Article Contributed by
Get ready for peanuts and crackerjacks, fly balls, and the seventh inning stretch: America’s favorite pastime is back in season.
This week, the Jamestown Jammers kick off their 2017 baseball year with 7:05 p.m. home games versus the Saugerties Stallions on Thursday, the Geneva Red Wings on Saturday, and the Elmira Pioneers on Sunday.
In the team’s second year as part of the Perfect Game Collegiate Baseball League (PGCBL), the roster is composed entirely of up-and-coming college ball players hoping to break into Major League Baseball. Under the leadership of head coach Anthony Barone, the boys will play 50 games in 61 days, participate in local youth and community outreach programs, and hopefully, bring home a championship trophy to the city of Jamestown – their home for the next two to three months.
2017 marks the third year that Jamestown has hosted a collegiate baseball team and the second year that the Jamestown Jammers have been a part of the PGCBL specifically. The league, which was founded in 2010, was designed to help players prepare for their next college season while also giving athletes the opportunity to be scouted for professional baseball. Players come from all over the country to play in the league, and this year is no exception. This season, head coach Anthony Barone has recruited players from colleges as far as Ontario, California, Texas, and Tennessee, just to name a few.
“We have a 35-man roster this year, and we’ve got a good mix of returning players and some new guys,” Barone said. “We have four of our All-Stars back from last year, so those guys are going to be the rock of our team. When you have a strong nucleus of returners, that helps the new guys get acclimated and learn the ropes.”
Those four returning All-Stars are Christ Conley behind the plate from Canisius College; Skyler Valentine at center field, from the University of Texas-San Antonio; Ben Brookover at first base, also from the University of Texas-San Antonio, and Cory Blessing, a pitcher from Ohio University.
“We have high hopes this year,” Barone said. “Those four guys, the first thing they said when we lost our last playoff game last year was, ‘Let’s bring the championship back to Jamestown.’ They want to finish what they started.”
Jammer players began arriving in Jamestown on May 27, which means that Barone has less than a week to prep his team before their first game on June 1. He says the boys – who bunk together in the residence halls at Jamestown Community College – have little downtime throughout the course of their summer.
“On an average game day, the guys get up at 10 a.m. and go lift at the college,” Barone said. “They get some lunch at noon. Then from about 1 to 3 in the afternoon, we do some specialized work: our pitchers work with the pitching coach, our catchers do something else, our infield and outfield get some drills in. Then there’s batting practice at 4 p.m., a light dinner, and game time at 7. It’s full days these guys are putting in; a lot of work and a lot of hours.”
When they’re not busy on the field, the Jamestown Jammers are usually busy within the community. The team partners with various schools, hospitals, libraries, and other Jamestown organizations to give back to the city, set good examples for local youth, and foster a sense of community. In particular this year, the Jammers are promoting a youth reading club called Bubba’s Reading Crew. The club rewards students who read a certain number of books with free tickets to Jamestown Jammers games.
“These guys come to Jamestown and it becomes their home for the summer – they want to be a part of what we’re doing,” Barone said. “We try to get out in the community as much as possible. It’s a way to relate to the fans and the youth of Jamestown. We want people to see that these guys are relatable and that they really want to be involved in this community.”
While many of the Jammers players may be new to Jamestown, there is one person on the team who is not – Barone. The head coach himself is a Jamestown native who played ball at Jamestown High School as well as Jamestown Community College before earning a scholarship to Felician University, a Division II college in New Jersey.
“I got a college degree, but I just knew that ultimately I wanted to coach baseball,” Barone said. “That’s been my passion and my love for a long time.”
So that’s exactly what he did. Before returning to Jamestown, Barone worked the baseball circuit out at Cal-State Bakersfield in California. It was there that he met decorated collegiate player Hayden Carter, the pitcher he would bring back to Jamestown to become his pitching coach for the Jammers.
“I think it’s cool to be back coaching in my hometown,” Barone said. “I mean, look at the ballpark. We’re really lucky to have what we have. I’m just trying to grow baseball in Jamestown – any time you have something like that here, it helps the community and it helps the youth.”
Barone says his ultimate goal this year is to bring a championship home to the city where his baseball career first began.
“I think we all deserve it,” he said. “Our owner, Mike Zimmerman, and Dan Kuenzi, his vice president, definitely deserve it. They put so much time and effort into this team and I really appreciate that. Our boys deserve it – we bring in some really talented young men who build a great brotherhood together and make bonds with the community. And, you know, we’re trying to represent Jamestown, too. We want to make the community proud. So, really, we want to bring a win home for everyone.”
History of the Jammers
“It’s easy to do something like this in Jamestown – to have the Jammers – because Jamestown has a rich history of baseball,” Barone said. “There’s just so much tradition here.”
He’s not wrong. Semi-professional baseball in the city of Jamestown dates back as far as 1939, when the first farm baseball team was established in the area: the Jamestown Jaguars. Between 1939 and 1993, the team hopped between several different leagues, switched MLB affiliations multiple times, and even experimented with different team names (the Falcons, the Tigers, the Dodgers, the Braves, back to the Falcons, then finally, the Expos).
But in 1993, the team relocated to Vermont. (It remains there to this day, now known as the Vermont Lake Monsters.) Although the Expos departed Jamestown after the completion of the 1993 season, the city was not without a baseball team for long. Almost immediately, a new group swooped in to fill the void: the Niagara Falls Rapids, a team which had been based out of Niagara Falls for five years. The team moved to Jamestown in time for the 1994 season, was christened the “Jammers” in a fan vote (beating out other suggested names such as the Lucies, the Furniture Makers, and the Muskies), and stayed in the area as the city’s MiLB team for the next 21 years.
But at the end of the Jammers’ 2014 season, it was announced that the league was relocating the team to Morgantown, West Virginia and re-dubbing it the Black Bears. No new MiLB team would be coming to take its place. Cited reasons included low attendance at baseball games and a stadium from 1941 that couldn’t compete with newer models. Baseball fans across the greater Jamestown area were heartbroken.
But the next year, in 2015, baseball found a way to come back to the area – not in a professional setting this time, but a collegiate one.
“When the old Jammers moved, that left the stadium and the franchise open,” Barone said. “Our organization, MKE Sports and Entertainment out of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, purchased the franchise. We were placed in the Prospect League for 2015, which is a wood-bat, summer collegiate league. But the travel was very difficult. We were going to Missouri, Illinois, Indiana for games.”
Because of difficulties participating in the Prospect League, a decision was made in 2016 to transition the Jammers into the PGCBL instead. This league, while still featuring collegiate players, requires team to travel only between its thirteen franchises based in upstate New York. It is the same league that the Jammers will compete in for the 2017 season.
“Travelling is so much better now,” Barone said. “It helps our players so much, because they don’t have to be on a bus for 13 or more hours. This league is great for our fans, too, because we bring back a lot of those rivalries with the old New York-Penn league teams, the rivalries that the original Jammers used to have.”
While some may still mourn the loss of MiLB teams at the old Russell Diethrick Park stadium, Barone maintains that collegiate baseball is just as good – if not better – than the old farm town leagues.
“It’s great baseball,” he said. “There’s so much energy in the collegiate game. Our product on the field has so much intensity because these guys are trying to make it to the next level. I really believe that this team is a huge win for the city of Jamestown.”
Interested in coming out to support the Jamestown Jammers? The 2017 regular season is scheduled to run through the end of July. Tickets are sold online at JamestownBaseball.com or in person at the box office at 485 Falconer St. in Jamestown. Tickets cost $5 for general admission and $7 for grandstand seats. Merchandise and concessions are sold at the stadium and home games often include on-field contests, competitions, and performances. For more information, visit the Jammers’ website or the team’s Facebook page, @JammersBaseball.