Saturday, November 28, 2009

Yankees Once Played Here

For those of you not from or not familiar with the Albany area, Yankees once played here.  From 1985-1994 the Albany Colonie Yankees, a Double-A Eastern League minor league affiliate of the New York Yankees called Heritage Park home for ten years.

In fact nearly 100 or so players who made it to the major leagues honed their craft at the ballpark by the airport.  Including Yankees Captain and Shortstop Derek Jeter ('94), Catcher Jorge Posada ('93), Closer Mariano Rivera ('94) Starting Pitcher Andy Pettitte ('93-94) and recently retired Center fielder Bernie Williams (‘89-90).  Other players who contributed to their recent run of dynastic success who played at Albany are guys like Catcher Jim Leyritz (‘88-89), Second basemen Andy Fox (‘93-94) reliever Brian Boehringer ('94).

Amongst other notable names to have played here that made it to the bigs are Al Leiter, Gerald Williams, J.T. Snow, Roberto Kelly, Hal Morris, Doug Drabek, Pat Kelly, Randy Velarde, Andy Stankiewicz, Russ Davis, Sterling Hitchcock, Lyle Mouton, Jalal Leach, Mark Hutton, Kevin Maas, Mike DeJean, Bob Geren and even "Primetime" himself Deion Sanders.  Current players still in the majors along with those current Yankees are Brad Ausmus, Russ Springer.

While their parent club in New York was essentially sleepwalking through the better part of the late 1980's and early 1990's, Heritage Park was the place for exciting Yankee baseball on the way up to the big leagues.

Which would explain why in 1985 Albany smashed and set the Eastern League record for attendance with over 324,003.  In fact as the Oakland A's Double-A affiliate in 1983, Albany drew over 200,000 fans for a team that finished in last place.  Back to the Yankees though, from 1985-1987 Albany led the Eastern League in attendance and from 1985-1990 Albany was top 3 in attendance each year and if one wants to count the A's days (1983-1984) Albany finished in the top 3 in attendance from 1983-1990.  Of course attendance figures were skewed in the last remaining years (1991-1994) due in part to a fan base that was alienated by constant rumors and attempts by ownership to move the team.

Perhaps no more memorable moment happened than in 1986 when Yankees legend and current pitching coach Ron Guidry came to pitch in a rehab start for 3 innings in front of a packed beyond capacity crowd of 14,491.  Of course there would be other occasions where fans would see former players like Reggie Jackson or Willie Randolph around the park to help with the younger players.  Or scouts who came with radar guns by the dozen to watch former Yankee fire-balling lefty prospect Brien Taylor pitch in 1993, a year before he would ruin his arm in a bar-fight.  Even in 1994 during the strike Buck Showalter who managed the Albany Colonie Yankees to a championship in 1989, their second of three (1988, 1989, 1991) with many of the players who would contribute to World Series Championships in New York, was on hand to scout players who would also contribute to those championships with Gene "Stick" Michael and Billy Connors.

After the 1994 season the team left and along with it cheap quality minor league baseball.  Mostly because there was no local ownership and no local businesses willing to step up and keep the team in Albany.  Nobody wanted to put any money towards improvements of a ballpark that was unfortunately built before the Camden Yards era.  Failure also stemmed from the state level of government to local politicians in Albany County and the Town of Colonie, who years after the team left could never build a new stadium to secure another team.

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