Friday, July 09, 2010

PONY League

Last week, KJ and I went on an unintended mini-tour of New York-Penn League stadiums, visiting Lowell on Thursday night and Hudson Valley on Friday. The Lowell game was planned, as the tickets were courtesy of KJ's employer, but we ended up at the Hudson Valley game as a result of making excellent time on our Boston-to-Poughkeepsie trip for the three-day 4th of July weekend.

The Short-Season A-level New York-Penn League actually consists of seven teams from New York and only two from Pennsylvania, plus one each from Maryland, Ohio, Connecticut, Massachusetts and Vermont. For as long as I've been familiar with the league, Pennsylvania has been just as under-represented. In fact, after the Erie Sailors left town following the 1993 season, and moved to Hudson Valley to become the Renegades, the Williamsport team was the only representative of the Keystone State until the New Jersey Cardinals became the State College Spikes in 2006.

Incidentally, I was once offered a job by the Williamsport Cubs—now the Crosscutters—back in 1996. But, it was a seven-month position, and one which paid very little. Despite being a job in baseball, I wasn't all that excited about the responsibilities, and even back then I wasn't young enough to be willing to make the sacrifice, so I turned it down.

When the league was founded, in 1939, it was originally the Pennsylvania-Ontario-New York League, or PONY League. But, even then, with their name receiving first billing, the Bradford Bees were the only team from Pennsylvania, while four from New York and one from Ontario rounded out the league. In fact, in its 70-plus year history, Pennsylvania teams have won only four championships, in addition to one "co-championship." Five teams from outside the two states that are the current league's namesakes have won, with the remaining 60 or so championships belonging to New York teams.

I was originally going to compare the two minor league venues, but you probably know how I feel about all the between-innings nonsense that goes on at these games. I have to admit, though, that I'm softening my stance a little, and accepting that it's all part of the show. Besides, these two games finished in an average time of just under 2 1/2 hours, a half hour shorter than the norm at the major league level, so the extras don't really drag these games out all that much.

Instead, I find myself focusing on just a couple of factors that favor Hudson Valley. Free Wi-Fi at Dutchess Stadium allowed me to jinx the opposing team's seven-inning no-hitter by tweeting about it, as well as to provide Red Sox-Orioles game updates to a couple Sox fans—KJ and my Dad's friend, a native of Maine—sitting with me.

More importantly, Hudson Valley can boast of one legitimate craft beer offering—Pleasantville, New York's Captain Lawrence Pale Ale—while the best Lowell has to offer is Sam Adams. Now, don't get me wrong here. I think Samuel Adams Boston Lager is a solid offering, but I'd much rather try something new than opt for "solid."

Captain Lawrence Pale Ale reminded me of how Sierra Nevada Pale Ale used to make me feel when I first discovered it in the mid-'90s, and why the latter became my regular beer of choice at my favorite Lark Street watering hole in Albany. It's just a really nicely balanced California-style pale ale: malty sweet and slightly citrusy up-front with a mildly bitter kick to back it up. In fact, I liked it enough to drink a couple more at my sister's restaurant two nights later, and to begin thinking about how I can get my hands on some Captain's Reserve Imperial IPA.

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