Editors’ Note: This is the second 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 1: Veteran's Memorial Park, Little Falls
Team: Newark Pilots
Location: 1160 East Union Street, Newark, N.Y.
Opened: 1930s (no exact date)
Chronology of teams…
Newark Co-Pilots (New York-Penn League) 1968-1979
Newark Orioles (New York-Penn League) 1983-1987
Newark Barge Bandits (North Atlantic League) 1995-1996
Newark Raptors (Northeast Collegiate Baseball League) 1998-2001
Wayne County Raptors (New York Collegiate Baseball League) 2002-2005
Newark Pilots (PGCBL) 2011 – current
Colburn Park, in the village of Newark, N.Y., opened during the 1930s. Colburn Park is one of the oldest facilities in the Perfect Game Collegiate Baseball League along with Cooperstown’s historic Doubleday Field, Elmira’s Dunn Field and Watertown's Alex T. Duffy Fairgrounds. The facility was built as a Works Progress Administration (WPA) project and is named after Newark village trustee E. Douglass Colburn.
The village of Newark (incorporated in 1853) sits in western New York, 30 miles southeast of Rochester and 60 miles west of Syracuse, in southern Ontario County. The park itself is located on East Union Street (New York Route 31) and is also a long ball away from the historic Erie Canal.
The facility underwent a refurbishment prior to the 2011 PGCBL season. The highlight of the changes was a new scoreboard in left field. The old one was replaced by a beautiful maroon scoreboard from North Carolina State University, donated by Newark Pilots owner Bob Ohmann. New lights and a new entranceway were also added and improvements were made to both the concourse area and the playing surface.
Taking in a game at Colburn Park still can harken one back to the nostalgia of a prior era. Several sections of elevated wooden bleacher seats adorn both sides of the field. The view from the bleachers is lush and picturesque past the outfield fence where the Erie Canal still runs. Leafy-green trees and a green fence make up the batters’ eye and the trees track all of the way down the right-field wall and snake around the entire facility. On many a summer night, you can see barges making their way down through the Erie Canal.
The sun can be found dancing its way through the Newark sky on the clearest of early and mid-summer evenings. However, the sun makes its descent on the horizon past the left-field wall and it disappears into the trees. If you’re not watching the sun, colorful advertisements, hung on the outfield fence for various local businesses, catch your eye. The view from the bleachers is a good one and while a simple building sits slightly to the right of home plate and serves as the press box, the third-base bleachers offer up a good view of home plate.
While Colburn Park was built in the 1930s, it did not house professional baseball until the late 1960s. The Newark Co-Pilots, an affiliate of the 1969 Major League Baseball expansion Seattle Pilots, joined the short-season New York-Penn League in 1968. The team finished in fourth place and made the NY-P playoffs. When the Seattle Pilots moved to Milwaukee and became the Brewers in 1970, the affiliation with the Co-Pilots remained in place. The 1975 season was Newark’s finest in the NY-P. The Co-Pilots won a league high 47 games, finished in first place and captured their only league championship. Newark’s relationship with Milwaukee came to an end after 1978 and the Co-Pilots flew off into the wild blue yonder after an unaffiliated season in 1979.
The New York-Penn League returned to Newark in 1983 and the Newark Orioles were born. The Baby Birds won at least 40 games in each of their five seasons at Colburn Park. Newark’s era as professional affiliate ended prior to the 1988 season when Baltimore moved its NY-Penn League affiliate to Erie, Penn. Nearly 10 years passed before another team would call Colburn Park home. The independent North Atlantic League’s Newark Barge Bandits enjoyed a brief two-year run in 1995 and 1996. Two years after the Barge Bandits folded, the ballpark on East Union Street became a summer collegiate home.
The Newark Raptors, later known as the Wayne County Raptors, played at Colburn Park from 1997 through 2005. Newark won three division titles in its first four summer collegiate seasons and made the playoffs every year between 1998 and 2001. Fritz Hamburg, the current head baseball coach at Saint Joseph’s University, led the Raptors to the 1999 Northeast Collegiate Baseball League championship. Colburn Park hosted two league All-Star Games in 1999 and 2005. The Raptors played their final season in 2005.
The modern era at Colburn Park began on Fri., Jun. 17, 2011, when the Newark Pilots hosted the Watertown Wizards in front of over 1,600 fans. Newark drew over 1,000 fans on eight occasions with a season high of 1,728 on Jul. 14 for a game against the Mohawk Valley DiamondDawgs. For the season, nearly 22,000 fans came through the gates at Colburn Park and the Pilots finished fourth in the PGCBL with an average of 872 fans per game.
And how did the story end for the Pilots last year in their inaugural season? Newark won 27 games and finished second in the PGCBL West behind division champion Cooperstown. The Pilots lost Game 1 of the divisional playoffs to the Hawkeyes and then won two-straight games to clinch a spot in the PGCBL Championship Series. The Pilots flew away with the league championship in a wild playoff final which saw Newark sweep a Game 2/Game 3 doubleheader at Amsterdam’s Shuttleworth Park. Eight Pilots were named to the All-PGCBL team and pitcher Dominick Ruscitti (Kutztown) was the PGCBL Pitcher of the Year.
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