Cover photo: Oneonta Tigers circa 2009 courtesy TrueAncester.Typepad.com. Above photo courtesy Oneonta Outlaws
Editors’ Note: This is the sixth feature in a series on the nine ballparks that make up the Perfect Game Collegiate Baseball League. The series will feature each park and will conclude prior to the start of the 2012 PGCBL regular season in early June.
Part I: Veterans Memorial Park, Mohawk Valley
Part II: Colburn Park, Newark
Part III: Alex T. Duffy Fairgrounds, Watertown
Part IV: East Field, Glens Falls
Part V: Doubleday Field, Cooperstown
Team: Oneonta Outlaws
Location: 15 James Georgeson Avenue, Oneonta, N.Y.
Chronology of teams...
Oneonta Giants (New York-Penn League) 1924
Oneonta Indians (Canadian-American League) 1940-1942
Oneonta Red Sox (Canadian-American League) 1946-1951
Oneonta Red Sox (New York-Penn League) 1966
Oneonta Yankees (New York-Penn League) 1967-1998
Oneonta Tigers (New York-Penn League) 1999-2009
Oneonta Outlaws (New York Collegiate Baseball League) 2010-2011
Onenta Outlaws (PGCBL) 2012-current
Don Mattingly, Al Leiter, Bernie Williams, Jorge Posada, Curtis Granderson, Mike Pagliarulo, Willie McGee, Bob Tewskbury, Jair Jurrgens, Will Rhymes, Guillermo Moscoso and Don Kelly. These are just a few of the names of Major Leaguers that began their professional baseball careers at Oneonta’s Damaschke Field. The picturesque park located in the City of the Hills boasts one of the best views in the Perfect Game Collegiate Baseball League and it has a long and storied history of baseball. The main grandstand at what is today presently known as Damaschke Field was erected in 1939; the same year the current steel and concrete grandstand at Cooperstown’s Doubleday Field was completed.
However, much like in Cooperstown, baseball has been played on the site of Damaschke Field, located inside Oneonta’s Neahwa Park since the early part of the 20th Century. According to David Pietrusza’s “Baseball’s Canadian-American League,” a ball field was built in Neahwa Park in the late 1900s. The present home of the PGCBL’s Oneonta Outlaws hosted summer collegiate baseball as far back as 1910. “Collegiate players from Brown, Holy Cross, Syracuse and Williams College played ball there in the summers circa 1910-1912” wrote Pietrusza. The first team to call Neahwa Park home was the New York-Penn League’s Oneonta Giants in 1924. The Giants, imported from Utica mid-season, played just part of a season and would not return. Professional baseball would not be back until the 1940s though Major Leaguers and other barnstorming teams would roll through town and play games against local teams. During this time, the first night game was played at the field on Aug. 16, 1930 according to the Oneonta Daily Star. It was contested between the Oneonta Red Sox and the California Owls. The park’s initial wooden grandstand, built in the late 1900s, was replaced in 1939 using funds from the Works Progress Administration.
The Oneonta Indians of the Canadian-American League were the first residents at the renovated park. Following the end of World War II, the Oneonta Red Sox, also of the Can-Am League, called the then-named Neahwa Park Field home from 1946 through 1951. The Red Sox won two Can-Am championships in 1948 and 1951 and made the league playoffs in all six years of their Can-Am existence. The league folded after 1951 and professional baseball would not return to the City of the Hills until 1966 when the Wellsville Red Sox of the New York-Penn League moved into the town. The affiliation with the Red Sox lasted just one season and the team finished in fourth place. A relationship with the New York Yankees followed, one that would last over 30 years.
The Oneonta Yankees made their debut in 1967. The team stayed in Oneonta from 1967 through 1998 and won an astounding 10 New York-Penn League championships with 12 total playoff appearances. The Baby Bombers won three league crowns in a row between 1979 and 1981. Numerous future New York Yankees donned their pinstripes for the first time at Damaschke Field. Even one future National Football League Hall of Famer took to the Damaschke diamond. John Elway was drafted by the New York Yankees in 1981 out of Stanford University. Elway signed the Yankees and made his professional debut for the Oneonta Yankees in 1982. He batted .318 with four home runs and 25 RBI over 42 games. One year later, he was the first overall pick in the NFL draft and started at quarterback for the Denver Broncos. Current Baltimore Orioles skipper Buck Showalter guided the Yanks for two seasons and took the team to the playoffs twice, winning a league crown in 1985.
The Oneonta Yankees won their 10th and final league crown in 1998. After the season, the Watertown Indians moved to Staten Island and became the Staten Island Yankees. Seeking a new affiliation, the Oneonta club signed up with the Detroit Tigers. The Oneonta Tigers played from 1999 through 2009 however the franchise went through two different leaders. Team ownership changed hands during the 2008 season when longtime owner and former Oneonta mayor Sam Nader sold the team to out-of-state owners. Over 10 seasons in Oneonta, the Tigers made four playoff appearances. Several notable performances played out including the longest game in NY-Penn League history, a 26-inning affair between the Tigers and the Brooklyn Cyclones on July 20, 2006. Nearly a year later, on July 15, 2007, current Major Leaguer Guillermo Moscoso threw the second perfect game in NY-Penn League history. Moscoso retired all 27 batters he faced in a 6-0 victory over the Batavia Muckdogs. The Oneonta Outlaws galloped into town for the 2010 season, replacing the Oneonta Tigers who had pulled up stakes in favor of Norwich, Conn., where they became the Connecticut Tigers.
Damaschke Field, originally named Neahwa Park Field, earned its current name in 1968. The park is named after longtime Oneonta Parks and Recreation Commission Chairman Ernest “Dutch” Damaschke. As shown in the picture located above the article, Damaschke’s name currently adorns the front gate in large blue letters.
Oneonta is known as the City of the Hills. One look from the seats inside Damaschke Field and one can tell why. Though, to get the field, one has to turn into Neahwa Park, located just off of Route 88, and navigate though the green, grassy fields, baseball diamonds and the pond before rolling into the Damaschke parking lot. An outer gate wraps around the stadium and the lone entrance stands with a black iron gate in front with the grandstand located behind. Once inside, the park is fairly simple. Barred-off sections of box seats stand behind home and up the first and third-base lines. The reserved seats can be found with a seat-holder nameplate. A concourse separates the box seats from the bleachers. Metal bleachers run up and down each of the base lines. The main grandstand is one large concrete structure with elevated box seats rising up from ground level. The concrete steps rise behind the box seats and the home plate bleachers descend up under a slanted roof which also holds the press box. The view from the seats offers a glance at the green rolling hills of Otsego County. Green trees rise behind the single-tier outfield fence which boasts a black scoreboard with red electric numbers in left-center field. Off in the distance, the hills rise up into the clouds on an overcast night.
The modern-day Damaschke Field underwent extensive renovations prior to the 2007 season. The previous wooden bleachers were replaced by metal bleachers, a picnic arena was added next to the bleachers down the right field line, sidewalks were added and landscaping was done around the park. The Oneonta Outlaws played their first season in 2010. The team moved to Oneonta after spending six seasons in Saratoga Springs, N.Y. as the Saratoga Phillies (2004-2009). Co-owners Dan Scaring and Keith Rogers saw the Saratoga Phillies win one league championship (2006) and make three overall playoff appearances. Six players from those Saratoga teams have gone to compete in the Major Leagues. The 2010 Outlaws won 26 games and finished second in their division, just one game behind eventual league champion Amsterdam. Catcher Tom Murphy was among the top professional prospects in the league and he was the Offensive Most Valuable Player at the All-Star Game.
Last summer, the Outlaws enjoyed a tremendous season at the gate as over 35,000 fans watched baseball at Damaschke Field. The Orange and Black went 29-15 during the regular season and garnered a second-place finish in their division behind first-place Utica. The Outlaws stomped through the league playoffs and dispatched of Webster in the championship series to capture their first summer collegiate baseball championship in Oneonta and second for the franchise as a whole. The team set an attendance record with more than 35,000 fans total and there were an average of over 1,600 fans per game. One of the largest crowds of the season came on the Fourth of July, for an Oneonta tradition of baseball and fireworks. A total of 4,391 fans witnessed the Oneonta Outlaws defeat the Geneva Red Wings 4-1. Overall, six Outlaws in 2011 were named to the all-league team and five of the six were selected all-league first team. Pitcher Bryan Galligan and infielder Chase Compton were the Defensive and Offensive Most Valuable Players in the league championship series. In two seasons in Oneonta, the Outlaws have won 55 regular season games, made the playoffs twice and have not finished lower than second in their division under manager Greg Zackrison.