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A Raccoon, Giant Minions and a Parade of Kids: The Magic of Small-Town Baseball

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Rascal the Racoon, the Hudson Valley Renegades mascot, signs a baseball for a young fan. It is one of the many attractions that makes a minor league baseball game a great time. Michael Gold photo

By Michael Gold

A towering raccoon mascot, a race of kids dressed as Minion characters and a Captain America shield toss in the outfield combined with the Hudson Valley Renegades’ spirited game with the Hickory Crawdads at Dutchess Stadium on the last Sunday in August to make it a day of baseball magic.

It was Marvel Superheroes Day at the home of the Renegades, the Yankees’ High A minor league affiliate. The first thousand fans to walk in the gate were given a Black Panther bobblehead doll.

But the Renegades provided kids of all ages with thrills of their own on one of the the fading days of an unbearably hot and humid summer. Eight of the nine Renegades got a hit in their 9-7 win over the Hickory (N.C.) Crawdads, affiliated with the Texas Rangers. Centerfielder Jasson Dominguez (nickname: The Martian) made a diving catch in the outfield in the top of the third to rob a Crawdad of a base hit.

The Crawdads, shaking off a 15-1 bombing at the hands of the Renegades the day before, had a 7-6 lead going into the bottom of the seventh inning. But the Renegades, led by Kyle Battle, stomped ahead with three runs.

The great baseball writer Roger Kahn once wrote a book about the minor leagues and its players, titled “Good Enough to Dream.” From a fan’s perspective, the Renegades were more than good enough to watch for the more than 3,300 people in attendance.

My wife, daughter and I met some friends from Connecticut, and we sat in the last row on the third-base line. The heat was a merciless beast, the late August sun relentlessly scorching the parched and wounded hills outside the stadium, with irritating patches of too many brown trees reminding us of the drought.

We happily left our sun-struck seats for the relative cool of a shaded row near the PA announcer’s box. The public address system played all manner of music and sounds, from the “Addams Family” theme and “La Cucaracha” to The Ramones’ “Hey, Hey, Let’s Go” and deeply felt wolf howls, to stir up the crowd to clap and shout for the home team.

In the bottom of the first, the Renegades seemed to continue their spree from the day before, scoring four runs, with a bases-loaded triple by Carlos Narvaez, then a sacrifice fly by Battle.

The Crawdads struck back. They scored four runs in the third inning, then a run each in the fourth and fifth. Hudson Valley snagged two runs in the bottom of the sixth, with three doubles. After Hickory took a one-run lead in the top of the seventh, In the bottom of the seventh, Battle’s single to right scored two runs, which made the difference. The Crawdads had 12 hits, so there was plenty of action.

The sights and sounds of the game were extremely satisfying. We could hear an occasional smack of the ball from the Renegades’ pitcher into the catcher’s glove, from hundreds of feet away. The Hudson Valley batters often drove the ball into the outfield with enviable power. Even the pop-ups were picturesque, flying high up into the air like moonshots before falling back to Earth into a fielder’s glove.

The other great part of the experience were the between-inning contests and events, including pool noodle bucket tosses, an Army veteran being recognized and celebrated on the field, trivia contests and Rascal the Renegade raccoon, the team’s mascot, dancing on the dugout roof with the stadium crew. I got to shake Rascal’s hand, too, which shouldn’t have thrilled me, but did, as if I were an eight-year-old.

After the game, Frank Sinatra’s “New York, New York” played on the stadium’s speaker. I sought out the PA announcer, Rob Adams, as what seemed like an endless parade of boys and girls walked out of the stands to run the bases, many with their moms and dads right next to them every step of the way. The kids joyfully sprinted around the field in the golden glow of late afternoon sunshine.

“I’m just glad to see the fans out here having a good time,” he said.

The Renegades are shooting for the Southern Atlantic League playoffs, competing with teams with colorful names not usually found in the majors. We have IronBirds (Aberdeen, Md.), BlueClaws (Lakewood, N.J.), Blue Rocks (Wilmington, Del.), Cyclones (Brooklyn), Grasshoppers (Greensboro, N.C.), Hot Rods (Bowling Green, Ky.) and even a Dash (Winston-Salem, N.C.).

Football may be the most popular sport in America today, but it can’t match minor-league baseball in its ability to get the fans involved and build a sense of community. This is small-town America at its best.

 Pleasantville resident Michael Gold has had articles published in the New York Daily News, the Albany Times Union, The Virginian-Pilot, The Palm Beach Post, other newspapers, and The Hardy Society Journal, a British literary journal. Miriam Gold provided research assistance for this article.

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