Mel’s History Class: NY-Penn League pro baseball in Watertown

Mel's History Class

School’s out, so Mel Busler digs into his archives to help educate people about different local subjects. Here, he remembers when professional baseball in the New York-Penn League graced Watertown’s Alex Duffy Fairgrounds.

WATERTOWN, N.Y. (WWNY) - For baseball fans it doesn’t seem that long ago. On Fathers Day 1983, a crowd estimated at 5,000 was on hand at the Alex Duffy Fairgrounds to see the brand-new Watertown Pirates.

The Pirates would lose to the Utica Blue Sox that day 15-0.

But the final score would not matter, professional baseball was in Watertown.

Dave Brunk was the first owner of the team followed by a group led by attorney Jay Acton and sports psychologist Eric Margenaeu. That ownership would eventually move the team to Welland, Ontario after the 1988 season.

That winter, a local group headed by attorney Mike Schell would successfully petition the New York-Penn League for an expansion franchise in Watertown.

The franchise was contingent on the city making renovations to the ballpark, which the city council approved.

I would say that as of yesterday, the chances were slim that we would get a team,” Schell said. “Thanks to the city council's action last night, they are probably running in the 50 percent ballpark as to whether or not we get a team."

In the summer of 1989, the Watertown Indians set up shop at the Alex Duffy Fairgrounds. The club was locally owned until the winter of 1995-96 when Stanley and Josh Getzler of Manhattan purchased the team.

Lackluster attendance, an Achilles’ heel of both the Pirates and Indians, continued under the new ownership.

After three seasons, the Getzlers decided to go to greener pastures in Staten Island, N.Y.

“I tell you there’s one significant similarity between Staten Island and Watertown and it’s something that has helped us tremendously in Staten island since we’ve been here and that is both is about family,” Josh Getzler said. “When we were in Watertown, everybody was a family, we could go around the stands, we knew everybody, we knew who we were seeing. We knew every day there would be kids of particular families that were coming out, it was a very homey atmosphere. Here, even though we’re in a 6,500-seat stadium, it’s still very family oriented.”

"For me, it’s starting to be the dream come true, so to speak," Stan Getzler said.

But that dream never fully materialized for the Getzlers at Staten island.

They were bought out by the co-owner of the Staten island franchise -- man by the name of George Steinbrenner.

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