Summer belongs to the Dutchmen

Professional minor league and NCAA Division I collegiate athletic teams occupy the sports landscape during the long, snow-bound winter months in and around Albany, N.Y.

Sports fans at the center of New York’s Capital District (Albany-Schenectady-Troy-Saratoga Springs) can venture out to Times Union Center to watch the Albany Devils, an American Hockey League affiliate of the New Jersey Devils, or Sienna College’s men’s and women’s basketball teams perform.

The University at Albany also offers Division I basketball at an on-campus site and the Albany Legends of the International Basketball League play locally at Christian Brothers Academy.

But when the snow and ice melt away and spring finally bursts into summer, the month of June will be the exclusive domain of the Albany Dutchmen, one of the inaugural members of the Perfect Game Collegiate Baseball League.

“Come summertime it’s really nice because we have kind of a niche where we are the only game in town. There’s really no other sports option during the month of June,” Dutchmen General Manager Jason Brinkman said. “That really works out nice for us.”

The Dutchmen organization is diving headlong into its first season in the PGCBL after two years in the New York Collegiate Baseball league. They had their 2011 roster almost totally assembled by early March as they prepared for their PGCBL opener at the Amsterdam Mohawks on Thursday, June 9.

“Everyone that I’ve talked to is extremely excited about the relationship that we have with Perfect Game moving forward,” Brinkman said. “I think it’s really going to allow us to get the top quality players in the country. I think the people get excited about coming out to see these college prospects that could one day be the next Derek Jeter.”

Brinkman said the Dutchmen are also excited about moving into a sparkling new $4.8 million, multi-use athletics facility the city of Albany built in a joint effort with the College of Saint Rose. The baseball portion of the facility will be known as Bob Bellizzi Field at the Plumeri Sports Complex.

The Dutchmen are hoping to attract around 500 fans to each game this summer with an eye on growing substantially in the coming years.

“We’re a little bit different than some of the other franchises in the (PGCBL) in that this is going to be only our third season in Albany,” Brinkman said. “We’re still trying to build our fan base and get to the point some of the other teams are at. Our seating capacity is upwards of about 1,000 people and it’s something that can be expanded upon in the future.”

The Dutchmen will make a strong push this summer to establish a relationship with Albany’s local little league groups. The team will offer free two-hour instructional clinics with its players and coaches at various little league sites throughout the city.

“We want to provide mentors and role models for the local kids in Albany,” Brinkman said. “It’s kind of a unique opportunity for the kids, because with the other area sports teams it’s kind of hard to get up-close and personal with the athletes that are on the team. We try to get that one-on-one connection and hopefully those kids will in turn want to come out and see (the player) that taught them how to bunt the weekend before at the free clinic.”

The city of Albany – New York’s state capital with a population of around 95,000 – has a long history of hosting minor league baseball franchises that dates back at least 110 years.

According to online sources, the Albany Senators played in classes C and B, Single-A and Double-A as members of the New York State League, New York-Penn League, International League and primarily the Eastern League almost non-stop from 1899 through 1959.

After a 25-year absence, the Albany A’s, Albany-Colonie A’s and finally the Albany-Colonie Yankees enjoyed a nice run in the Double-A Eastern League from 1983-94.

The Albany Diamond Dogs played in the independent Northeast League for four seasons and the Albany-Colonie Diamond Dogs were members of the independence Northern League East from 1999-2002. The Dutchmen joined the NYCBL in 2009.

The Tri-City ValleyCats, a short-season Class A affiliate of the Houston Astros and a member of the New York-Penn League, play across the Hudson River in Troy, N.Y., about a 20-minute drive from Albany.

Albany baseball fans appear ready to embrace the amateur college game and the standout talent the PGCBL will certainly attract.

“The people that we have been able to make a connection with in our first couple of seasons have been extremely supportive of the team, both with fans coming out to the game and with local sponsors,” Brinkman said. “Those are really the two keys for us to expand in the future and we’ve really been able to do that well so far.”

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