Saranac Lake locals and tourists alike have been enjoying professional baseball this summer. The Saranac Lake Surge has just finished up its first season, and in just one summer, the team has built a connection with the community that extends beyond the diamond.
When you arrive at the high school baseball field in Saranac Lake, the first thing you see is a big red barn behind left center field. “Saranac Lake Red Storm,” it reads across the top. But this summer, the field has played host to a different team: the Saranac Lake Surge.
It’s a tough day for the Surge. They’re losing 14- 8 to the Plattsburgh Thunderbirds. But for fans like Milt Adams, having a team in town at all is good enough. He sits in the stands near the Surge dugout on the first-base line.
“I love it,” he says. “I think it’s great baseball.”
The Surge play in the Empire Professional Baseball League, a developmental league with teams scattered throughout the Northeast and in Puerto Rico. The league is an opportunity for players to pursue their dreams, and for smaller towns to experience professional baseball in their own backyard.
“Major League Baseball nowadays has forgotten about us folks from small areas and smaller towns, and you have to drive eight hours to catch a major league ballgame,” league founder and president Eddie Gonzalez explains. “So folks in smaller towns, smaller cities, they love baseball too, and they’ve been kind of forgotten, and it became kind of like a dream of mine. I was like, if I’m helping young men with baseball, why not also help these young kids and influence the community.”
The Surge started out in Maine in 2015. They made the move to Saranac Lake thanks to Mayor Clyde Rabideau, who was determined to bring a team to the town after seeing other Empire League games. He called the league to see if they would come to the town for an exhibition game or clinic.
“But when they came up, I kind of put on the hard sell and told them I’m bringing a franchise to Saranac Lake.”
He didn’t have to do too much to convince the league. As he put it, “the village sold itself.”
For the players, the Surge is hopefully a launching pad to the next step in their career. In the sixth inning of this game, Surge pitcher Ricky Schafer was promoted to the Atlantic League.
But while they’re here, they’re small town celebrities. One of the biggest stars on the team, catcher Steven Octave, says he can hardly go anywhere without being recognized.
“It’s pretty cool, like you’re walking around Wal-Mart and people know who you are, and like local stores and stuff like that.”
“They definitely pay attention to stats. I mean, I won the home run derby last week, so I feel like everywhere I go, I meet someone who was at the field that day. So, it’s cool, it’s definitely a cool feeling.”
The team has been an especially big hit with kids. Even during games, they’ll follow players to the batting cage for tips on hitting. Most of them are wearing Saranac Surge gear, like tee shirts or hats. And of course, there are plenty of autographs.
Gerald Woodruff says he comes to see the Surge play every other week.
“It’s so fun, like, it’s always interesting to watch. There’s always so much going on.”
Jordan Matos, the third baseman for the Surge, calls being a role model for these kids, “probably the best thing ever.”
“You know, you were definitely once six years old, seven years old, looking up to like big league kids, and just bringing professional baseball out here, kind of bringing an example to these kids that they can be at this level too, and giving them something they can strive for.”
The Surge roster is made up of players from all across the country, and around the world. Manager Ken Matsuzaka says they’ve all come together with a common goal and passion.
“I’m from Japan, some players from, you know, other states, west side, south, you know. Now, we are family.”
Matsuzaka first came to the Empire League as a player in 2016. When he retired, Gonzalez offered him the job as manager for the Surge, and he’s led the team through its first season in Saranac Lake.
Seeing the way the team and the town have come together, league president Eddie Gonzalez is confident the Surge will be back in Saranac Lake next year, and is hopeful about the future.
“During the summer what else can you do? You enjoy beautiful hiking, the lakes, the swimming; this is just another attraction for the fans and the youth,” says Gonzalez.
“We don’t plan on going anywhere anytime soon.”