WAPPINGERS FALLS, N.Y. -- A light breeze wafted through Heritage Financial Park on June 3, complementing an overcast sky, temperatures in the mid-60s and, later, a rain shower. The calendar may have indicated otherwise, but the vibe at the ballpark was decidedly autumnal. How apropos, then, that this was the
WAPPINGERS FALLS, N.Y. -- A light breeze wafted through Heritage Financial Park on June 3, complementing an overcast sky, temperatures in the mid-60s and, later, a rain shower. The calendar may have indicated otherwise, but the vibe at the ballpark was decidedly autumnal. How apropos, then, that this was the evening in which the Hudson Valley Renegades made their debut as the Cider Donuts.
The region the Renegades call home -- located approximately 75 miles north of New York City -- is home to myriad orchards and sundry cideries. Apple cider donuts, then, are the interdependent and -- given America's love of baked goods -- inevitable result of their collective output. "The Hudson Valley is Cider Donuts country," Renegades GM Tyson Jeffers declared in the Nov. 1, 2022 press release revealing the new identity, "and it's time to share this fall delicacy with the world."
Like a lot of Minor League Baseball endeavors of recent vintage (see Whales, Exploding), it took an inordinate amount of time to reach the "sharing" stage of the Renegades' Cider Donuts action plan. The High-A Yankees affiliate first bandied the idea about in 2018, creating rough concept sketches featuring a donut that Jeffers, speaking on MiLB.com's The Show Before the Show podcast, recalled as "very lovable and huggable." The Renegades didn't immediately act upon this benevolent baked good vision, however, and then life happened. The lost COVID season of 2020 was followed by several transitional years as the Renegades -- and Minor League Baseball writ large -- worked back to full strength.
Zach Betkowski, Renegades assistant GM, was a key player in the belated rise of the Cider Donuts. He joined Hudson Valley's staff in 2021 after spending four-plus seasons with the Triple-A Lehigh Valley IronPigs, alternate identity pioneers whose 2015 bacon-themed uniforms helped kick-start the industry's food-themed era.
"Coming off the weird season with COVID, 2021 didn't make the most sense, but we did start the outreach with [San Diego-based logo designers] Brandiose at that time," said Betkowski, speaking on the Heritage Financial Park concourse during the June 3 game. "Then the spring of 2022 was the development with Brandiose. We decided to revamp [the original Cider Donuts] artwork and came out with Dusty the Donut, who you see here today."
Unlike his "lovable, huggable" prototype, Dusty the Donut has a bit of an attitude. A baked good gone perhaps a bit bad, Dusty struts about with a (baseball-shaped) apple in one hand and a jug of cider in the other, seemingly unperturbed by the fact that someone -- or something -- has taken a bite out of what, on a more angular being, would be the left shoulder.
Betkowski said his experience at Pennsylvania's Lehigh Valley taught him "it was really important for us to go all-in, to every detail. So not only did we develop an entire merchandise line, we made sure that the buying experience was fully immersive. ... When you buy online, we ship it in a donut box, and in donut wrapping like you'd get at a Krispy Kreme or Dunkin' Donuts."
Not only that, but some of the merch carries its own cinnamon-y aroma.
"It's scented, an idea we definitely stole from out friends at Lehigh Valley," said Betkowski. "They had scented bacon merch, and we asked some of our vendors if that was possible. They said, 'Absolutely.' It's a little weird, but from what we were told, and what I can attest to as someone who owns the scented merchandise, it lasts 24 wash-and-dry cycles.
"So all those minor details came together. Today, we're sitting here about 50 feet away [from the Mac Shack], where we were serving Cider Donuts Cheeseburgers and Cider Donuts Mac and Cheese. We sold out before the game even started."
Those two items -- which will need to be made in greater quantities going forward -- are only available during Cider Donuts games (there are three more scheduled in 2023). Cider donuts themselves, however, are available at every Renegades game at the Dusty Donuts cart on the party patio located on the first-base side. On June 3, the line began before the game started and continued until after the postgame fireworks ended. Eddie Garcia, the man who makes the donuts, took a circuitous route to these circular creations.
"I'm the churros guy," said Garcia, by way of introduction. "[The Renegades] asked if I could do donuts and I said, 'Yeah, I do. I have a donut machine in my truck.'"
Until that point Garcia had never used his donut machine, it was just something he bought because he thought it might come in handy one day. Garcia, who has roots in the carnival industry, has been in the churros game for 15 years. What started with a cart has expanded to two trailers, and he's always looking to expand as he works events throughout the Hudson Valley region. He's at every Renegades game, simultaneously overseeing donut and churro production.
Are even more cider donuts in his future?
"We'll see, because I'm the churros guy," reiterated Garcia. "But I'm trying to see if I can do this, because I can just branch it out."
The Cider Donuts will continue to branch out as the Renegades build and improve upon the debut. It's possible, for instance, that someday we could see a Dusty the Donut mascot roaming alongside Rascal the raccoon and his burgeoning love interest, Rosie the skunk. Betkowski envisions hosting a ballpark donut festival down the line, featuring "different donut vendors competing against one another" and tastings from area cideries.
No matter what the specifics, Betkowski said when it comes to the Cider Donuts, "there'll be a lot more puns." He missed an opportunity, however. Clearly, there will be a "hole" lot more.
Benjamin Hill is a reporter for MiLB.com and writes Ben's Biz Blog. Follow Ben on Twitter @bensbiz.