Jun 19, 2018
A fan left her seat on the first-base line and walked over to say a few words to Ben Hayes, the president of the New York-Penn League for 18 years. She thanked him for keeping the Muckdogs in Batavia this year as the league runs the Class A affiliate of the Miami Marlins Major League Baseball team without an owner. She said she did not know what she would do without baseball in Batavia.
Hayes smiles. He feels the same way.
Hayes told The Daily News the team is not leaving Batavia after this season and will try to be here for many years to come.
“I came into town early to meet with (Interim City Manager) Matt Worth and we met around 3 o’clock about conversations to extend the lease,” said Hayes. “We are coming back, that is 95 percent. The only reason it’s not 100 percent? If the community says ‘We don’t want you anymore.’ But as far as our intent? The league is going to be here. If the community of Batavia wants us, we will be here.”
What if a new owner buys the franchise?
“A new owner’s decision is a new owner’s decision. But will the team be here? Absolutely, without a question,” said Hayes. “It comes down to, will the City of Batavia and the team be able to reach an agreement on a lease? And my conversation with Matt was very positive and I see it happening.”
Worth, who was the public works director before taking over as interim city manager until a new city manager is hired, has worked for the city the past 31 years.
“He’s in an interim manager position, which is different than being in a permanent one, but we began the discussions. More likely than not, these will continue until a city manager is hired,” said Hayes. “This is the home of the New York-Penn league. One thing we have talked about over the years is this in the geographic footprint of the New York-Penn League and more than that, it’s one of the original clubs. This is where the New York-Penn League began.
“Secondly, I believe this market can support it. After everything that happened this past year, I think it has potential to be here for many years,” Hayes said. “Look at tonight, we had rain before the game, which scares people off, but look how many people came out. That really shows me how much Batavia supports baseball.”
As fans commented on the upgraded condition of the ballpark, Hayes said he thinks the league and the city will do even more.
“We need to get a few things done to protect the fans, such as the screening behind the dugouts and down the line to protect fans,” said Hayes. “There are some things we are going to ask the city about, and talking to Matt, he is very positive about these things.
“I’ve heard people say how nice the bleachers look. As the year goes on, there will be more improvements. (Batavia General Manager) Dave Chase has focused on a lot of things, too. The new lights in the infield are much brighter and better for the fans and players. The locker rooms are not visible to the fans, but they are important for these Major League affiliates of ours,” he continued. “When they bring in these kids, these high draft picks, they want a place that is clean and sanitary.”
As for the product on the field?
“When you look at how many players have gone on to the Major Leagues from this league, and the Baseball Hall of Fame, it is impressive. Every time you go to the ballpark, you are seeing between five and 10 Major League guys and maybe there’s a hall-of-famer out there, too,” Hayes added.