Apr 03, 2012 Russ Tarby Uncategorized
With baseball’s No. 1 prospect wearing a Syracuse Chiefs’ uniform, the season gets off to a rip-roaring start here at 2 p.m. Thursday, April 5. But 19-year-old power-hitting centerfielder Bryce Harper isn’t the only new draw at Alliance Bank Stadium.
A temporary tenant – the Empire State Yankees a.k.a. the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees – will play 10 of its 2012 home games at Syracuse’s North Side ballpark.
The stadium also has a new concessionaire and – within a few weeks – the Chiefs will unveil a newfangled scoreboard, a necessary amenity that has topped fans’ wish lists for a decade.
While Harper’s sure to send plenty of balls sailing into the cattails over the right field wall, the left field wall will be lit up like a birthday cake on steroids.
Daktronics, a video-display company based in Brookings, South Dakota, will manufacture and install the new LED display measuring 30 feet high by 55 feet wide. The old scoreboard often malfunctioned rendering unreadable players’ names, statistics and sometimes even the score.
With its 15HD-pixel layout, Daktronics promises pristine color clarity and brightness from all viewing angles.
They hope to flip the ON switch on new ABS scoreboard by May 7 when the Chiefs are scheduled to host the Durham Bulls. In the meantime, a temporary scoreboard will be installed in right field.
But fans won’t have to wait until May for better concessions. This season Ovations Food Services, a subsidiary of the Philadelphia-based sports and entertainment firm Comcast-Spectacor, takes over ABS food and beverage service from Centerplate of Spartanburg, S.C. Ovations summarizes its philosophy with its trademarked slogan, “Everything’s fresh!”
“We offer fans local and sustainable ingredients prepared after they order,” said Ovations General Manager Christopher Coonrad. “No soggy hot dogs here!”
Customized concepts include Flavors of Syracuse, featuring hometown favorites like Snappys and salt potatoes. Syracuse Land and Cattle grills hamburgers made from 100 percent fresh local beef. Hot Dog Nation serves specialty franks such as the Chiefs Dog.
The stadium’s menu will include grilled Angus cheeseburgers, chicken tender baskets and Philly cheesesteak sandwiches. Vinny’s Pizza stand will bake cheese and pepperoni pies along with garlic rolls. The Hank Sauer Room, and ABS Party Patios and Terraces, catered by Ovations, will also feature expanded menus.
Chiefs fans have hungered for a New York Yankees connection ever since 1977, when the Bronx Bombers relocated their top farm club from Syracuse to Columbus, Ohio. The Yanks’ Triple-A affiliate is now Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, but its stadium – PNC Field in Moosic, Pa. – is scheduled for a $40 million renovation. So the junior Yankees will play 10 of its 2012 “home” games at ABS, April 14-15, June 14-17, and July 14-15.
On those dates, CNY Yankees fans can root for future stars like pitchers Manny Banuelos, Dellin Betances and infielder Ramiro Pena. There’s even a chance that Yankee superstar lefty Andy Pettitte could make a start or two here in April.
The Empire State Yankees will also play 37 home games at Rochester’s Frontier Field, 10 games at Coca Cola Field in Buffalo and seven games at Dwyer Stadium in Batavia.
Syracuse’s real home team, the Chiefs, will be managed by 46-year-old Tony Beasley, who led the Double-A Harrisburg Senators into the Eastern League playoffs last season. Beasley also spent four seasons in the National League as third-base coach for both the Pirates and the Nationals.
Beasley was named Double-A Manager of the Year in 2004, and now boasts a minor-league managerial record of 452-320 after six seasons.
Perhaps more importantly, the first-year Syracuse skipper has already developed a solid relationship with Harper after managing the phenom both at Harrisburg and in the Arizona Fall League.
New Chiefs hitting coach Troy Gingrich will spend untold hours in the cage with Harper while third-year pitching coach Greg Booker oversees the hurlers.
Over the winter the Nationals traded away six promising Triple-A pitchers including International League All-Star southpaw Tommy Milone, righty Brad Peacock and long-man Colin Balester.
Returning Syracuse starters include Cuban defector Yunesky Maya and New Jersey native Erik Arnesen, and perhaps the big right-hander from Ohio, Craig Stammen. Proven relievers Josh Wilkie, Ryan Tatusko, Ryan Mattheus, Atahualpa Severino, Jeff Mandel and Lee Hyde return to the Chiefs bullpen.
Syracuse’s other 2011 IL All-Star, hard-hitting infielder Matt Antonelli, ended up in the Baltimore organization and was recently assigned to Norfolk.
First baseman Chris Marrero, who knocked out 14 dingers and 30 doubles here last season before his big-league debut in August, is still nursing a winter-ball injury as is veteran Nationals outfielder Mike Morse. We may see those two sluggers here on rehab assignments in a month or so. Ditto hard-throwing reliever Cole Kimball, who’s on Washington’s DL. Utilityman Steve Lombardozzi could be back if he fails to win a back-up outfield role with the Nationals.
Meanwhile first-sacker Tyler Moore and third baseman Mark Teahan should help Harper produce runs for the Chiefs. Teahan, 30, has played more than 800 major-league games with the Kansas City Royals, Chicago White Sox and Toronto Blue Jays, hitting a respectable .264 with 67 homers.
Moore, 25, smacked 31 home runs in each of the last two seasons (at Single-A Potomac in 2010 and Double-A Harrisburg in 2011). This spring Moore went 8-for-27 with the Nationals, and even homered and doubled in his last big-league exhibition game on March 18. Problem is that Moore, like Harper, whiffs a lot. He had 139 strikeouts and just 30 walks at Harrisburg last season.
A handful of productive position players will be back, including fan-favorite Seth Bynum, catchers Jhonaton Solano and Carlos Maldonado and outfielders Corey Brown and Jesus Valdez.
Several newcomers to Syracuse are anything but new to the pro game. Middle infielder Andres Blanco has several seasons of major-league experience and outfielders Brent Carroll and Xavier Paul have played for Florida/Milwaukee and Pittsburgh/Los Angeles, respectively. Designated hitters Xavier Nady, 33, and Chad Tracy, 31, have suited up for nine major-league teams between them.
With its teenage home-run hitter drawing ticket-buyers to the ballpark, Syracuse should easily surpass its 2011 attendance of 374,680. And appetizing food and a legible scoreboard could help keep those fans happy for years to come.