A home run for Saranac Lake

What wonderful news that Saranac Lake is getting a pro baseball team this summer. Enterprise readers responded on social media with the same kind of excitement we had when we heard about it in the newsroom.

The Surge will move here from Old Orchard Beach, Maine, an oceanfront tourist town south of Portland with about 8,600 year-round residents — bigger than Saranac Lake’s 5,400. We realize that our gain is Old Orchard Beach’s loss, and we will have to prove worthy of it to keep this team here. People will have to attend games regularly, buy merchandise and otherwise support the Surge. It won’t be easy — small ball clubs move around frequently — so let’s put in the extra effort from the start.

It should be pretty good baseball — certainly baseball with a lot of heart and grit, played for the sheer love of that game. The Empire Professional Baseball League is for players who were not drafted by Major League Baseball teams, yet they still want to play and maybe earn their way into one of those official farm systems. We’re sure they are very good, but this seems more like a league for true believers than for hot shots.

Personally, we’d rather watch that than the Major Leagues, where money and ego tend to get in the way.

The Empire league is also becoming more of a North Country league. With Plattsburgh, Canton and now Saranac Lake, half of its six teams are from this region; two others are from Puerto Rico, and one is from New Hampshire.

Baseball used to be huge up this way, as local historians and old-timers are quick to note. From the 1890s through the 1960s, there were town teams in Saranac Lake, Tupper Lake, Lake Placid, Malone and even tiny Gabriels. That was, of course, another era. Baseball no longer enjoys its former status as “America’s national pastime.” Still, we hope the Surge will still be a big attraction here.

We don’t know who the players are yet, or their game schedule. Tryouts are June 2 in Delaware, followed by a training camp there. The season will begin later that month, and the Surge is expected to play about 25 home games here this summer.

That’s a lot for local people to attend, but making the effort will be a key to keeping this team here.

Paul Smith’s College will house the players at its dormitories, which are less occupied in the summer. Beyond getting basic needs met, the players won’t make much money, but this isn’t the big leagues. It’s “essentially rookie league ball,” according to Eddie Gonzalez, CEO of the league.

The college deserves thanks for helping make this happen, as does Saranac Lake Mayor Clyde Rabideau. He said that after he took his grandchildren to a game by the Plattsburgh Redbirds (now Thunderbirds, the Surge’s nearby rival), he inquired whether that team could play a game in Saranac Lake and maybe run a youth baseball clinic here. From there he learned that the league was looking for a new home for one of its teams, one thing led to another, and here we have our own team.

It’s a great origin story.

Nevertheless, one issue that seems certain to come up is that the diamond the Surge will play on here is much less, shall we say, robust than the one it’s leaving. The Old Orchard Beach Ballpark has a seating capacity for 6,000 people, more than the entire population of Saranac Lake. It was built in 1983 and ’84 as the home of the Maine Guides, once a Triple-A (highest level) affiliate of the Cleveland Indians. The Guides only lasted a few years, but after 20 years of hosting no baseball, the stadium was renovated in 2008 and ’09, and smaller baseball teams came and went since then. The Surge has been its home team for the last four summers.

Here, their new home is the Saranac Lake High School ball field beside Petrova school. There are no dug-out dugouts and not much in the way of bleachers. It’s pretty basic. Many players will probably find they played on nicer fields in Little League.

But Gonzalez says these players “don’t care if they are playing in a parking lot. All they care about is playing baseball and putting up numbers.” Well, here’s to that — pure, unadulterated baseball, humble and real with a wide-open devotion to, in the words of W.P. Kinsella, “the thrill of the grass.”

We’ll see you there.

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