Empire State Greys try to play ‘Grinch’ to end difficult season

TROY – John Benevolent, third baseman of the Empire State Grays, traveled nearly 20,000 miles on the team bus this summer and only scored six wins to prove for making it into the season finale this weekend.

The Grays were 6-87 – all away games – entering the opening on Friday of a three-game series against the Tri-City ValleyCats at Joseph L. Bruno Stadium.

“It was definitely a journey, to say the least, but it was a lot of fun,” Benevolent said. “Being the road team is not easy, constantly traveling, from hotel to hotel. Not everyone can do it. It puts pressure on us to go out every day and bring the same energy to want to win a game, but to go out and compete, no matter what. “

These three days could be the last for the Grays, an away team added by the Frontier League this season to give the league an even number of 16 teams for scheduling reasons. The Frontier League is looking to add a permanent sixteenth franchise for next season that will replace the Grays.

“Nothing is official for a 16th team in 2023,” wrote Frontier League Deputy Commissioner Steve Tahsler.

The Grays are owned by the Empire League, an independent four-team league based in Tupper Lake. The Empire League’s mission is to give young players like Benevolent, 24, who have far less experience than their Frontier League rivals a chance.

The difference was shown on the pitch, where the Grays lost their first 35 games, among the longest losing streaks in professional baseball history. They entered the series this weekend with 10 straight losses.

“Well, it definitely makes you realize how tough you really can be,” said Benevolent, who played at Brescia, a NAIA school in Kentucky. “In the lowest moments of the season, it was a struggle. You just have to stay positive and come out and know that everyone on your team is coming out and competing like you, you know?

On Friday, the Grays returned to their first win of the season. They beat the ValleyCats 9-3 on June 25 at Bruno Stadium.

Empire State right fielder Jordan Holloman-Scott, a former Yankees 14th round pick, said the Grays wanted to play spoilers this weekend. The ValleyCats needed to wipe out the Grays and get help from other teams to qualify for the Frontier League playoffs.

“We’re just trying to be the Grinch for their Christmas right now,” Holloman-Scott said. “Make it difficult for them.”

Holloman-Scott said it was “bittersweet” to end a season where he tasted so many defeats but developed close bonds with his teammates.

“I think overall it has made me a better person and a better player because you have trials and tribulations and a lot of lows,” Holloman-Scott said. “A lot of times you want to give up when things happen, but that’s part of that. … These guys, honestly, we’ve never left each other, no matter all the BS.”

Grays manager Gil Rondon, 68, is a former major league pitcher with the Astros and the White Sox. He has led the Empire State through a season of blowouts and frustrating close losses.

“If we could play six, seven innings, we’d be great,” he said. “We’d be 91-6. But that’s the name of the game. It’s a learning process and baseball doesn’t change.”

Gonzalez said the Grays “beat our bus to hell” during those trips to the Northeast, Canada and the Midwest. They stole the shirts from the clubhouse on a trip. He is waiting to see if the Frontier League will still need the Grays next year.

“What we do with our organization is that we are very proud to give an opportunity to the younger kids, the underdogs,” he said.

Gonzalez said he’d like to find out by October or November, so he has more time to prepare. He also hoped the Frontier League could hold a draft expansion to replenish its roster and give the Grays a better chance to compete.

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