Niagara Falls Mayor Paul Dyster recently opened a cricket field here but his failure to properly maintain Sal Maglie Field at Hyde Park has cost the city’s its’ rookie league baseball franchise.
After eight seasons, 230 home games and a total paid attendance of more than 60,000 fans, the Niagara Power of the New York Collegiate Baseball League are calling it quits after management was unable to come to terms with the city regarding minimal maintenance requirements.
Like lights that work. Grass that is mowed.
“This just makes no sense,” said Power announcer and official scorer Doug Smith. “The Fellowship of Christian Athletes and the Niagara Power aren’t fly-by-nighters trying to get rich quick, all they want to do is get poor slowly. They bring in a whole train station full of spenders every day in the summer and the city looks on them as the enemy. It’s just mystifying.”
Power General Manager Cal Kern said conditions have been worsening at the stadium for years, and the city has steadfastly refused to do anything about it.
"I felt backed up into a corner," Kern said. "We just can't play there anymore. The city didn't meet our needs and expectations."
This past season was the best on record for the Power as they broke a team record with 25 wins and made it all the way to the Western Division championship series. Second year man Caleb Lang was awarded the NYCBL's Player of the Year award, and the success resulted in increased attendance at the games.
"It's disappointing because we were building up a fan base," Kern said. "Especially in July, we were popular and the fans were growing. There's going to be some disappointed people."
Reaction to the announcement that the team would be leaving was swift. Over the weekend, the Facebook pages dedicated to happenings in Niagara Falls were jammed with comments from outraged residents, most of whom blamed Dyster directly for the debacle.
Former Mayor Vince Anello was among the disappointed fans.
“This is wrong,” Anello wrote. “Where are those Council members that are forever spouting about the quality of life and our kids and grandkids. This is shameful."
Dawn Antonacci agreed.
“Another great staple shuts down, the only few things left in our city for people to do for fun and entertainment closed,” she said. “You wonder why our city crime rate is growing and kids dropping out of school and head to the streets well this is why.”
Jenelle Faso Messer was left scratching her head.
“The team paid the city to play there,” she wrote. “The stadium was being used again. There is no reason for this to have happened.”
Duffy Fitzpatrick, who is apparently a bit of a wag, waxed sarcastic.
“Who needs a great summer pastime like baseball when there is cricket?” Fitzpatrick asked.
Alicia J Pucci laid responsibility for the mess squarely at Dyster’s feet.
“This is totally shameful and unacceptable for a mayor to treat people like that,” she wrote. Now we know he picks and choses who he backs. If they can benefit him and the Council they get priority. Just notice who gets money or help. Maybe he has plans to sell it to another Buffalo organization. Let’s just get him out and the Council and start all over.”
Doug Smith, who has been with the Power since the beginning, said he can’t imagine why a city such as Niagara Falls would be so unreceptive to an enterprise such as the Niagara Power.
“Let’s suppose somebody comes to the Tourist & Convention Bureau and says, ‘Every summer we can place 30 affluent out-of-town families in Niagara Falls for 10 weeks.’ Wouldn’t the bureau’s response be, ‘Wow, what can we do to help you make this happen? And thank you,’ Smith said.
“That’s what the Power does, at the very least. The kids come in, family comes in with them, and while for the most part they do stay at host homes, many of the visitors do employ local hotels and inns. And they behave themselves. The worst we can say about them is, they don’t run up big bar bills and don’t plunge at the casino,” he added.
“Instead, the city responds with hostility, as if they were intruders who really didn’t belong here,” Smith said. “I was there the day they refused to turn on the water for a slip-and-slide at a youth baseball camp and the players themselves had to run a bucket brigade. There was a city worker present, but his response to the pleas was, ‘They told me to get on this mower and stay on it all morning.’
“It seems incredible, but I was there. There are other yarns, like one city department asking the team to run a youth baseball camp in a playground, while another locked up their equipment and refused access. That’s what it’s all about, the city does NOT want the team helping out with field maintenance.”
Smith said that team members helping to maintain the field they’re playing on is common practice throughout the league.
“Every other team in the league – and probably every other league in the country – what happens is, the ballplayers help out in maintaining the field and they do it with pride and gladly,” he said. “Here, they’re the enemy. Our premiere pitcher, Brandon Mumaw, refused to pitch the way the mound was arranged for a critical game, but they wouldn’t even let him straighten it out with his cleats without a union representative being present.”
Smith said the attitude is mystifying, particularly in a city that is so obviously incapable of taking care of routine maintenance on its own.
“Have political pressures been brought to bear, like, vote for me or endorse me or fill my war chest and I’ll make your troubles go away? Not that I know of,” Smith said. “It may work that way, but I’d be inclined to say no. There’s sort of an atmosphere of territorial turf-protection, like ‘What are you outsiders doing here?’”
Dyster is less interested in maintaining the parks the city already has than he is in building as many new parks as he possibly can. Make no mistake, the loss of the Power is a blow to Niagara Falls and yet another black mark on his quickly darkening record.