AMSTERDAM Turn off the city’s main artery that is Route 30, go down a secondary road, navigate a couple side streets, and then — slowly — cross a one-lane bridge over a creek. Dead ahead you’ll find a century-old hidden sports destination that’s worth the trip.
Since opening in 1914, Shuttleworth Park has changed names three times, burned down in 1942 (only to be rebuilt in eight days) and hosted local teams from a variety of leagues. Today, it’s the home of the Amsterdam Mohawks of the Perfect Game Collegiate Baseball League, a wood-bat summer league mostly for younger college players.
Amsterdam has the best record in the PGCBL, and 10 of the 24 East Division players selected for the league All-Star Game play for the Mohawks. Two local newspapers send beat writers to cover games. But like most successful minor league franchises, it’s not so much the games that attract people as much as all that surrounds them.
“I like the socializing,” said John Watroba of Amsterdam, sporting a well-worn Mohawks cap that dates to sometime around the team’s 2003 arrival from Schenectady. “It’s going around and talking to the people, the concessions ...”
Officials said the team is second in the league in attendance, averaging more than 1,200 a game (the park can squeeze in a couple of thousand). On a recent Tuesday night, that mark seemed about right, even though the threat of thunderstorms loomed and the game would be halted in the seventh inning due to another deluge.
Why do fans come? Start with the prices: A weekday game will run you $5 — for five people. Another buck gets you a hot dog.
“It is kind of crazy,” said Brian Spagnola, the franchise’s president and general manager, who relies on sponsorships and paid promotions that fill the ballpark, as well as between-inning sales pitches. “We’re tying to make it affordable. We believe that it’s the best bang for the buck in the Capital District.”
If you go to a Mohawks’ game, be prepared for something you won’t see at almost any other ballpark: a 6:35 p.m. start time, a half-hour earlier than the norm.
“What we were finding is that by the seventh inning, we were losing half our crowd,” Spagnola said. “People have to work the next day, and it’s too late for little kids.”
Randy LaPlante of Amsterdam stood in right field stands kids area, his 2-year-old son, Evan, allowed free rein.
“We try to get out four or five times a year,” the dad said. “It’s a nice little gem of Amsterdam.”
While there have been more than a half-million dollars in upgrades over the decade — an all-turf infield was put in prior to this season — the tucked-away ballpark offers a peek into the history of Amsterdam baseball.
The next home game is Sunday at 6:35 p.m., and there are home games Wednesday and Thursday, too. For the full schedule, visit www.amsterdammohawks.com.