Saranac Lakers embrace new red, white and blue baseball team

More than 300 attend Surge’s 1st home game

Saranac Lake Mayor Clyde Rabideau introduces the community’s new baseball team, the Surge, Thursday in Riverside Park after the annual Kiddie Parade. (Enterprise photo — Kevin Shea)

SARANAC LAKE — A new tradition born from an old one was introduced Thursday with the first home game of the village’s new baseball team team, the Surge.

The Independence Day festivities started with the annual Kiddie Parade down Main Street, with men, women, children, fire trucks, police cars and a civilian vehicle blaring marching band music. The parade ended at Riverside Park, where Mayor Clyde Rabideau introduced something new.

“This is an all-American day,” Rabideau said, addressing a crowd of over 100 in the park. “And can you tell me an all-American sport?”

The answer, “baseball,” was shouted by the crowd, but the answer was also behind the mayor. Wearing red shirts with blue lettering and white pants, Saranac Lake’s new pro baseball team, the Surge, stood with its manager Ken Matsuzaka.

“This is a big day,” Matsuzaka said. “It’s going to mean a lot to us.”

The Kiddie Parade, an Independence Day tradition in Saranac Lake, processes down Main Street from Church Street to Riverside Park Thursday, led by Winter Carnival King Phil “Bunk” Griffin and Queen RoseAnn Hickey. (Enterprise photo — Kevin Shea)

More than 100 people were in the park to receive goodie bags from the team and to have caps, baseballs and gloves signed. After the introduction from the mayor there was a moment for the crowd to hop up onto the bandshell stage to meet the team. There was a pause, a hesitation, not of fear or disinterest but of uncertainty. This is the village’s first professional team, and many were unsure how to approach it. After a minute, however, the crowd and team mingled and met.

Over two hours later, the crowd from that morning had more than doubled at the baseball field beside Petrova school, in a blaring sun abated by a gentle breeze. It was time for the first home game.

Many of the bleachers and dugouts were added to this field in the past week — it was more basic when the Saranac Lake High School team played on it this spring.

“It’s nice,” said Brett Rogers, who was there with his son. “I live right down the street.”

The two said they will come frequently. A half-hour before the first pitch was thrown, many others joined them.

Surge Manager Ken Matsuzaka addresses a crowd in Saranac Lake’s Riverside Park Thursday after the annual Kiddie Parade. (Enterprise photo — Kevin Shea)

“It’s great for baseball,” said Bill Chapin, who was born and raised in Saranac Lake. “Hopefully they can keep it for more than a year.”

This was not only a test for the sport, which has seen a decline in national popularity, but also for the village. For how long would the community keep coming, and could the village’s population support these young men’s dreams?

“I think it’s great,” said Frank Camelo, who added that he hopes the new team will awaken a passion for the sport. He also said he hopes the team will create an opportunity for young men. His son Pete Camelo played five years of minor league ball for Montreal Expos farm teams.

“It’s a tough life,” Camelo said.

Then the proverbial starting gun let loose.

Surge players sign baseballs and hats for people Thursday after the Kiddie Parade, an Independence Day tradition in Saranac Lake. (Enterprise photo — Kevin Shea)

“Play ball,” said Joe Dockery, the announcer for the game.

By the end of the first inning, more than 300 people had made their way into the stands, along the bleachers and onto the grass behind the chain-link fences to watch. Grandkids sat on their grandparents’ laps. Couples sat together. Families lay on picnic blankets.

A few youth contests kept the crowd entertained in between innings. Two kids participated in a race involving spinning around a bat and then running to a finish line, which Rabideau created by extending his arms. Jackson Daunais and Tyler Durkee both said they enjoyed the event. They will be rewarded with ice cream. Neither had decided on a flavor after the race, most certainly weighing their options.

The quintessential baseball instrument blared on the loudspeaker: A recording of an electronic organ blurted a pattern that only those who had been to sports games understand. In the pauses, those who knew clapped twice. It was loud. But a few heads turned and eyebrows raised. It’s a new season, a new team and a new game. Some still have to learn.

Classic baseball food was also served, but the crowd might have been bigger than providers expected. By the third inning there were no more hamburgers and the ketchup supply was gone. Only hot dogs and mustard were left.

A crowd gathers Thursday to watch the first home game of the Saranac Lake Surge. (Enterprise photo — Kevin Shea)

In the fourth inning, the sight many came to see happened. A player in red, white and blue ran across home plate and notched the first home-game run. The opposing team, the Road City Explorers of Puerto Rico, was still up by four, but the cacophony of cheering and clapping beat back the score. There was no scoreboard anyway. The facts needn’t be adhered to in such a joyous occasion.

For many, the score probably didn’t matter. Whispers of what each play and position meant floated around the audience from veterans to novices. Much probably went in one ear and out the other. This was another happening for the village, another place of gathering for families and friends. The Surge may be new, but it’s Saranac Lake, and on July 4, the village embraced its new team, stitches and all.