A few years ago, the Salamanca High School baseball program might not have made much use of a new, state-of-the art facility.
The Warriors’ baseball team struggled with numbers for several years last decade, to the point that it needed to enter a merger with neighboring Cattaraugus-Little Valley to give its few players a chance to play.
But now, thinking about the team he is set to field and the facilities it will use, Mike Smith can’t help but smile.
“I’ve only had one tour. They’re a little protective because it’s still a construction zone,” Smith said of Salamanca’s new baseball diamond at Veteran’s Memorial Park. “I haven’t been able to take the team over, other than putting our noses through the holes in the fence. But we’re very excited.
“The timing couldn’t be more perfect with the rebirth, rebuild of our program. The fact that we had 25 kids signed up for varsity baseball this year, when you remember (years ago) we were forfeiting games because we didn’t have nine guys, and when we were merged with Cattaraugus-Little Valley we had three guys, so the rebirth of the program ties in perfectly with the rebuild of Vets Park.”
THE CONTRAST, from Salamanca’s old field outside the high school along Front Ave, to the pristine turf and bright light at the new Vets Park, is stark. Smith, the Salamanca baseball coach and city’s outgoing mayor after two terms, commended the district’s work on the Vets Park project.
“We thank the school and the school board and Super Bob (superintendent Bob Breidenstein) for making this happen,” Smith said. “The city and the Seneca Nation and the school district all worked together to make this happen and we’re the recipients, we’re the beneficiaries.”
The district’s support of baseball extended to having four coaches on staff this season.
“You cannot knock the school for the support they have given the baseball program,” Smith added. “For a program that has three wins in the last five years, that’s very fantastic of the school to step up and support us like that.”
Smith takes enormous pride in Salamanca’s increased turnout in the sport.
“TO ME, there are three major sports: football, basketball and baseball (and) in Salamanca in the territory in the spring, lacrosse,” he said. “But yeah, we have been second, third, fourth, fifth fiddle for a long time and again, that’s the rebirth of the program.
“I’m as proud of that as anything with the baseball program, that we went from five years ago we had three kids playing in Cattaraugus and we now have 25 kids trying out for the varsity baseball team. What a luxury. Your MVP was the right fielder because he’s player number nine and you don’t have to forfeit: we did that.”
The Warriors expected big things with a young team in 2020, but never took the field as New York canceled all spring sports due to COVID-19. While admitting “first we’ve got to get COVID gone” to ease up restrictions before the spring 2021 season, Smith takes hope from the seemingly successful high school soccer seasons in the fall and hopes outdoor sports can follow a similar path in the spring.
“We have bullpens, we have batting cages, we have things we never had. We never had practice mounds to pitch,” he said. “We had one pitcher’s mound and if you’re running any kind of infield, you can’t practice your pitchers. We now have two bullpens, we have batting cages, we have an entire facility that’s never muddy. I can’t wait.
“The restrictions are there, but they played fall outdoor sports. I see no reason why we can’t play spring outdoor sports. If you can play soccer, then we can certainly play baseball. I would hope.”
(Salamanca Press sports editor Sam Wilson may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)