After a long winter, Syracuse Chiefs fans were ready for baseball
One quick trip around the outside of NBT Bank Stadium on Opening Day last Thursday showed just how much Central New Yorkers want this to be a breakthrough season for the Syracuse Chiefs experience.
Two hours before the first pitch of the 2014 season for the Triple-A affiliate of the Washington Nationals, portable barbecues had been set up to char hotdogs and burgers and whatever it is groups of 10, 20, 60 people wanted to eat.
The U.S. Postal Service Social Club members were circling under a carefully placed blue canopy, beverages in hand, smiles on faces.
Sixty tickets were purchased, explained the group leader, but 100 people appeared to have shown up for the tailgate party.
The parking lot appeared jammed with baseball lovers, folks drawn out by the promises of a new regime saying their will be increased appreciation for what fans want.
Between seasons, North Syracuse native Jason Smorol was hired by the board of directors as the team's new general manager, ending the leadership of the Simone family, patriarch Tex and son John, who had piloted the publicly owned organization since 1970.
An hour before game time, there was a line hundreds of fans long at the ticket windows.
The two team mascots, Scooch and Pops, mingled with fans of all ages outside the main gate.
Inside, the stadium looked about half full on a partially sunny day in which the temperature topped out at 50 degrees.
They were welcomed by pale green grass, finely manicured but still awaiting real warmth to produce a more bright sheen.
They politely cheered as the visiting Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders were introduced and stood along the first baseline. They applauded with more gusto as the Chiefs were announced and stood along the third baseline. They stood for a pretty but very slow rendition of the National Anthem.
Concession lines were crowded.
Every Thursday of the season will be a $1 day, with selected ballpark food staples priced at just a buck. Yes, you can get a 12-ounce cup of beer for $1 at NBT Bank Stadium.
There is a special promotional theme at the stadium for each day of the week:
Social Media Mondays. Two for Tuesdays. Winning Wednesdays. $1 Thursdays. Fireworks Fridays. Giveaway Saturdays. Family Mondays.
Specifics can be found on the Chiefs site.
A crowd announced at 6,661 laughed at the antics of a special guest. Mascot Reggy the Purple Party Dude appeared between several innings. Created by the man inside the legend of the Phillie Phanatic, Reggy proved to be a devilish purple zealot who cavorted with the RailRiders first-base coach, took on a feathered boa and the persona of Regina to dance with the home plate umpire, and climbed up into the stands to engage fans.
It was pretty nice flash. The video scoreboard over the left-field fence is beautifully bright. The mascot race with Scooch, Pops, Scoop from The Post-Standard and the Dunkin' Donuts Coffee Cup, was fun and funny.
But fans are longing for substance, too. The Chiefs have not turned in a winning season since 2010. They've not won a playoff game since 1994.
And on opening day on the field, the Chiefs lost 4-1 to the Triple-A team of the New York Yankees. The home squad did not look particularly sound in fundamentals. A player was picked off first base. Cutoff men were missed with throws from the outfield. Another runner was easily pegged out at home trying to tag up on a short fly ball.
It's a long season. The Nationals are predicted by many to win the National League East, and the organization has provided the Chiefs with many talented players.
Color the day hopeful up there on the north side of Syracuse.
Do you plan to attend a Syracuse Chiefs game at NBT Bank Stadium this season? What do you like best about Triple-A baseball?