Three months ago, it was announced that the Manhattan Jaspers baseball program would no longer be calling Van Cortlandt Park home.
The park that is in constant need of field work done by the Jaspers themselves, uneven dirt in the infield and on the pitcher’s mound, pocketed grass in the outfield and an aging scoreboard. That’s all without mentioning the singular set of bleachers for fans and students to sit on that creak and rattle when climbed and walked on, making the trespasser fear that the seats are about to cave in and collapse.
This is the same park that housed the 2012 Jasper team to post an 18-0 undefeated home record. From its cons to its pros, they’re exchanging Van Cortlandt for Dutchess Stadium, a 4,494 seat AstroTurf minor league stadium home to the Tampa Bay Rays class-A affiliate the Hudson Valley Renegades, in Wappingers Fall, N.Y.
It sounds like a sweet deal on paper, but what’s the trade off? Field work before practices and games in exchange for an hour and 15 minute ride to every home game, even though it’s not really home.
The move from Van Cortlandt to Dutchess in the opinion of Joe McClennan, a senior infielder, is well worth it despite having to always be on the road.
“The drive in itself is one thing, but when you look at it it’s a minor-league stadium. It’s not even close to what we’ve been playing on for the past four years,” he said. “Van Cortlandt Park has been great to us for the past couple of years that I’ve been here, but stepping up to this kind of facility is bar none. The drive it is what it is, but we know we’re going to enjoy playing out there.”
McClennan being from upstate New York in Highland Mills actually played at Dutchess with his high school baseball team the Cornwall Dragons when it was a grass field.
He said the new turf is gorgeous and that playing on that type of surface is much the same because the baseball can be fielded clean and judged on contact with almost perfect timing. Whereas compared to playing at Van Cortlandt, the fielder doesn’t know if the ball is going to come off the lip of the grass on a weird angle or bounce which causes change in reaction time.
The difficult level in how Van Cortlandt’s field plays to Dutchess is an advantage in itself by making it an easier transition to turf. McClennan, who was a freshman on that 18-0 Jasper team, said he hopes the edge that Van Cortlandt provided that 2012 team as a field, the ease of fielding the baseball at Dutchess does something similar for the current Jasper squad.
“A home for us was basically an automatic win,” he said, “but now going up to Duchess I don’t know if you can call it a home game really because the fans, students aren’t going to come up an hour away and watch the games. But it is our home field now so I would like to think that being that it is our new home field hopefully it’ll give us some home field advantage.”
Another positive Jim Duffy, Jaspers head coach, has taken away from the move is no longer needing to worry about whether or not they can play if it rains the night before a game because of how fast water dries on turf as opposed to grass. He said even though he is a baseball traditionalist who likes playing on a grass field he has gotten to the point where he wants to play.
All in all the move from Van Cortlandt to Dutchess is an upgrade for the Manhattan baseball program, Joey Rocchietti, a sophomore pitcher, said.
“It’s awesome,” he said. “It’s a big step up for our program, makes us look more professional better chance of a good performance from our players I feel like.”
New Home Equals Hosting of MAAC Championship
Dutchess already has its perks over Van Cortlandt because it’s set to play host to the 2015 MAAC Championship. If it happens it marks the first time Manhattan baseball hosts the event in its 112 year history, circa 1902 when records became available.
Duffy said hosting doesn’t change his Jaspers’ mindset toward qualifying and winning the tournament come May 20-24, 2015.
“We don’t need that as the motivation to be in or win the tournament,” he said. “But it certainly will make it a little more exciting. And we may even a little advantage there because we will have played there 18 times already.”
Head coach of the reigning MAAC champion Siena Saints, Tony Rossi, said it’d be great and a plus if his team could return to the title game against the Jaspers, but that there are no guarantees because there’s an even level playing field this year from team to team.
“I’m hoping we make it,” he said. “I’d like to be one of the first clubs to be in there when they host it. No matter who’s in it’s going to be really a top tournament because there’s a lot of equity in this conference this year.”