Phenom pitcher Stephen Strasburg is not coming back to play for the Syracuse Chiefs. But that’s OK. For at least two months, the Chiefs will have the next best thing.
Bryce Harper, the No. 1 pick overall in the 2010 draft and the No. 1
prospect in Minor League Baseball, will be in center field for Syracuse
when the Chiefs open the 2012 season against the Rochester Red Wings at 2
p.m. Thursday, April 5, at Alliance Bank Stadium. Syracuse, the
Triple-A affiliate of the Washington Nationals, will open this season with six consecutive home games, two against Rochester and four against the Empire State Yankees (more on that later).
To get you ready for opening day and beyond, here are the 10 things you should know about the Chiefs and the 2012 baseball season in Syracuse:
1. He’s No. 1. Baseball America magazine ranks Harper, 19, as the No. 1 prospect in baseball. But after Harper batted .286 (8-for-28) with a team-leading 11 strikeouts for Washington in spring training, the Nationals determined that he wasn’t quite ready for prime time and shipped him to Syracuse.
But it wasn’t strictly a baseball decision. By keeping Harper in Syracuse until around June 1, the Nationals will delay Harper’s arbitration eligibility by one year. Talented players like Harper start making the big bucks when they’re eligible for baseball’s arbitration process. For the same reason, the Nationals kept Strasburg with the Chiefs until early June in 2010.
So don’t wait until the summer to see Harper because it might be too late. In his evaluation of the next-big-thing, Baseball America’s Aaron Fitt wrote, “Harper looks like a surefire superstar in the making, and he has a very real chance to develop into the best all-around player in baseball.”
2. Other Players to Watch. While there are no other mega-prospects on the Chiefs’ opening day roster, there should be several notable and familiar players.
As spring training entered its final days and rosters were being finalized, major-league veterans Xavier Nady, Mark Teahan and Chad Tracy were still fighting for a roster spot with the Nationals. Look for at least two of them to start the year with the Chiefs. And late in spring training, the Nationals signed former big-league pitcher Zach Duke and released and then re-signed veteran major-league outfielder Jason Michaels, who is expected to start the season in Syracuse.
Some of the players who will be familiar to Syracuse fans are shortstop Seth Bynum, now in his third year with the Chiefs, catcher Jhonatan Solano, and perhaps pitcher Craig Stammen, who was still a candidate to make the Nationals’ roster as opening day approached.
3. Meet the New Boss. The Chiefs’ new manager is Tony Beasley, who replaced Randy Knorr (now the bench coach under Nationals manager Davey Johnson). Beasley, a former major-league coach with the Pittsburgh Pirates and the Nationals, guided Washington’s Double-A team in Harrisburg, Pa., to the Eastern League playoffs last year.
Something will have to give this season. In six years as a minor-league skipper, Beasley has never missed the playoffs. The Chiefs haven’t made the playoffs since 1998 and haven’t won the International League championship since 1976.
4. Two More with Nats. This spring, the Chiefs and Nationals extended their Player Development Contract for two more years, meaning Syracuse will be a Washington affiliate through the 2014 season (the new contract starts next year).
While the Chiefs haven’t made the playoffs during their first three years with Washington, they have been more competitive than they were with their previous major-league partner, the Toronto Blue Jays. The Chiefs’ record with the Nationals is 215-212, which includes back-to-back winning seasons in 2009 and 2010.
5. The Yankees are Back … Sort of. The New York Yankees’ Triple-A team, the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees, has to play its entire season on the road while PNC Field in Moosic, Pa., is being renovated. Renamed the Empire State Yankees for 2012, the team will play 10 of its home games at Alliance Bank Stadium. The Yankees will also play 37 home games at Frontier Field in Rochester, seven home games at Dwyer Stadium in Batavia, and six home games at Dunn Tire Park in Buffalo.
The Empire State Yankees will feature some of the New York Yankees’ top prospects, including pitchers Manny Banuelos and Dellin Betances and catcher Austin Romine. The Yankees and Chiefs were affiliated for a decade from the late 1960s to the late 1970s and the Chiefs won their last International League title in 1976 when they were a Yankees affiliate managed by future Hall of Fame manager Bobby Cox.
6. Keeping Score. No more squinting, guessing or asking the person next to you, “What does that say?”—the Chiefs are finally getting a new video display and scoreboard. Team brass said it will be ready for the May 7 game against the Durham Bulls.
Daktronics is designing, manufacturing and installing the new LED video display, which will measure 30-feet-high by 55-feet-wide and have all of the bells and whistles of today’s scoreboards: live and recorded video, graphics, up-to-the-minute statistics, and colorful animations and advertisements.
7. More Than Peanuts and Cracker Jack. The Chiefs have a new concessionaire: Ovations Food Services, which operates more than 120 venues in the United States and Canada. Ovations is known for its “Everything’s Fresh” program, which features high-quality, prepared-on-demand fare.
Ovations’ customized concepts include: “Flavors of Syracuse,” which features hometown favorites like salt potatoes; “Syracuse Land and Cattle,” which offers fresh specialty hamburgers made from 100 percent fresh local beef; and “Hot Dog Nation,” which allows fans to choose from a variety of specialty hot dogs such as the Chiefs Dog.
“Our concession concepts will provide Chiefs fans with longstanding traditions as well as local Syracuse flavors,” said Ovations general manager Christopher Coonrad. “Keeping with Ovations’ philosophy of ‘Everything’s Fresh,’ we offer fans local and sustainable ingredients prepared after they order. No soggy hot dogs here!”
8. More Food for Thought. The Chiefs and Ovations are also offering an all-you-can-eat menu at “The Show” concession stand on the concourse in left field for all Thursday through Sunday games. For $16 per person, fans can have all of the hamburgers, sausage sandwiches, hot dogs, french fries, popcorn, peanuts and fountain soda they want.
The Chiefs will also continue the in-seat waiter service in the Home Plate Club (the first four rows of sections 100-104). Fans in those seats will be able to order food and beverage items directly from an Ovations staff member without leaving their seats. Single-game tickets in the Home Plate Club are $20 each.
9. Take a Group. The Chiefs are accepting group reservations for the Hank Sauer Room, Party Patios and Terraces. The hospitality areas feature improved menus because of the team’s partnership with Ovations.
All of the areas will be available for the Chiefs’ 72 home games and the Empire State Yankees’ 10 games at Alliance Bank Stadium. The Hank Sauer Room—named after one of the Chiefs’ all-time greats—is also available to rent on non-game days. If you’re interested in taking a group to a game, call the Chiefs at 474-7833.
10. And if You’re not into Baseball. The Chiefs will host two non-baseball special guests this summer at Alliance Bank Stadium: Professional dancer Tony Dovolani from Dancing with the Stars will greet fans and sign autographs at the July 14 game against the Empire State Yankees; and Dominic Zamprogna, who plays Dante Falconeri on General Hospital, will be this year’s Soap Opera Saturday guest on July 28. Special meet-and-greet packages are available for both stars. For more information, contact Wendy Shoen at 474-7833 or email@example.com.
For Chiefs tickets, call 474-7833 or visit www.syracusechiefs.com.
Jazz Fest Feast Announced
Maintaining a free music festival for 30 years is no small task. But M&T Syracuse Jazz Fest founder and producer Frank Malfitano has done just that and it was significantly noted at the fest’s press conference held on Tuesday, April 3, at M&T Bank, 101 S. Salina St.
Most of the performers for the 2012 edition of the festival, to be held Friday, June 22 and Saturday, June 23, were announced including co-headliners folk icon Donovan and smooth jazz poster boy Kenny G, and supporting acts spanning the up-and-coming Gregory Porter and French singing sensation Cyrille Aimee. The announcement of the final Saturday night act is delayed until April 15 because of contractual obligations.
Things got a little verklempt when outgoing Onondaga Community College president Debbie Sydow announced that Malfitano would be recognized with an honorary doctorate during OCC’s commencement ceremony on May 19. “They’ve done what no one else has done in 30 years,” a misty-eyed Malfitano said as he received the news. “I’ve been brought to tears, but not like this. I’m almost speechless…but not quite.”
Malfitano went on to thank Sydow extensively, harping that some people pass through the city and stay for a minute leaving no impact, no footprint. But Sydow came through and left Tyrannosaurus-sized tracks behind as she moves on to take a position in Virginia this June. Although the festival will move from the OCC campus to Jamesville Beach this year, Sydow reassured the college is “still an equally committed partner.”
County Executive Joanie Mahoney also spoke, mentioning how “tremendously lucky” the community was to have Sydow within it and how excited she is for the festival to move back to a county park location.
Commissioner of Onondaga County Parks Bill Lansley also noted his excitement about the location of the fest. “We were thrilled to get the call about this, to get to work on it,” he said. “There couldn’t be a better place.”
Malfitano announced the performers, emphasizing the international flavor of Cyrille Aimee accompanied by Brazilian guitarist Diego Figueiredo and the Austrian group Harri Stojka’s Hot Club of Vienna. Other scheduled acts include Billy Vera and the Beaters, original Allman Brothers Band percussionist Jaimoe and his Jasssz Band, and five-time Austin Music Awards and South by Southwest Music Award winners, Mingo Fishtrap.
Others recognized at the press conference included Joe Lee, general manager of WAER-FM 88.3, the only jazz station in town and sponsor of the festival for all 30 years, and Mark Gummer, owner of National Audio, who hopes to support many more festivals: “Here’s to 30 years of Jazz Fest and 30 more.”
Malfitano wrapped up the conference by reminding the crowd that most festivals don’t ever see a 30th anniversary. He demonstrated his pride with a Rocky-esque fervor, shouting, “I feel like saying, ‘Yo, Adrian! We did it! We did it!’”