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River Pigs ask for money

Crowdfunding used to pay for field upgrade

From right, Jed Dukett, Rick Skiff and Royce Cole pull together lines of sod across the Tupper Lake Municipal Park infield, one of the major requirements for getting the River Pigs professional baseball team. (Enterprise photo — Aaron Cerbone)

TUPPER LAKE — The River Pigs Baseball Committee and Adirondack Residents Intent on Saving their Economy have opened a crowdfunding campaign to raise around $10,000 in public funding to convert the municipal softball field into a field meeting the required standards of the Empire Professional Baseball League.

Using ARISE as a conduit, the campaign was started on the Adirondack Gives website Sept. 13 and is called “Bring Professional Baseball to Tupper Lake.”

As of Sunday evening, the campaign has six donors donating a total of $600, which is 6% of the $10,000 goal. There are 99 days left in which to donate.

ARISE founder Jim LaValley said the excitement from the baseball committee is contagious.

“The ARISE mission is to look at ways to stimulate economy and activity within the community,” LaValley said. “We saw the passion that the guys that are the spark behind the River Pigs (have) … and we saw that what they were doing was actually going to be something that would benefit the local economy, so it fit into our mission plan very well.”

Royce Cole, left, and Jay Skiff use rakes to straighten out a row of Kentucky bluegrass sod laid down by Rick Skiff Friday on the Tupper Lake Municipal Park ballpark field. (Enterprise photo — Aaron Cerbone)

River Pigs Baseball Committee member and president of the softball league Rick Skiff said the committee would come up with the money “regardless,” but that donations will help them build the field to match their dream.

“It’s huge to the committee,” Skiff said.

Committee member David “Haji” Maroun, who is also a village board trustee, said ARISE approached him about setting up the campaign.

The Empire League is an independent professional baseball developmental organization established in 2015, with teams in New Hampshire New York, Puerto Rico and Maine. The league is meant to give players out of college an educational pro experience and all league participants are considered rookies on the professional baseball qualification ranks of rookie one or two, as that is the qualification that they will keep if they move up to play at any higher level.

The River Pigs are scheduled to take the field in 2020. Ever since village employees met with league President Eddie Gonzalez earlier this summer and had a handshake agreement to bring a team to Tupper Lake, the committee members have been hard at work to bring the field up to the standards Gonzalez set.

Rick Skiff drives a tractor loaned from Larry Callaghan from Leroy’s Auto to lay down Kentucky bluegrass sod in the Tupper Lake Municipal Park’s softball infield Friday, to turn it into a professional baseball field for the River Pigs next year. Behind him, from left, Jay Skiff, David “Haji” Maroun, Jed Dukett and Royce Cole straighten out the sod. (Enterprise photo — Aaron Cerbone)

Committee member and village board Trustee Ron LaScala said the two are still working out the details of a formal contract. Committee members are positive that both sides will be able to make the team happen.

There was a process in naming the team, with a bit of public outcry and an August vote that drew 639 voters out to pick a team name. River Pigs received 73% of the vote and the story of the whole deal reached a national audience.

“River Pigs” was a logging term for men who had the dangerous and highly skilled job of balancing on felled trees floating down a river, traversing the uneven landscape with long poles in hand, breaking up log jams. The name was chosen by Gonzalez, whose friend Jared Carrier researched Tupper Lake and its logging past in search of a name to represent that history.

The term shows up on an informational plaque on the walkway along Raquette Pond, but many say it was a West Coast term not used in the East.

LaValley said ARISE took a position on the committee’s passion, not on the team name.

Rick Skiff uses a tractor loaned from Larry Callaghan at Leroy’s Auto to lay down lines of Kentucky bluegrass sod Friday on the Tupper Lake Municipal Park ballpark field. (Enterprise photo — Aaron Cerbone)

“We had a discussion about (the name) and our feeling was two-fold. We felt that the group that was working so hard on it, they had their reasons,” LaValley said. “We really did not take a position on the name or the controversy of the name. We were taking a position simply on the economic benefits that we saw that this would create.”

Renovations and funding

There is a list of 29 work items that needs to be completed before the season starts next June. These jobs include removing old fencing, seeding the outfield, digging out and renovating the buried dugouts, sodding and raising the infield, and constructing the “Pig Pen,” a two-tiered party deck on the first-base line.

Skiff said the work has mostly been deconstruction until now. On Saturday morning two inmate work crews from Moriah Shock Incarceration Facility were working to lay the infield sod.

Committee members have previously promised that the project will not use much taxpayer money. Currently, the total estimated cost of this work comes out to a little over $50,000, and the committee already has around $30,000 in private and village funds, as well as donated work by volunteers from local companies, village and town government and the committee.

The village is re-allocating $20,000 it was going to spend on new bleachers at the field after Tupper Lake Supply donated enough lumber to build the Pig Pen. The bleachers there will be removed, and the good wood will be used toward repairing the third-base side bleachers. The Clarence Bell Softball League has also donated around $9,000 to the project.

The $20,000 in village money will go toward other field improvements, including creating bullpens, installing netting, improving lighting, purchasing Amish-built clubhouse sheds, improving the parking lot, improving storage and getting new fencing.

Maroun said if the campaign meets its funding goal that 90% of the project will have funding secured.

Donation process

The money donated through the campaign on Adirondack Gives goes to ARISE, which is funding the baseball committee’s project. LaValley said Adirondack Gives wants donations to be funneled through 501(c)3 nonprofit organizations.

The River Pigs Baseball Committee submits invoices to ARISE, which pays out to the committee. The donated funds are then used to fund ARISE’s payment of those invoices.

ARISE has done this before for projects including the bandshell at Flanders Park, the neighboring Little League baseball field and the Tupper Arts center.

LaValley said he is impressed by the committee’s plans.

“It isn’t just playing baseball. They’ve got programs for the kids. They get involved with the community,” LaValley said. “And again, the passion that Haji and Rick and Jay and the others have, it really is contagious.”

Skiff said the committee hopes the work on the field also has an impact on the area’s youth, who will be able to host softball, Babe Ruth and American Legion leagues on the updated field. He said he hopes having a professional team in town inspires kids to get involved in the sport.

“I have a 10-year-old son who plays baseball. We’ve gone to a ton of the Surge (Saranac Lake’s Empire League team) games,” Skiff said. “These players, I can’t say anything greater about these guys and how good they are with the kids.”

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