I have a soft spot for East Field, but maybe you’d expect that.
I spent six years covering Double-A baseball in the 1980s, back when big-time players were coming through Glens Falls. I was there when Chris Hoiles was working behind the plate. I was in the locker room the night John Smoltz was traded to the Braves.
I’m also a lifelong baseball fan who will stand or sit anywhere to watch a game. I’m not worried too about the accommodations.
Most other sports fans, I suspect, would prefer a little comfort while they’re watching a game. You’re not going to get that at East Field.
It’s almost all bleachers, most of them in the neighborhood of 35 years old. The seats behind the plate were bottom-of-the-line when they were installed ... now some of it has been covered over by boards. The peeling paint on bleachers in the outfield looks awful. If it rains, better have an umbrella.
Money has been put into the park from time to time over the years, but mostly it’s been fix-up stuff. The ballpark is pretty much the same structure that was thrown together in the early 1980s.
The amazing thing is how long baseball has been played there, despite the limitations of the facility. It adds up to 33 years, counting the Eastern League (9), New York-Penn League (1), independent baseball (8) and now collegiate summer ball (15, counting the Glens Falls Dragons’ upcoming season).
I guess that says something about the loyalty of area baseball fans, the dedication of people who have run those teams and the ability of city leaders to bring them in.
Ben Bernard, the man in charge of the Dragons and East Field, said there are some upgrades planned for this season. The lights are due to be replaced. Some painting will be done.
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The most notable improvement on the planning board is new coverings that would encase the bleachers, making them more pleasant for fans. That could be done on at least some of the bleachers before the Dragons’ season begins, he said, thanks to state funds already available.
The question is, do you want to go beyond that? Do you want to build some kind of grandstand that would offer more comfortable seating for customers, perhaps attracting more casual fans? Because nice bleachers are still bleachers.
Bernard has looked into this and has some general ideas about how it might be done. It would involve removing the old seats behind the plate and some bleachers and putting in 1,000 or more pull-down seats. A roof could be constructed.
It wouldn’t be cheap. You’d be bringing in the yellow trucks, and that would probably drive the cost into the seven-digit range. You’d be looking for major funding from the state.
It’s a big chunk of change for a small-town ballpark. Then again, big chunks of change get spent in strange ways around this state.
Is it worth it? Too often, sportswriters automatically come down on the “yes” side of these questions. If you build it they will come, and all that jazz. So I’m not here to push the issue, only to raise it.
I’m sure people who regularly attend events at East Field will like the idea, but it’s a question more properly answered by the average taxpayer.
I think it’s worth talking about. In the meantime, we loyal baseball fans will soldier on, sitting on the bleachers, reveling in the history of the place, watching the game we love.