Let me show you around a quiet place I’ve come to like, a sort of library of summer.
McDonough Park is a baseball field parked like a ’75 Catalina in the middle of a residential neighborhood in Geneva, New York. Supposedly it seats (or once seated) 3,000 people, though that is one of those baseball numbers that strains credulity, like Rich Garces being listed at 215 pounds.
McDonough Park, formerly known as Shuron Field, hosted low minor-league baseball between 1958 and 1993. In the Nineties, Major League Baseball raised its standards for minor-league ballparks. Geneva was among the small American cities that would not or could not make the necessary investments to make the grade.
As a result, McDonough Park will never again host minor-league ball in anything like its current form. College-age players in summer leagues play there now. That’s what was going on when I laid down my $3 and spent an evening there last week, in the company of no more than 100 others desperate to hear the sound of cowhide slapping against leather.
McDonough Park has a few minor claims to baseball history. Pete Rose plied his trade here for the 1960 Geneva Redlegs, three years before becoming NL Rookie of the Year.
Doug Glanville, the most erudite player-turned-commentator on today’s baseball scene, broke in to organized ball by hitting .303 for the 1991 Geneva Cubs. Another future Rookie of the Year, Mike Hargrove, passed through Geneva, as did 1978 World Series hero Brian Doyle and sidearming bullpen legend Kent Tekulve (nine games — seven starts — with the 1969 Geneva Pirates.)
James Diya passed through Geneva too. He started a single game for the 1965 Geneva Senators, surrendering five hits and five runs in two-thirds of an inning. It was his only game in professional ball; he was finished at age 19.
There is nothing particularly significant about James Diya in the grand sweep of things. But he did get paid to play ball, for one shining moment, and that is worth remembering.
McDonough Park has a concession stand. As the photo indicates, the special is “motzy sticks.” They sell beer there too — Keystone Light, for $2 a can. McDonough Park is the only building on Earth where I will cheerfully buy and consume Keystone Light.
McDonough Park has crudely hand-painted outfield signs, and warped wooden bleacher seats, and an infield personally groomed by the same young men who will field ground balls on it half an hour later.
When you’re the scheduled starting pitcher, and an overlooked pebble can make the difference between the third out and a five-run rally, quality is Job One.
McDonough Park’s battered fences are known to give shade to visiting-team ballplayers who are lollygagging during pre-game fielding practice on a warm summer evening.
McDonough Park is a place where stirrup socks over sanitary hose have not entirely gone out of fashion.
Things that have never come into fashion at McDonough Park: Constantly nattering PA announcers, $10 million free agents, drunken fratboys in the seat next to you, or upper-deck seats. (Well, OK, there is an “upper deck” party platform on the first-base side. You could probably drop a Pepsi bottle from it and not have it break, though I don’t recommend trying.)
McDonough Park is probably closer to the end of its lifespan than the beginning. But it suits its current use just fine … and there are no developers I know of clamoring for buildable land at the intersection of Nursery and Lyceum streets.
Personally, I hope it outlasts Wal-Mart. And McDonald’s. Because there is still a place in the world for McDonough Park, even if scarcely a hundred people seem to hear its call on a typical night.
You have to listen closely, I guess.