Yet another road trip was scheduled for the weekend of July 7th and 8th. The destination for this trip was Syracuse, NY, the new home of the AAA affiliate of the New York Mets. After a very long run as the Tidewater as the Tides (which started in 1969), the team (under new ownership) moved to Norfolk in 1992. The Mets ended their affiliation with Norfolk after the 2006 season. Since that time, the Mets AAA team bounced around, spending time in New Orleans and Buffalo before landing in Las Vegas (as the 51s).
Despite an inclination to see the team out in the desert, we did not get to Las Vegas while the team was there. However, with the team moving to Syracuse at the end of the 2018 season, we decided it was time to see the Mets top farm team in person. Scheduling dictated a trip to Syracuse at the end of the July 4th long weekend, and we headed out from central NJ on the morning of Saturday, July 7th. The 262 mile trip was expected to take about four and one-half hours, but threatening skies and occasional showers with heavy rainfall cut into our travel time.
Driving and in and out of showers and storms brought us to the hotel outside of Syracuse just after 330 pm. Since the weather was still threatening, we decided to hang out at the hotel before heading to the park. The line of showers and storms responsible for the wet drive moved out of the area shortly before game time, but conditions remained warm and humid as we arrived at the park.
NBT Bank Stadium was adorned in the familiar blue and orange. The 11,000 seat stadium was the former home of the Syracuse Chiefs, the AAA affiliate of the Washington Nationals. A quick walk around the stadium showed a fairly unremarkable park. Though the showers had ended, the clouds remained. Perhaps the stadium would be more appealing in the light of day, which was scheduled for tomorrow afternoon.
As usual when visiting a new ballpark, we toured the stadium from foul pole to foul pole, taking pictures along the way. Before finding our seats, we stopped at the concession stand. Like most minor league ballparks, the hot dogs here were fried, though not as badly as some others places. Our seats for this 705 pm game game against the Buffalo Bisons (the AAA affiliate of the Toronto Blue Jays) were in the lower levels just past first base. Despite the threatening weather earlier, there was a decent crowd for the game.
As soon as Tim Tebow walked onto the field, there was an audible buzz in the crowd. Not surprisingly, Tebow was affable, talking with Bisons players during warmups. Just before ducking back into the dugout, Tebow spent some time greeting fans and signing autographs. It was clear from his demeanor and actions that his interest was genuine. In an era where professional athletes seemingly go through the motions with fans, it was refreshing to witness the Tebowmania in person.
Fortunately, the weather continued to slowly improve, allowing us to enjoy the game. It was clear from the Mets starting lineup that the future of the NY Mets was troubled. No less than five Mets starters were former MLB players, suggesting the the organization does not have the talent to fill these positions from within.
As feared after reviewing the lineup card for the Mets, the home team’s offense sputtered under the weight of the aging roster. The Mets pitching fared no better, with lefty Daniel Zamora surrendering four runs in one-third of an inning’s work. The home team lost 7-1, with the Bisons’ Bo Bichette going 3 for 4. Following the Mets loss, we headed back to the hotel to rest after a long day. Perhaps the Mets offense would show more life tomorrow afternoon.
Sunday, July 7th
Ahead of the 105 pm game time, we headed out to explore nearby Onondaga Lake Park. Cloudiness obscured the sunshine early, but as the morning wore on, the sunshine ultimately won out. With the sunshine came an increasing in humidity, though moderate when compared to what the Fourth of July weekend can bring.
Walking through the park afforded us a great view of the lake, as well as its inhabitants. Apparently, Canadian geese call the park home (at least during the warmer months), and for the most part seemed content to share the park with us. There was one goose who appeared to be less than enthusiastic about our visit, and was not shy about showing his displeasure. Fortunately for us, he (or she) eventually allowed us to leave unharmed.
After wrapping up our visit the lake, we headed to the ballpark for the final game of the series at NBT Bank Stadium. Arriving early, we took our time reviewing the ballpark. In the light of day, it was clear that the stadium had been recently renovated. The two level stadium looked much bigger than the night before, especially when viewed from the poles. This stadium is probably the largest minor league ballpark we’ve seen, with respect to capacity.
The stadium is conveniently located a short distance from Interstate 90. Parking is ample, seemingly day and night, and reasonably priced at $5.00.
As is usually the case with minor league games, this Sunday afternoon affair was much more lightly attended than the previous Saturday night game. For this game, our seats were on the 3rd base side, in the first few rows of the lower level. Once again, the star of the pre game was Tim Tebow. Like the night before, he took the time to greet and speak with fans, posing for pictures before ducking into the dugout just before game time.
The Syracuse Mets lineup was again packed with former big leaguers, with Ervin Santana taking the mound for the home team. Though he didn’t get rocked, it was clear that Santana didn’t have it today, giving up four runs in four innings’ work. Based on what we saw today, perhaps Ervin’s best days are behind him.
The Mets bullpen wasn’t much better, with Brooks Pounders getting pounded for four additional runs in a third of an inning. Some of the younger relievers fared a bit better, but this weekend made clear that the parent club cannot count on this staff to bolster their ranks anytime soon. Unfortunately for the Mets, the offense wasn’t not any better than the pitching. Despite scoring five runs, the team struck out 16 times against Bisons pitching.
With the loss, the Mets dropped the series to the Bisons. Shortly after the game, we were back on the road, headed back to NJ. While the stadium was a good venue for minor league baseball, it was not as impressive as some of the others we have seen in our travels. We enjoyed our time in Syracuse, but I’m not sure when, or if, we will return.