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Yankees find a home away from home

With stadium being renovated, team sets up base in Rochester
February 17, 2012
At 19 letters (plus a slash and a dash), "Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees" already is the longest team name in all of Minor League Baseball.

But this moniker represents the essence of brevity compared to what the team soon will become. In 2012, the International League franchise could be more accurately called the Rochester-Syracuse-Lehigh Valley-Batavia-Buffalo-Pawtucket Yankees. Try fitting that across the front of a jersey.

At home on the road

The reason the Yankees will be slashing and dashing across the Northeast in such a fashion is simple: In 2012, they won't have a stadium in which to compete. PNC Field (formerly Lackawanna County Stadium), Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre's home since its inaugural 1989 campaign, is in the midst of an extensive $40 million renovation project and is thus unplayable. Therefore, the Yankees will play their 72 home dates at the six locales listed above.

The situation is obviously not ideal (a more palatable option was for the team to play in Newark, but the New York Mets nixed that plan based on territorial concerns). But, all things considered, it's a situation that makes sense for all involved.

"When we tried to put this together, we considered a number of different factors, and that included fan interest in the Yankees. I'm not sure it would have made a whole heck of a lot of sense to play someplace where the team was not of interest," said Art Matin, president of Mandalay Baseball Properties, which bought the team in 2010. "We certainly focused on the quality of the facilities and wanted to structure it so that the majority of our home games were in one location."

That location will be Frontier Field, home of the Yankees' IL North rivals, the Rochester Red Wings. The Yankees will play 45 games at that facility, 37 as the home team and eight as the road club facing the Red Wings. The Yankees also will play seven games in nearby Batavia, a New York-Penn League team that is operated by the Red Wings, bringing their total number of Rochester-area games to 52.

"We'll only be playing 20 extra games where we're not in our home base; it's not like we'll be constant nomads," said Matin, who joked that the team's unofficial name in 2012 is the "Empire State" Yankees. "For a lot of players, this will be their first time at Triple-A, so it will probably feel normal. They'll just be moving from [Double-A] Trenton to Rochester. The players and personnel who have been with us before and the coaching staff, they might have more of a sense of displacement."

The Yankees' staff includes two individuals who will travel with the team throughout the season -- broadcaster Mike Vander Woude and vice president of stadium operations Curt Camoni. The latter will assume myriad responsibilities, all geared toward making the Yankees feel at home.

"Our coaching staff and our manager [Dave Miley], in particular, are familiar with me," Camoni said. "They can come to me with any situation -- the weather, providing security for a high-profile player, any number of things. ... I'll handle it on their behalf."

Camoni also is doing as "much legwork as possible" regarding housing options for players and coaches, who will be living in Rochester. He reports that "everyone understands, at the end of the day, that come 2013 we'll have one of the best facilities in Minor League Baseball. That's the reward at the end of all this, and that makes it all worth it."

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When it comes to the operational end of the equation, the staff of the Yankees' "host" teams will handle everything -- from ticket sales to marketing to gameday presentation. That's a particularly large commitment for the Red Wings, who will be tasked with presenting a whopping 109 games at Frontier Field this season.

"We're looking at this as a one-time opportunity and are very excited about it," Red Wings president Naomi Silver said. "The offseason has never gone by faster."

The Red Wings front office has marketed Yankees' ticket plans to Rochester's existing season ticket and suite holders, and single-game tickets soon will be made available. Silver, who believes the region's high concentration of New York Yankees fans will lead to strong sales, promised that the Frontier Field experience will remain unchanged.

"We determined early on that any additional games we offer would not be any different than a Red Wings event here at the ballpark," she said. "Just because the teams playing here don't include the Red Wings, it's important that the brand stays out there."

The most significant change to Frontier Field is one that won't be immediately apparent, as the Red Wings are constructing a third locker room. This area, which used to be a dressing room for visiting performers, will house the Yankees all season.

"This will allow [the Yankees] not to have to vacate their space for another visiting team," Silver said. "[The new room] is not quite as lush as the other two, but it will do the job."

Red Wings staffers certainly have their work cut out for them, as 109 games over a five-month period is enough to make even the most indefatigable front office professional weak at the knees. To help alleviate the fatigue and preserve some semblance of normalcy, general manager Dan Mason has assigned every staff member a partner. Together, they will share the workload, so no individual will have to be in attendance at every ballgame.

"The baseball season is tough in any event," Silver said. "But I think if anybody has the staff to do this, we do."

Light at the end of the tunnel

Meanwhile, most of the Yankees' front office staff will spend the 2012 season in temporary offices as the team prepares for 2013's grand re-opening.

"Our focus is on relaunching the team and creating excitement for 2013," Matin said. "There will be plenty of things to do for those who aren't on the road."

In a nutshell, the effort will revolve around selling the "new" PNC Field to fans, suiteholders and sponsors. Gone are the old days of playing in an outmoded facility -- one that was modeled to emulate the look and feel of Philadelphia's Veterans Stadium (Scranton/Wilkes-Barre was a Phillies affiliate through 2007). Matin raved about what is to come: new seating areas and vantage points, premium amenities, lawn and grass seating, a kid's zone and a 360-degree concourse "weaving around a natural setting, coming right up against the mountainside."

The Yankees need to keep their eyes on the prize, in other words, secure in the awareness that the 2012 season is a short-term setback that will result in long-term gain.

"The goal we all share is to make this facility and team a real point of pride in the community, something that everyone can really rally around," Matin said. "We'll be playing in a new facility with an appropriate team for the region, a region that is very much Yankee country. This makes a lot of sense for the long haul, as the ingredients are there to make this a very successful franchise again."

Benjamin Hill is a reporter for and writes Ben's Biz Blog.