There’s a ghost in Colonie. It resides near the Shaker Heritage Society museum; most notably next to the cemetery that abuts Heritage Lane. I saw it last in the curious patch of green grass where Heritage Park once stood.
The ghost I saw was faint at first, then it was as vivid as the bright, summer sun. It was of my first love, baseball. They say love never dies, it just fades away over time when left unattended. This baseball diamond was the Mecca of my childhood summers. It was how I envisioned my future.
It was the best kept baseball field north of New York City. Memories of it pale compared to today’s Joe Bruno Stadium in Troy, but for a time it was everything Albany wished for after the Senators left Hawkins Stadium in 1959.
Albany has long been a baseball town. Charles Young, the late sports columnist for the Knickerbocker News, was a long string that connected the years of professional and semi-professional baseball in the Capital City. When he was a kid, he operated the manual scoreboard at Hawkins. As an adult, his column welcomed readers to share their stories about Hawkins, Bleeker or Lincoln Park. He never ran out of something to write. He died before baseball returned in 1983.
The Eastern League returned to Albany when the Athletics agreed to field a Double A team in Bleeker Stadium. It was more than 10 years after the Expos nearly did the same. What followed was a decade of professional ball. The A’s stayed in town for three seasons, moving out only after one year in Colonie at the new, 5,500-seat Heritage Park. The Yankees moved in, and what followed were years of people sharing how they watched future Hall of Famers play here.
Nature eventually reclaims its own, but with an inquisitive eye, one can make out hints of the old park. A curved treeline marks where the outfield fence once stood. West from the treeline is the footprint of what was once the infield dirt. It’s been more than a decade since baseball has played here. The apparition of the field, however, reveals itself to satellite imagery.
The stadium was razed in 2009 for a county project that fell through. A few years later, I followed that ghost. I rummaged through the grass to find the crushed red brick that covered the pitcher’s mound. When I was 18, I pitched a game from on top of that hill. I was well aware that I was toeing the same strip of rubber as Ron Guidry when he came to town in 1986 for a rehabilitation start. I remembered the infield grass. It was cut nearly as short as the green on any golf course. By that time, I had already come to the realization I would never play ball in the Bronx. But, for the time I was on that field, I imagined it felt just like that. Twenty years later, I found that mound like I did an old friend. I stood up and faced home plate to take in a sign from the catcher. I nodded once and I walked away.