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It took almost 20 years, but pro baseball is back in Watertown

Julia Botero
Fans watch the game between the Watertown Bucks and the Road City Explorers.

Professional baseball fans in Watertown rejoice. After nearly 20 years, the sport has returned to the city. The Watertown Bucks are an independent pro team with players from all over the country.  The team may not be affiliated with a major league team, but the players could still be picked up by one. In Watertown, fans are overjoyed to have a baseball team they can call their own again.

Its opening day at the Alex Duffy Fairgrounds in Watertown. The Bucks are up against their first challenger of the season,  the Road City Explorers. There's the crack of the bat. Spitting from the players. Heckling from the stands. There's the 7th inning stretch. And there's the kids -- like seven-year-year olds Nilo Gonzalez and Drew Peters scurrying in front of the dugout

Credit Watertown Bucks
Dominican star hitter Moises Alou got his start with the Watertown Pirates before being picked up by the major leagues.

“We pick up the bats after the Bucks hit," say the boys. "We're the bat boys. There are bat girls too. ”

Point is, this game is like any other baseball game. Minus maybe the guys selling crackerjacks in the stands.

A few innings in, the Bucks have managed to keep a strong lead over Road City. Long-time fans of Watertown baseball like Joe Puschia from Black River are happy to be here.

“I've been watching baseball all my life and this is good quality baseball. Very good. I'm glad to see it back. It had been gone for many years. We didn't have anything here,” Puschia says.

For a little while there, it looked like pro baseball in Watertown wouldn’t happen. The Bucks were part of the East Coast Baseball League but it folded just days before this game. The team's owner and general manager were still determined to bring pro baseball back to Watertown.   They scrambled to pull together a league of their own. Three other baseball teams said they were in.  At the last minute, the new North County Baseball League was born.

General manager Matt McClusky says its been the craziest week of his life.

“I'm feeling a little relieved right now getting this here and done.”

McClusky says he's counting on support from the fans to keep this going.  If people keep coming to the games, they might witness the birth of a major league star.

“Everyone understands that this is minor league independent baseball. We're not the Yankees, the Indians or whomever but we have guys here who are talented enough to get looks elsewhere but maybe they've just fallen through the cracks. You give them a little platform here and who knows. Anything can happen,” McClusky says.

Credit Watertown Bucks
Tim Wakefield threw knuckleballs on the Alex Duffy Fairground mound before moving on to play with the Red Sox

Some of the fans remember when that did happen here. Back in the mid '80s, a minor league affilliate of the Pittsburg Pirates called the Watertown Pirates played on this very field. The team was renamed the Indians in 1998 and later bought by the New York Yankees. After only a year they moved from Watertown to Staten Island.

Al Countrymen was at those games. He’s celebrating his birthday with his daughter and grandchildren.

“A long time ago we came here. We went to the Indians, the Pirates. My daughter, she was three years old, and we did all this,” Countryman says.

His daughter, Alisha Countryman, now has kids of her own. She remembers their season tickets seats behind home plate.

“That's where we used to sit every game, me and him,” she said.

She saw Tim Wakefield pitch a knuckleball before he was picked up by the Boston Red Sox.  Jay Buhner who went on to the Seattle Mariners and big time Dominican star Moises Alou. She has signed baseballs from all of them. Countryman says she's here with her family to watch another player make it big.

“My daughter got a ball from Austin Laretz and she is going to get it signed after the game,” Countryman says.

Her daughter proudly holds up the baseball to show it off.  So far the league is intact. The Bucks have won three games and lost two . They’re  in Maine this week playing against the Old Orchard Beach Surge.