Outlaws still looking for trouble after 2019 season

JARED BOMBA | The Daily Star Oneonta's Reilly Hall reacts after hitting a foul ball during a game against Mohawk Valley on Wednesday, July 31.

Oneonta topped Mohawk Valley, 9-8, Wednesday, July 31, to conclude the 2019 PGCBL regular season.

The campaign, which marked the 10th season for the Outlaws and the 54th consecutive summer of baseball at Damaschke Field, ended without the home team reaching the playoffs. An 18-28 record put Oneonta in fifth place out of six in the PGCBL East, with the top four teams all boasting playoff berths and records over .500.

Still, general manager and head coach Joe Hughes called it a successful season.

"We're all athletes and athletes are competitors, and we're going to try to win no matter what it is. However the mission is more important," Hughes said, noting that collegiate coaches entrust the Outlaws staff with player development during the summer. "Our greatest measure of success is not wins and losses, but that the players improve their skills and the game of baseball."

That improvement was evidenced as the Outlaws produced significantly more wins in July, going 11-12-1 in the second half of the season after starting 7-16 in June. Despite missing the playoffs with an 8.5-game gap between Oneonta and fourth-place Saugerties (26-19), the late-season surge means the Outlaws would have missed the playoffs by 1.5 games in the West division.

"I think the last two weeks of the season we were paying as well as any team in the league. We improved and I think that comes from us sticking to our philosophy and our program, and I give a lot of credit to the kids," Hughes said.

The Outlaws closed the season with a 7-4-1 record in the last 12 games.

"I can confidently say that each of our kids got better, learned more about the game of baseball and understanding the game better with live game experience."

It's a philosophy shared by team owner Gary Laing.

"It's about participation in the game of baseball more than winning or losing," Laing said. "It's great to have the guys here for a few months, it's like vacation for them and it lets them integrate into the community."

Financially, it is more difficult to label the season a success. The 990 forms that disclose the finances of nonprofit organizations like the Outlaws show that the venture is typically not profitable. And while Laing confirmed that he is unlikely to break even in 2019, he said he does not expect a change in operations going forward.

"I can't see anything changing. I wish more people would come to the games, because it's not a cheap process, but it'll always be worth my time," Laing said. "This isn't my baseball team, it's a community team. There's no place I would rather live, I can tell you that."

Like the organization, Hughes said he isn't expecting to go anywhere. Despite recently retiring from his long-held duties as Oneonta High School's athletic director, he said he plans to coach the high school's baseball team again in the spring and the Outlaws next summer.

"It's going to be an interesting year for me. It still feels like summer vacation," Hughes said. "I might be a little bored, and I'll ready for something in the summer. We will see what my wife and I have planned after this but for the next year the plan is to definitely come back."

Hughes and Laing both willingly share childhood memories of baseball at Damaschke Field, when minor-league teams played at the park under the guidance of former Oneonta mayor Sam Nader. Saturday, July 13, the city celebrated Nader's 100th birthday prior to an Outlaws game against Amsterdam.

While the event allowed the city to celebrate the past of baseball in Oneonta, the focus for Hughes and Laing is producing the present and future for both fans and players. Hughes said that he had at least 12 players express interest in returning in 10 months for the 2020 season, and regular trips to the ballpark show a group of regular attendees in the boxes and bleachers.

"I think Oneonta baseball fans are very happy there is a night baseball game in June and July to watch," Hughes said. "They want to see good quality ball, players playing hard and the right way. I think we have good fans and great support. The tradition and culture is strong and hopefully never goes away."