Ballparks of the PGCBL, Duffy Fairgrounds (Updated)

Alex T. Duffy Fairgrounds (Photo courtesy Watertown Wizards)
Editors’ Note: This is the third 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. Special thanks goes to Jayme St. Croix and the Watertown Wizards for the added information in the article in regards to the earlier teams at the Fairgrounds.

Part 1: Veterans Memorial Park, Little Falls
Part 2: Colburn Park, Newark

Alex T. Duffy Fairgrounds
Team: Watertown Wizards
Location: 970 Coffeen Street, Watertown, N.Y.
Opened: 1800s
Capacity: 3,000

Chronology of teams…
Name unknown (Empire State League) 1910
Watertown/Massena Bucks (Can-Am League) 1936
Watertown Athletics (Border League, Class C) 1946-1951
Watertown Pirates (New York-Penn League) 1983-1988
Watertown Indians (New York-Penn League) 1989-1998
Watertown Wizards (New York Collegiate Baseball League) 2000-2010
Watertown Wizards (Perfect Game Collegiate Baseball League) 2011-present

Sixty-five players that have called the Alex T. Duffy Fairgrounds home have gone on to play in Major League Baseball. The illustrious list includes names such as 200-game winner Tim Wakefield, Sean Casey, Brian Giles, Moises Alou, Jay Buhner, Randy Tomlin, Steve Kline, Kelly Stinnett and former Chicago Cubs manager Mike Quade.

Dating back to the berth of the New York-Penn League's Watertown Pirates in 1983, nearly 30 years of professional and summer collegiate baseball have been played at the Alex T. Duffy Fairgrounds. However, the actual Fairgrounds have been around much, much longer. Every summer, the Alex T. Duffy Fairgrounds hosts the Jefferson County Fair. According to the Fair web site, the Jefferson County Fair, which dates back to 1817, is one of the longest-running county fairs in the country. This July, the Fair will celebrate its 195th opening.

The Fairgrounds are named after Alexander P. Duffy, nicknamed "Mr. Watertown." He was the president of the Jefferson County Agricultural Society for 29 years, an all-time record. He was also a past president of the New York State Association of Fairs. Not only does the Fairgrounds include a baseball stadium, it also holds an ice arena and a football field (home of the oldest semi-professional football team in the United States, the Watertown Red and Black). The baseball stadium is also used for concerts during the summer and fall months.

The Alex T. Duffy Fairgrounds baseball stadium sits in the middle of the Fairgrounds with a large, covered metal grandstand that towers over all other buildings. The grandstand makes up a majority of the seating, standing well behind home plate with many rows of metal bleacher seating stretching up from a walkway that separates the bleachers and the home plate box seats. Elevated chair back box seats run from one end of the grandstand to another. Unique to the grandstand is that it runs parallel to home plate and does not form a U-shaped pattern. It also lends to a large area behind home plate and a sizable portion of foul territory.

For those that want to get close to the action, the “Duffy Dome” features bleacher seating on top of both the first base and third base dugouts. A simple staircase takes one from the field level all the way to the top of the dugout with a unique view. Sitting in the third base dugout bleacher seats, you can get a glimpse across the Fairgrounds fields where any number of youth teams may be practicing and off in the distance, cars roll up and down Coffeen Street. Oftentimes, red and yellowish lights dart through the darkened sky after the sun has gone down. Just behind the third-base sits stands the press box.

Several rows of elevated field-level box seats run between the grandstand and the dugouts. Behind the box seats, a large concourse area sits on both sides of the field. Just about every home game, youngsters gather on the first base side in the concourse to chase after foul balls. A moderate-sized wall wraps around the Fairgrounds outfield with colorful advertisements creating a scenic backdrop for fans. The scoreboard rises from the wall in right-center field, not too far from the American, Canadian and New York State flags which fly in straight-away center field just behind the green outfield fence.

A new feature to the Fairgrounds was recently added in the form a party deck on the third-base line. The deck, which sits behind third base and just past the dugout, hosts private parties and can give a more relaxed view of the game – at a table under an umbrella, which comes in handy on a hot and sunny early evening.

The Fairgrounds are located just outside of downtown Watertown, around a one hour drive north of Syracuse and about 30 minutes south of the U.S.-Canada border crossing in Thousand Islands. Watertown is the northern-most franchise in the Perfect Game Collegiate Baseball League with the closest opponent coming about two hours away in Mohawk Valley.

According to David Pietrusza's 1990 book, "Baseball's Canadian-American League: A History of its Inception, Participants, Locales, Statistics, Demise and Legacy 1936-1951," baseball was played in Watertown on the site of the Fairgrounds to as far back as the late 1800s. Alex Duffy himself even played baseball on the grounds. Pietrusza interviewed Duffy who noted local semi-pro teams, one team in the Empire State League and town teams that faced off against barnstorming Major Leaguers in the early 1900s. The Watertown/Massena Bucks were founding members of the independent Can-Am League in 1936. The team lasted just one season. The Watertown Athletics were a member of the Border League, a Class C circuit that ran from 1946 through 1951. Pietrsuza's book notes that the grandstand to the Fairgrounds burned down following a playoff game in 1947 and had to be rebuilt.

Modern professional baseball was born in Watertown in 1983 with the Watertown Pirates. The Baby Bucs remained in Watertown for six seasons. The Pirates had their best year in 1987, the same season they made their one and only trip to the NY-P playoffs. The team won 44 games but eventually bowed out to the Geneva Cubs in the league finals. The final season of the Watertown Pirates in 1988 saw Tim Wakefield make his professional debut as an infielder and also future Pirates starter Randy Tomlin pitched at the “Duffy Dome.”

The Cleveland Indians moved their NY-P affiliate to Watertown in 1989. That would start a 10-year run for the Indians in Watertown that lasted until 1998. The Watertown Indians made four playoff appearances and won the 1995 NY-Penn League championship behind future Major League all-star Sean Casey. The Indians defeated the Vermont Expos to win the league title. Over 10 seasons in Watertown, the Tribe had just two losing campaigns, a far cry from the previous tenant. However, the run for the team and the franchise came to an end in the late 1990s as the short-season NY-P started expanding into larger markets. The franchise was relocated to Staten Island and became the Staten Island Yankees while the Indians moved their affiliate to Niles, Ohio, where it became the Mahoning Valley Scrappers. Both SI Yankees and MV Scrappers are current NY-P teams.

Following a brief one-year absence (1999), baseball returned to the Alex T. Duffy Fairgrounds in 2000 in the form of the summer collegiate Watertown Wizards. The Purple and Gold have been playing at the Fairgrounds ever since. The 2012 PGCBL season will be Watertown’s 13th summer collegiate campaign. The franchise endured a rocky first season under out-of-state management however local businessman Paul Simmons headed up a group that bought the team and began operating it in 2001. The Wizards made their first playoff appearance in 2003 and then returned to the postseason for a magical run in 2005. That season saw the team win a franchise record 28 games and the Wiz Kids advanced to the league championship series after knocking off longtime rival Amsterdam in the divisional playoffs. Ace Mike Schellinger was named the Pitcher of the Year; immediately following the season, he signed a minor league contract with the St. Louis Cardinals.

The 2005 season began a run of four-straight years in the playoffs for the Purple and Gold. Watertown just missed regular season division titles in both 2005 and 2006, finishing a game or less behind Amsterdam and then Brockport. During that time span, from 2005 through 2008, no other current PGCBL team made the playoffs more.

During Watertown’s 10-year run in the New York Collegiate Baseball League, the Alex T. Duffy Fairgrounds hosted the NYCBL All-Star Game on three occasions (2004, 2006, 2008). No other team in the league hosted the game more than Watertown. The most memorable game occurred in 2004 when nine pitchers combined to a throw a no-hitter as the West defeated the East by a score of 1-0. The 2008 contest featured current Houston Astros outfielder J.D. Martinez (Saratoga 2008).

The inaugural PGCBL season was a memorable one in Watertown. Outfielder Erick Gaylord of Campbell nearly captured the league Triple Crown. Gaylord led the eight-team loop in home runs (10) and runs batted in (42) but finished fourth in batting average (.360). Not only did Gaylord have a tremendous season, he turned in a night that may not be replicated again in the PGCBL. The rising senior blasted four home runs in a single game at Amsterdam and drove in seven runs to lead the Wizards past the Mohawks.

The Alex T. Duffy Fairgrounds has traditionally been a hot spot during the summer in the North Country. The Wizards annually average over 1,000 fans per game and Fireworks Nights can draw jam-packed crowds anywhere from 3,000 to 4,000, Last summer, the Purple and Gold finished third in the league with an average of 1,070 fans per game. A season-high 2,861 witnessed the Wizards crush Mohawk Valley on Fireworks Night and over 2,600 Watertown-area school children saw the same two teams collide in an afternoon game on Flag Day – a Wizards’ tradition (that will continue this year).

Not only does the ”Duffy Dome” fill up, but the fans are among the loudest in the PGCBL. Fans that sit in the bleacher seats on top of the Wizards dugout routinely make noise and have been known to use cow bells and even vuvuzelas to cheer on the home side.

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