Archive for Sunday, July 4, 2004

Woodling: KU’s Baty toiling in minors

July 4, 2004


Less than a mile east of Newburgh-Beacon bridge just off Interstate 84 in Fishkill, N.Y., sits Dutchess Stadium, home of the Hudson Valley Renegades.

I was in that minor-league baseball facility a week ago this afternoon hoping to watch Ryan Baty, the former Kansas University standout, play first base for the Renegades, a Class A short-season farm club of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays.

Instead, I mostly saw Baty sitting in the Renegades' dugout. Between innings, the former Jayhawk would come out and spend a few moments looking into the crowd or just catching some rays, but that was it. Baty, although suited, knew he wasn't going to play. He was under doctor's orders not to.

Baty, who finished his college career in May as KU's all-time doubles leader, suffered a serious beaning about a month ago while batting during the Devil Rays' extended spring training in Florida. Baty suffered hearing and memory loss, and his vision was affected, but he's fine now.

In fact, as it turned out, I was in Dutchess Stadium a week too soon. Baty is scheduled to come off the disabled list today and make his professional debut when the Renegades tangle with the Staten Island Yankees.

"I'm 100 percent," Baty told me. "My vision is finally OK. The last few days I've been doing great."

Baty admitted he had a hard time focusing on the ball during batting practice until a few days ago.

"The neurologist said that's part of the experience," Baty pointed out. "With the type of concussion I had, it usually takes six to eight weeks to recover. For me, it's going to be about four weeks."

Beaning or no, Baty's chances of reaching the major leagues are minimal. For one thing, the Wichita native is 23 years old, making him a graybeard at the Class A level, although he isn't the oldest rookie on the Renegades' roster. Francisco Leandro, an outfielder out of Central Missouri State, is six months older than Baty.

Baty, who earned KU's Senior Scholar-Athlete award in May, understands the reality of his situation, but he's like countless other college baseball players who want to experience as much of the dream as they can before facing the real world.

In the New York-Penn League, the only reality is the bus rides. The rest is just playing the game and seeing the sights. Over the years, I've been to three or four ballparks in that league, and, in some cases, they're almost as memorable as the majors. Almost.

Staten Island's Richmond County Bank Ballpark, for instance, affords one of the greatest views in baseball. Located adjacent to the Staten Island ferry, fans can look out over the outfield walls and see the famous skyline of downtown Manhattan as well as the Statue of Liberty.

Several miles away, Key Span Park, home of the Brooklyn Cyclones, offers a view of Long Island Sound and the rides at the Coney Island amusement park, including the famous rollercoaster that gave the Mets' farm team its nickname. Both the Brooklyn and Staten Island stadiums are virtually sold out for every game.

"But our place is great, too," Baty said. "We get about 6,000 every night."

It's true the folks in Dutchess and surrounding counties love the Renegades. Most of the fans come from nearby Poughkeepsie, N.Y., home of IBM. How big is IBM? Well, there's an exit off U.S. Highway 9 that has no street name or highway number -- just the letters IBM.

Still, a handful of other New York-Penn League stadiums are relics, although charming in their own way. I'm not saying Damaschke Stadium in Oneonta, N.Y., and Bowman Field in Williamsport, Pa., are dumps, but it tells you something that both are billed as "historic" stadiums.

Baty and the Renegades will make a swing to Oneonta and Williamsport later this month. They'll find that journey a world apart from Brooklyn and Staten Island. Yet Baty and his teammates will be loving every minute. Those who believe youth is wasted on the young never played professional baseball.

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