Mohawk Valley's Vets Park
From the June issue of Valley Life
By Danielle Vickory
Baseball has been around in Little Falls since the late 1970s, but after the minor league Little Falls Mets moved to Massachusetts in 1988, teams have come and gone. In recent years, however, the collegiate Mohawk Valley Diamond Dawgs have seen a boost in popularity at Veterans Memorial Park. When Travis Heiser, president and general manager of the Mohawk Diamond Dawgs, got involved with the team six years ago, there were perhaps 20 to 50 people in the stands. “Most of those people were moms and dads and grandparents,” Heiser said. “Since we’ve been involved, we’ve really tried to run it like a minor league team. The new owner, [David Dittman], purchased the team and brought a new vision—a new game plan.”
Little Falls baseball history The Little Falls Mets, a minor league team in the New York- Penn League, played at Little Falls Veterans Memorial Park from 1977 to 1988, at which time they relocated to Pittsfield, Mass., according to the Mohawk Valley Diamond Dawgs website. That year, the Little Falls Diamonds took over the field and played in the New York Collegiate Baseball League through the 1994 season. After that came the Mohawk Valley Landsharks for just one year, and the park was left vacant until 1999, when the Mohawk Valley Redlegs also only played for a year before relocating to Utica. Once again, there was a void at what Heiser considers one of the best public fields in the state. In 2006, the Little Falls Diamond Miners began as an expansion team in the New York Collegiate Baseball League and were renamed the following year as the Little Falls Miners. In 2008, current owner David Dittman bought the team from Miles Wolff and started the 2009 season with the newly named Mohawk Valley Diamond Dawgs. This year, the Diamond Dawgs, playing in the Perfect Game Collegiate Baseball League, celebrate their fifth season.
Present-Day Diamond Dawgs The first official year of the Diamond Dawgs five years ago brought between 600 and 700 fans per night, said Heiser, who used to coach varsity baseball at St. Johnsville High School and still teaches at St. Johnsville Elementary. Though Heiser’s background is in baseball and not in business, he said his involvement with the Diamond Dawgs has been a great experience. “We’ve had great sponsorship and great community support all throughout the Valley,” Heiser said. “We continue to grow as an organization… Now we average over 1,000 fans a night. It’s the summer place to be in the Mohawk Valley.
There’s also been team involvement from some Major League Baseball greats. Former New York Yankees pitcher Tommy John is a big supporter of the Diamond Dawgs and serves as the team’s Chairman—sort of like an advisor, Heiser said. John comes to the area two or three times a year. And Bud Harrelson, former New York Mets great and former Little Falls Mets manager, was the first inductee to the Mohawk Valley Baseball Hall of Fame for 2013. Harrelson was honored at the 5th Annual Mohawk Valley Diamond Dawgs Hall of Fame Hot Stove Dinner on April 19.
The team strives to put on as many fun promotional activities and giveaways. Tickets are $3 for adults and $2 for kids, Heiser said. “Our catchphrase or slogan is ‘affordable family fun,’ ” Heiser said. “The MLB is getting very, very pricey. These games are affordable to those individuals in the Mohawk Valley. It’s really a safe place for people to go and enjoy a baseball game. But it’s really a place where even the non-baseball fans come to socialize.”“Being a schoolteacher, I know there’s not a lot for kids in the area to do. And providing a place that’s safe for kids and families of all ages to go and have fun, seeing the smiles on the kids’ faces — there’s nothing better than seeing that and people supporting us.
It’s really the Mohawk Valley’s team.” The Diamond Dawgs do exit surveys, and probably about 40 percent of people leaving the games don’t know the name o the other team that was playing, Heiser said. Others don’t know whether the Dawgs won or lost. “It’s more than just baseball, which is nice,” Heiser said. “I think that model obviously has helped with our attendance. We have field trips where more than 1,000 kids come. Without the people, we wouldn’t exist.” The team is going to continue its “Thirsty Thursdays” this year and is planning three fireworks shows.
For the Diamond Dawgs’ first Saturday night game June 8, the organization is planning a white-out of the park with 1,500 white T-shirts and fireworks after the game.
For more information about the Mohawk Valley Diamond Dawgs, visit MyDiamondDawgs.com, like the “Mohawk Valley Diamond Dawgs Baseball” Facebook page, or follow @MVDiamondDawgs on Twitter.