Riverpigs open with a bang, and home runs
Though the team lost, children’s excitement was high
TUPPER LAKE — The Riverpigs’ biggest fans are its littlest ones.
Tupper Lake’s professional baseball team in the Empire League played its first hometown game ever Saturday night against the New Hampshire Wild, and with a crowd of around 1,000 gathered at the field to cheer them on, the loudest voices came from the children. Though the home team lost, they rooted for them with gusto, mimicking the chants they heard from the adults.
“Let’s go Riverpigs!” Chase and Reid Bishop shouted.
“C’mon one-five!” a small voice screamed at Erick Heredia on the mound.
They heckled the Wild’s first baseman because he missed a dive for a foul ball.
“You dropped it!”
They ran up and down behind the dugout, asking the Riverpigs to sign foul balls they collected and to give them cracked bats.
“It’s awesome,” said David “Haji” Maroun, who started the push to bring pro baseball here. “With a crowd like this? It’s just the beginning.”
This event was two years in the making. The idea of hosting a professional baseball team in town originated in 2019, and after the Keepers of the Diamond group formed and did quick work laying sod and setting up fences, the field was prepped for games to start in 2020. The coronavirus pandemic forced them to play a condensed season at a single venue in Pennsylvania with no spectators.
“I can’t tell you how amazing this is,” Rick Skiff, a Keepers of the Diamond member, said during the game. “This is why we worked so hard.”
“We’ve been looking forward to this for a long time,” Tupper Lake resident Joe Kimpflen said.
He said this will be a new staple of his summers.
“And the price is right,” Lisa Kimpflen said of the $5 donation.
It’s a shame
The Riverpigs didn’t win their season opener, falling to the Wild 9-6. But fans, coaches and players said they put in a great effort and look forward to them bringing home some wins soon.
After rising in the first six innings to a 5-3 lead with two home runs and several runs batted in, the Riverpigs suffered through a long seventh inning as the Wild put 4 points up on the board within just a few minutes.
The Riverpigs scored one more run in the final inning to end the game 9-6.
Riverpigs Coach Jonathan Albaladejo said his team has a good foundation and will be competitive this season.
“We did some things really good at the plate I think, we just need to improve our defense. There were little mistakes that should not happen,” Albaladejo said. “That’s why we’re here. It’s a developmental league.”
Earlier this year, Minor Leage Baseball rearranged its teams, eliminating several of them and allowing smaller leagues like the Empire League to scoop players up.
“It’s been a good thing for us,” Albaladejo said. “The talent, I believe, is way better than what we had last year.”
He said the players were all excited to see the crowd pouring in as they warmed up. In turn, the Riverpigs gave the crowd an exciting game.
At bat, the Riverpigs were strong hitters. Walner Espinal cracked the first ever in-game home run at the Municipal Park field and Eddie Salcedo followed up with a second.
Skiff said it is 386 feet from home plate to the center of the outfield fence, and around 377 feet on the sides.
Salcedo got caught in a run-down between first and second base and was safely chased back to first. In the field, the Riverpigs pulled out a crowd-pleasing double play in the fourth inning. The outfield made several leaping catches near the fence.
Ultimately, it was walks and errors in the field and strike-outs at bat that turned the tide.
Tupper Lake village Mayor Paul Maroun said, win or lose, Tupper Lake still won the night.
The start of a season
The team is staying in town at the Knights of Columbus building, Kimpflen said, where they’ve turned the building into a living space with mattresses and converted the offices into showers.
Salcedo said they’ve lived there for around a week but haven’t had much time to see the town because they’ve been practicing every day.
Tupper Lake’s children are pumped to have professional baseball players living in their hometown.
Luka Dukette, the young son of Keepers of the Diamond member Jed Dukett, said he plans to be at many more Riverpigs games this summer and will always cheer as loud as he did on Saturday — which was loud.
As the moon and stars rose over the field, the kids’ excitement did not wane.
Gavin Brown, who goes by “Downtown Gavin Brown,” was eagerly seeking autographs and sported one on his forehead.
When they ran out of balls and hats for Riverpigs to sign, the youngsters offered their forearms and foreheads for signage, and the players were happy to oblige. Several left the game covered in so much ink they resembled UFC fighters.
Landon Amell, pointing to the names and numbers littering his arms in two sleeves, said he wanted to get a few of them tattooed on him.
They were placing bets on how the game would turn out, chatting with the team and running into the parking lot to chase foul balls. Foul balls flew over the field’s grandstands, denting the roofs and hoods of cars parked in the lot directly behind the plate.
A foul ball in the final seconds of the game careened over the heads of the bleachers and struck the front bumper of a truck driving by on Demars Boulevard.
“I was minding my own business,” said Matt Boudreau, who was pulling in to help with cleanup after the game. “It scared the living daylights out of me.”
His son Colby ran out to grab the ball and brought it to the field looking for the guy who hit it so he could sign it.
The Riverpigs have a busy schedule. They played the Wild again on Sunday and have home games versus the Wild scheduled tonight and tomorrow, both at 7 p.m. From Thursday to Sunday they’ll play the Saranac Lake Surge at home.