I took my first trip to Damaschke Field in Oneonta on Friday night and I felt like I was at a high school game. Most of the seats were high school style bleacher seats and it was a quiet crowd of under 500. They did have a few box seats with names on them but most of those were empty. The official attendance was 452 but I'm pretty sure it was less than that. One thing I liked was that is was all baseball. Long time owner Same Nader wanted it to be a family atmosphere and a pure baseball experience, and although the team was recently sold, the tradition continues. There are no mascots or fans dressed up as Sumo wrestlers or anything else designed to attract casual fans. And if you need to have a beer when you watch a minor league game, Oneonta is not the place for you. They sell no alcohol at all at Damaschke Field.
One amusing feature is the little incentives they give to players who perform various feats. For example, a player gets a free sub from Quizno's on Route 28 plus $20 worth of gas if he hits a double. A home run gets him a pizza, some free gas and a personalized bat. A bunt single is $10. How is that for motivation? They have similar prizes for pitchers who win games and fielders who make good plays. I don't think these types of incentives are unusual in the minors but what made it unique was that they announce it to the fans when a player wins something.
After the sparse audience at Friday night's game, I was a little surprised when I showed up the next night to an overflow parking lot. I learned the reason when I went to buy my ticket. Tickets were free that night which apparently is a common occurrence there. The attendance was close to the Damaschke Park capacity of 4,000. Not only was it free but they game away dozens and dozens of baseballs to fans and awarded an endless supply of raffle prizes. This time the subs, the pizzas and the gas were for the fans as well as the players. I didn't win anything but I'm not sure what I was going to do with a free gift certificate to Dairy Queen on Main Street in Oneonta anyhow.
Sadly, for the people of Oneonta, the town with a population of about 6,000 is probably not going to be able to support a team much longer. Under new ownership, they are guaranteed a team through 2010 but I suspect they will have to move after that. While it's a pleasant experience, the facilities pale in comparison to other teams at that level. The Lowell Spinners, for example play in a very modern stadium and have sold out every game for years. Lowell has a population of more than 100,000 and is surrounded by fairly densely populated suburbs.
Now for my very amateur scouting report. first, Oneonta is not a team of elite prospects to begin with and I missed some of their better pitchers. I did not get a chance to see Luke Putkonen, Anthony Shawler or Tyler Stohr. The pitcher who impressed me the most was Mark Brackman, a 16th round pick in the 2007 amateur draft. He's a big guy (6-7 230 pounds) but has a smooth delivery and good control. He pitched two innings and received poor defensive support allowing two unearned runs. He has a 4.21 ERA and 33/9 K/BB ratio in 36 1/3 innings pitched for Oneonta this year.
Shortstop and 11th round pick Brandon Douglass is having good season hitting .329/.365/.435 in 216 at bats for the GCL Tigers, West Michigan and Oneonta combined. From what I saw (and this is very limited), he does not appear to have a shortstop's range or arm. I would not be surprised if they moved him to second in the future.
My sleeper prospect for the visit is Mike Gosse, a 23rd round pick this year out of the University of Oklahoma. The left-handed hitting second baseman from Canada looks like the David Eckstein of the New York Penn League. He is listed at 5-7 165 pounds but I'm pretty sure he is shorter than that. He made good contact (four hits for the two nights) and showed surprising pop on a ground rule double to right. He is batting .304 with a 12/10 BB/K ratio in 193 at bats for Oneonta.
By the way, they lost both games to Hudson Valley 10-1 and 7-5 and are 25-34 for the season. But keep an eye on Mike Gosse!