Yesterday, I posed the question – what is the connection between Bernie Williams and the Tri-City Valleycats? The ‘Cats are a Houston Astros affiliate. Bernie is a life-long Yankee. He never played for Houston, nor did he play for Tri-City. So, why are they giving out a Bernie Williams bobblehead this season?
Well, it turns out that the Valleycats are located in Troy, NY. The “Tri-City” moniker refers to the tri-city area of New York’s capital region – Albany, Schenectady, and Troy. And that’s where the connection begins to make sense. Anyone remember the Albany-Colonie Yankees? They were the Double A (AA) affiliate of the New York Yankees from 1985 to 1994. The Valleycats pay tribute to the former local team with their “Weekend at Bernie’s” promotion, which includes a bobblehead giveaway of the 1989-90 Albany-Colonie Yankee, Bernie Williams, on August 21. The Bernie Weekend continues the following day with a raffle for an autographed, life-sized Bernie Williams bobblehead. (The team will sell a limited number of raffle tickets beginning at the start of the season, with proceeds going to charity.)
Now, here’s where minor league genealogy gets complicated, yet fascinating. Throughout its history, Albany, NY, had several minor league teams. In fact, between 1920 and 1959, the city hosted a team every year. Baseball returned to Albany in 1983 in the form of the Albany A’s (who became the Albany-Colonie A’s in 1984; technically, the team played in Colonie, NY, a suburb of Albany). Their home ballpark, Heritage Park, was built in 1982. (In case you were wondering, the A’s had moved from West Haven, CT, where they had played as the West Haven Whitecaps (1980) and the West Haven A’s (1981-1982)) (prior to that they were the West Haven Yankees from 1972-1979 and the A’s affiliate was in Waterbury, CT). (But I digress.)
In 1985, the Albany team became an affiliate of the New York Yankees. The Albany-Colonie Yankees moved to Norwich, CT, in 1995 and were renamed the Norwich Navigators. They remained the Yankees’ AA affiliate through 2002. The team switched affiliations to the San Francisco Giants for the 2003 season (when the Yankees moved their AA team to Trenton, which is still the Yankees’ AA team). In 2006, the team’s name changed to the Connecticut Defenders, though they remained a Giants affiliate. After the 2009 season, they moved to Richmond, VA, and became known as the Richmond Flying Squirrels. To this day, the team remains in Richmond, is still a Giants farm team, and is still named the Flying Squirrels.
Of course, when the Yankees’ AA team moved to Connecticut in 1995, it wasn’t the end of baseball in New York’s State Capital. At least not then. In 1995, the independent Northeast League was formed and fielded a team in Albany – the Albany Diamond Dogs. Beginning in 1998, they became known as the Albany-Colonie Diamond Dogs.
In 1999, the Northeast League merged with the Northern League (which was founded in 1993). The Albany-Colonie Diamond Dogs remained in the Northern League through 2002. The team folded after the 2002 season (and the Northern League folded after the 2010 season). Although the Northeast League returned as a separate league in 2003, the Albany-Colonie Diamond Dogs were no longer part of the league, nor did Albany (or Colonie) field a team in 2005 when the Northeast league reorganized as the Canadian-American League (also known as the Can-Am League, not to be confused with the Class C minor league Canadian-American League, or Can-Am League, which operated between 1936 and 1951 (for the most part)). (Interestingly, the original Can-Am league did not field a team in Albany.) (But I digress.) (Again.)
Sadly, the Diamond Dogs’ Heritage Park sat empty after the 2002 season. In 2005, just ten years after the Dogs first played there and less than 23 years after it was built, the contents of the stadium were sold at auction. The stadium itself was demolished four years later.
What makes this so fascinating and sociologically significant? The linkages among teams and towns fascinates this Baseball Sociologist. It’s kind of like that six degrees of Kevin Bacon thing. If you dig deep enough, you can find a connection to baseball almost anywhere. Baseball is deeply ingrained in U.S. society, and you never know when, or where, you might stumble upon it (or, exasperatingly, the Yankees).