There is joy in Mudville and especially in Moosic when baseball season rolls around.
It’s not just another season, it’s the 25th anniversary of Triple-A baseball returning to Northeastern Pennsylvania.
Opening day for the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders, the latest team to play here, is Thursday when they host the Syracuse Chiefs for a 7:05 p.m. start at PNC Field.
It’s a whole new ballgame from opening day on April 26, 1989. The team is different and so is the ballpark.
The Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Red Barons lost the home opener that night at the Lackawanna County Multi-Purpose Stadium to the Tidewater Tides by a score of 9-2.
The Red Barons were a Philadelphia Phillies affiliate and played on artificial turf. It was torn up in 2006 for the RailRiders, a New York Yankees farm team. They debuted in 2007 on natural grass at the stadium. In 2012 ground was broken for the new stadium that opened last year. The RailRiders played the 2012 season on the road while their new ballpark was built.
Attaching the names of both cities to the team was by design, just like the pinstripes of the RailRiders uniform.
Scranton attorney John McGee pitched the idea and worked with Northeast Baseball Inc. to bring home a team from Maine.
“I always felt to be successful it should be a regional project,” McGee said.
The team eventually took on the colors and names of the Wilkes-Barre Red Barons and the Scranton Red Sox.
Northeast Baseball had sold tickets for the team that did not yet have a stadium and McGee credited Lackawanna County Commissioners Joe Corcoran and Ray Alberigi with stepping up to the plate to get the construction underway.
“That in my mind was significant,” McGee.
The commissioners received considerable help from the late Gov. Robert Casey of Scranton, who along with the state provided half of the $22 million to build the stadium.
Lackawanna and Luzerne counties put up the $2 million to buy a franchise in 1986.
It could have Bob Tambur’s team.
Tambur, founder of Tammac Holding Corp., put $100,000 down during negotiations to buy the Maine Guides for NIB that wanted to bring home a team and almost lost his money during a legal battle over the sale.
“My $100,000 was hanging out there,” Tambur said.
He got it back and acquiesced when McGee insisted that the counties own the team. Tambur negotiated with the former First Eastern Bank to loan Luzerne County $1 million, half of the purchase price for the Phillies’ franchise.
The area has a rich baseball history and sent many players to the big leagues, said Tambur, 75, a fan since Little League in West Pittston.
Having a team has paid dividends, he added.
“Recreation is very, very important for an area. It’s also important to bring in businesses,” Tambur said.
Mine-scarred land has been developed for industrial uses, retail shops, restaurants and entertainment such as the Mohegan Sun Arena at Casey Plaza in Wilkes-Barre Township. Tambur pointed out he and his son Bob Tamburro developed the Arena Hub Plaza.
“The stadium is just another thing that makes us a more attractive community,” Tambur said.
Former state Rep. Tom Tigue of Hughestown agreed.
“I think it’s not only a recreational thing, it’s an economic thing,” Tigue said.
“The fact that they’ve been here 25 years is an indicator in and of itself that it’s been successful,” he said.
Tigue was a Democrat in the House of Representatives and supported the stadium, saying there was “total unanimity.”
He was there at opening night and recalled that his son couldn’t get a ticket for the sold-out game and watched from the hillside in right field with friends. “They ended up with the first home run,” he said.
There was more to come.
“I got a son-in-law out of it,” Tigue said.
Andy Ashby, who pitched for the Red Barons and several major league teams, married Tigue’s daughter Tracy.