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Sunday, April 11, 2021

Murnane Field has hosted sports for decades, before the pro Blue Sox arrived, and after they left

Murnane Field had a decent run as a minor league ballpark. The Blue Jays arrived for 1977. Soon renamed the Blue Sox, the club stayed in town through 2001.

The field hasn't hosted a pro team since, but a local official, the county executive, thought they might have a shot in 2021. Maybe, if Toronto returned to Buffalo for 2021, Utica's Murnane could be the temporary home of the AAA Buffalo Bisons?

The field, full name Donovan Stadium at Murnane Field, is "in excellent condition and could support over 3,000 fans. Our club house facilities, lighting and parking have all been improved," Oneida County Executive Anthony J. Picente Jr. wrote in a letter to the Blue Jays president in February 2021, The Rome Sentinel wrote. "Most importantly, we have a community that would enthusiastically support a reunion with the Toronto Blue Jays."

Whether or not the executive really thought the Blue Jays would take him up on his Bison's offer - the team picked Trenton, N.J. - baseball remains alive at Murnane two decades after the pro Blue Sox' departure, through a collegiate league team of the same name.

Murnane Field has been used for sporting events since at least the 1940s. It played host to high school football in 1943 and possibly pro football in 1947.

In 1949, a qualifying round for the New York State Public Recreation Baseball championship played there.

Baseball's first return to Utica came in 1977, as the Blue Jays' brand new New York-Penn. League affiliate. It marked the city's first pro team since 1950.

The selection of Utica by the Blue Jays in fact marked the top club's first player development agreement. Murnane at that point was newly-renovated. 

An early account of pro baseball at Murnane showed success, as The Associated Press described packed stands.

"Murnane is  what is generously called an intimate ball park," The AP wrote that September, "with a very short right-field fence, box seats practically within  touching distance of the first and third basemen, and bullpens carved out of the crowd."

That short right-field fence made Murnane the answer to a trivia question in 1982 as the shortest in the minors. At one spot, it stood 289 feet from home plate.

Murnane soon became the setting for a book on the minors, "Good Enough to Dream," by author Roger Kahn, who also wrote "The Boys of Summer." Kahn also served as team principal owner and president.

"I tell my players that they are doing important work," Kahn told Gannett News Service in September 1983. "I tell 'em, 'People are coming here with basically empty lives, and you are spreading a sense of joy."

Despite the early success, Utica almost lost its team for 1984 over repairs to the field. The league almost pulled out, but the city responded with up to $10,000 for field fixes.

Murnane then continued as home to the Blue Sox through the 2001 campaign, going through co-op, Phillies, White Sox, Red Sox and Marlins affiliations. 

Then, for 2002, with attendance declining, Cal Ripken purchased the team and moved it to Aberdeen, Md.

A newer Blue Sox team calls Murnane home in 2021, the Utica Blue Sox of the Perfect Game Collegiate Baseball League.

1990 Minor League Tally 
Players/Coaches Featured:3,621
Made the Majors:1,248-34.5%
Never Made Majors:2,373-65.5%
5+ Seasons in the Majors:520
10+ Seasons in the Minors:307

1 comment:

  1. I had "Good Enough to Dream" when I was a kid. Great book.