro warned the public in November 2007, after losing his re-election, that the county would put itself at risk of losing the team and everything that came with it (including now-defunct plans for a Yankees-themed hotel and museum).
After Cordaro lost his re-election bid, Sen. Robert Mellow told the Times Leader that he was outraged at the position Cordaro put the county in.
“He put us in a situation to have to build a stadium to keep a team,” said Mellow, who was recently sentenced to 16 months in jail for fraud, among other charges.
Shortly after Cordaro’s exit, plans for a new stadium were abandoned — only to get the $43 million facelift this past year.
There also finally appears to be peace between county officials and team ownership, as the team is expected to stay put for the next 30 years, according to The Times-Tribune.
So, will the fans once again embrace the hometown team? I sure hope so.
“I think it’s a terrific baseball city,” Dave Miley, Yankees’ AAA manager for the past seven years, told the Citizen’s Voice in December 2006.
Shortly after the announcement of relocating to Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, New York Yankees General Manager Brian Cashman echoed Miley’s line of thinking.
“For me, this is a marriage made in heaven,” Cashman told the Times-Tribune.
Cashman told the newspaper that there were a few things that drove the Yankees out of Columbus and into NEPA, among them Lackawanna County’s willingness to install a natural-grass surface and Scranton/Wilkes-Barre being more than 300 miles closer to the Big Apple than Columbus.
While the aforementioned long-overdue stadium renovations were made in 2012, the city and team endured a year-long separation.
The stadium and field that is going to debut on April 4 will look nothing like the structure we last saw in September 2011. More than 80 percent of the players from that team are different, and of course, the Yankees are now the Railriders.
With all the necessary changes in place, only time will tell if this “marriage made in heaven” will return to its honeymoon phase.