Tri-City ValleyCats fill ‘The Joe’ in Troy. Time to play ball.

By Jonah Bayliss

As a former Major League Baseball player, I’m often asked what I remember most about my experiences in professional ball, and my answer’s almost always a shock to those asking. It’s not the pre-draft workout I was invited to at Fenway Park (baseball’s holiest of temples) or pitching on the same mound as so many of the great New York Yankees legends in The House That Ruth Built or even getting my first career win at Wrigley Field (baseball’s second holiest of temples).

There’s a place in the majors far removed from the glitz and glam, where smaller, quainter stadiums have captured something precious to the professional baseball experience: wholesome family fun. It’s a place where smiles from good-hearted fans and hard-working players can share genuinely requited smiles. And it’s a place that can be found right here—or a very short drive away.

Just a stone’s throw from Albany (or a towering homerun shot away) is the town of Troy, NY. Here, you’ll find a little baseball gem named Joseph L. Bruno Stadium, affectionately known as “The Joe” to those in the know. It’s the official summer home of the Tri-City ValleyCats and it’s easily accessible and hosts captivating entertainment, night in and night out.

For starters, let’s talk about getting there. If you’re anything like me, the thought of taking the car into New York City to catch a game is nauseating. “How much time should we plan for getting there? Will we hit rush hour? Where’ll we park? Will parking cost more than a ticket for the game? Will my car still have wheels on it when I come back?” There’s no such need to fret when you’re headed to catch the ValleyCats. A trip to The Joe couldn’t be easier. You simply drive right to the stadium’s parking lot and exit your car to a brief walk to the front gate. 

As you walk through the turnstiles, the concourse opens to unobstructed views at every seat and a beautiful, wooded backdrop of pine trees. The stadium has all the traditional food and drink offerings you’d expect at a baseball game, mixed with some local samplings. With such an inviting atmosphere, it’s never ceased to amaze me how these smaller venues can meld an “at-home” feel with the energy of a professional sporting event (and with shorter lines).

Once you’ve settled on a savory treat and you find your way to your seat to take in the game, you may notice something else that can only uniquely exist at this more intimate venue: there are games and entertainment options everywhere you look. In between innings, on the field, over dugouts, in the stands and scattered about the concourse, there are raffles, trivia contests, dizzy-bat races, basketball free-throws, giant inflatable slides, kid games, adult games and more. Yes, more. 

Speaking of nights, I haven’t even mentioned the myriad theme nights. If you happen to look over and see someone dressed in a robe with a tall pointy hat and a long white beard, don’t be alarmed. It’s probably just Wizard Night. Not to be outdone, of course by Hawaiian Night, Pirate Night, Star Wars Night or, a personal favorite, Denim Day. 

The small, community-based venue understands something very key to its own success. They’re selling something quite often more prized in the eyes of a child and families than seeing a star player. They’re providing an experience—an experience packed with fun from the moment you step foot in the gates until the last pitch. Their mission isn’t so much dollars and cents and perfectly negotiated player contracts, it’s simply to offer the very community that supports it opportunities to create memories that’ll outlast a typical major league career.

You can find the little gems scattered across the land, tucked away in some of the country’s greatest nooks and crannies. They constitute the grassroots foundation for the professional baseball we all know so well and are fortunate to have so close to our backyard. 

Like so many of the fantastic minor league towns and stadiums I played in, it’s a symbolic treasure chest of good times, wholesome fun and magical memories all wrapped in a unique baseball experience impossible to achieve at Yankee Stadium or any other MLB edifice. When I think back on my own career, it’s not the glitz and the glam that seems to garner the focus of my nostalgia. It’s these small stadiums and communities that take adopt and love you and truly make you feel like you’re a native son. It’s special indeed.

With an abundance of talented players that barely fall shy of their major league counterparts and never quite make it to “The Show,” they thrive in the intimate environment with more entertainment than you can shake a stick at. Time to play ball, folks. You’ll have a night for the ages.

Comments are closed.