Batter Up

By Tracey Moro

Back in spring of 2016 we all wondered what having a baseball stadium with minor league players would do for our communities. Would families be drawn to spend afternoons or evenings watching the games? Would businesses get on board with sponsoring suites, or taking employees there or spending advertising dollars? And, would these players gain the interest of the major leagues, sparking new contracts boasting of a solid program right here in our own backyard?

Well, the answer is YES. Yes families are all too happy to join in the fun of attending a game at the ballpark with 62 out of 75 games sold out last year. And YES businesses are crazy about supporting the park with more than 250 companies enjoying suites and 37 with exclusive Diamond Table licenses and more than 200 are advertising their brand at the Jimmy John’s stadium. And, with the former Utica Unicorns pitcher Randy Dobnak being signed by Major League organization the Minnesota Twins just last year, we have another YES.

The dream for the ballpark has surpassed its expectations by all.

“I could not be more pleased about the success we have had so far, and I could not be more excited about the USPBL Championship Game set a new single-game attendance record of 4,926 fans. This shows baseball at Jimmy John’s Stadium in Utica – is here to stay! “Our fans were treated to the best baseball and the best overall family entertainment experience in the history of our league in 2019,” said Katie Page, senior director of marketing and public relations. A special appearance by the world-famous Budweiser Clydesdales was just one of the favorite extras of last year. But nothing was as exciting as seeing the first USPBL alum make it to the Majors. “Randy Dobnak is the first of what we expect to be many USPBL future of our league and ballpark! Over the past four years, we have seen hundreds of thousands of fans pass through the gates of our world-class ballpark to experience top-notch baseball, where 36 players have been signed to contracts by Major League organizations, at a family entertainment environment that is second to none,” said Andy Appleby, president and CEO of General Sports which founded the United Shore Public Baseball League (USPBL).

Considering there isn’t a bad seat in the house, from grandstands, field-level diamond tables, to upper-level diamond tables, founder’s suites, manager’s suites, cabana suites, dugout suites and lawn seats, the total capacity is just under 5,000. The 2019 USPBL Championship Game set a new single-game attendance record of 4,926 fans. This shows baseball at Jimmy John’s Stadium in Utica – is here to stay!

“Our fans were treated to the best baseball and the best overall family entertainment experience in the history of our league in 2019,” said Katie Page, senior director of marketing and public relations. A special appearance by the world-famous Budweiser Clydesdales was just one of the favorite extras of last year. But nothing was as exciting as seeing the first USPBL alum make it to the Majors. “Randy Dobnak is the first of what we expect to be many USPBL players who will achieve their ultimate goal of making it to the big show, as the vision of the USPBL as a developmental league for MLB continues to take root,” Page said. A total of 36 players have been promoted up to major leagues, but only Randy has made an official team roster. With the announcement of Randy’s promotion, the USPBL’s brand awareness reached new heights in 2019, and sales of Utica Unicorns merchandise spread across the country. The USPBL was even featured on national MLB broadcasts and ESPN’s Top 10 Plays. “We once again had 10 games broadcast on ESPN3 in 2019,” said Page. The baseball program and the fan experience continue to evolve and improve, including the addition of JJ the Bat Dog and the introduction of Dole Whip ice cream.Adding a USPBL Dance Crew has brought 250 teens and tweens on the field to perform, offering yet another way to get the community involved. Fans come in all sizes too, not just families.

“Our fans included not only hundreds of thousands of single-game ticket buyers, but also over 1,000 group outings, and more than 400 season ticket account holders,” said Page. Some 50 families have really gotten involved by becoming player host families. Sandy Wilton, who volunteers as the USPBL host family director, matches players with host families. “There isn’t a typical host family. We have singles who host, single moms with families hosting, and even a few senior couples,” said Wilton. A family must provide the player a room to stay and most will feed them. “The players end up becoming part of the family, getting to know the extended family, doing chores and developing lifelong relationships.” Families receive four tickets a week and 20 percent off food, beverages and merchandise at the stadium. “I had one player who came from Miami. Ray Otega lived with our family for several seasons. He was a player his first year, then was on the coaching staff for the Beavers for two years. He is now a San Francisco Giants minor league coach. I probably talk with him on the phone weekly,” said Wilton. With four teams in house at the Jimmy John’s stadium – the Birmingham Bloomfield Beavers, the Eastside Diamond Hoppers, the Utica Unicorns and the Westside Woolly Mammoths – the teams can easily play each other without having to worry about travel. As of press time games were being rescheduled week by week as our county reopens. Check the Web site for all the latest updates for games and ticket sales. Visit USPBL.com.

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