NOTE: In early November, 2010, Perfect Game USA announced it would become more involved with summer collegiate baseball by partnering in the formation of the Perfect Game Collegiate Baseball League.
The PGCBL will open its inaugural season in 2011 with eight clubs located in upstate New York that were former members of the New York Collegiate League. The PGCBL will have teams in Albany, Amsterdam, Cooperstown, Elmira, Glen Falls, Mohawk Valley, Newark and Watertown, and Perfect Game will also use venues in those communities to stage regional showcase events and tournaments.
The league will be open to players already at a four-year college or a junior college as well as recent high school graduates. Its schedule will run from early June through early August.
A series of articles featuring the eight communities that will host PGCBL organizations will be posted at www.perfectgame.org in the coming weeks.
The third article in the series features the Watertown Wizards:
Todd Kirkey, the general manager of the Watertown Wizards from the recently organized Perfect Game Collegiate Baseball League, was trying hard to think about baseball while his region of the country contemplated the arrival of yet another crippling snowstorm.
“We just live in a blizzard here in central New York,” Kirkey said in a telephone conversation on Feb. 1. “It’s just ongoing.”
Blizzards notwithstanding, the people of Watertown and seven other upstate New York communities and villages have been able to look forward to baseball since Perfect Game announced the formation of its new summer league in late 2010.
Watertown, with a population of right around 27,000, is located 30 miles south of the Canadian border and about 70 miles north of Syracuse, and is typical of the type of the community where the PGCBL has taken up residence.
Current Wizards president Paul Simmons took over control of the franchise in 2001 after the club originally became a member of the New York Collegiate Baseball League in 2000.
Watertown had enjoyed a long relationship with the professional (minor league) New York-Penn League. Teams affiliated with the Pirates and Indians played their games at Duffy Fairgrounds – known as “The Duff” or “The Duffy Dome” – up through 1999 before the Wizards moved-in.
A lot of people in Watertown gained an appreciation of collegiate summer ball over the past decade and are excited about the new association with the PGCBL.
“(Amateur) summer ball, I think, is no different than pro ball,” Kirkey, the Wizards GM, said. “Every league has its haves and every league has its have-nots, and what we’ve got (in the PGCBL) is the haves. We have people who have minor league baseball owner experience that want to build a baseball experience just not around great players but great fans, and draw big crowds and be a national product.”
Over the past couple of years as a member of the NYCBL, the Wizards drew an average of about 1,500 fans per game, a pretty good number for amateur summertime collegiate-level baseball. Kirkey said it was a matter of endearing the club to the community.
“This organization was built upon keeping baseball alive in the community. The money that we take in we put right back into the community, and that was the basis behind the organization,” he said. “When our kids get here we put them right out in the community.”
A lot of the Wizards’ sponsorship deals require players to make a variety of appearances around town, and they are housed locally by host families. A solid relationship has formed.
“Every summer the people of Watertown can’t wait for a new batch (of players) to arrive,” Kirkey said. “They’re hoping to see the next big-leaguer and that’s the way we’ve marketed it.”
Kirkey called Watertown “a good baseball town” and noted recent keynote speakers at the Wizards’ hot stove banquet have included former Major League stars Tommy John and Jim Rice. The organization has been able to attract dozens of outstanding players ever the years, and the team’s motto is “There’s Magic in Every Wizard.”
Playing at the nearly 4,000-seat “Duffy Dome” enhances the experience for players and fans alike.
“When you get kids from all different types of schools – we’ll have kids show up from small Division I’s and junior colleges where they play in front of 40 people, and then you’ll get a kid from Alabama or LSU who’s use to playing in front of three- or four-thousand every night,” Kirkey said. “But we’re lucky; our whole league is lucky (with our facilities).”
Early in the season, the Wizards have played 11 a.m. games when they bus in about 2,500 fourth-, fifth- and sixth-graders from area schools. During between-inning contests like the “Dizzy Bat Race” the club asks the teachers take part, much to the delight of their students. The teachers who participate – and their classroom students – then are treated to a pizza party at their school the following day, with the Wizards players in attendance.
Wizards games are incredibly affordable - $5 for adults and $2 for 16-and-under. They also offer a family pack that allows an unlimited number of family members to get into the game for $12.
Kirkey recalled a recent “Fireworks Night” promotion in which some patrons took full advantage of the discounted family pack.
“This gentleman came up and said his family was here from out-of-town and asked about the family pack and if it was unlimited,” Kirkey recalled. “I said, ‘Yes it is, sir, that’s what we advertise,’ and he pointed at this huge group of people. They had gathered for a family reunion and there were 53 people. They all got in for 12 bucks.”
The Wizards organization has enjoyed stability really since Simmons took control, and Kirkey firmly believes its involvement with the PGCBL will only enhance its stature and future security.
“The thing we had to pitch to (Perfect Game) was that every team that came on board has to have that stability, has to have that future marketing possibility,” Kirkey said. “Independent ball is kind of going by the wayside – you have to make payroll. Here, you get the kids in and you play, and fortunately for us and the other teams, we don’t have to make payroll.”