The Albany-Colonie A's were a short-lived, Double-A Eastern League affiliate of the Oakland A's, located in Albany, New York, and then in Colonie, New York, from 1983-1984. What made these teams so special to me and many other Capitol District region baseball fans was the return of an Eastern League team to the Albany area after a 24-year absence.
Coincidentally, the last Albany Eastern League team before the 1983 Albany-Colonie A’s was a Kansas City A's affiliate, called the Albany Senators. The Senators played in Menands, New York, at Hawkins Stadium (now a paved-over parking lot) from 1958-1959. The Cincinnati Reds (1938-1939), Pittsburgh Pirates (1940-50) and Boston Red Sox (1952-54,1956-57) also called Albany home prior to the KC A's arrival there in 1958.
The Albany-Colonie A’s teams had a lot of success during their short time in the area. A total of 22 Albany-Colonie A's players from the 1983 and 1984 squads eventually made their way to the major leagues, and the A-C A's grabbed an Eastern League Division title in only their second season in 1984. The 1983 Albany-Colonie A's spent the first half of the season playing their home games at Bleecker Stadium, a semi-pro, multi-function structure in Albany, while the A's new, $1.2 million dollar facility was being built. The A's new home was called Heritage Park, and it was located in Colonie, New York. It was finally ready in July of that year, much to the relief of the A's pitchers, whose ERAs were soaring with every game at Bleecker.
The 1983 Albany-Colonie A's squad consisted of a few major league castoffs and a
plethora of A's prospects. The main roster included catcher Charlie O'Brien, first baseman Phil Stephenson (eventually traded to the Chicago Cubs), second baseman Mike Gallego (who would win a World Series with the A’s in 1989), shortstop Steve Kiefer, third baseman Tim Pyznarski (who eventually was sent to the San Diego Padres in a deal for Carney Lansford's brother, Joe) and utilityman Mike Ashman. The outfielders were slugger Tom Romano (who eventually played for the Montreal Expos), Ronnie Harrison and Luis Bravo.
The starting staff was composed of A’s prospects Mark Ferguson, Steve Ontiveros and Mike Warren (who eventually threw a no-hitter for Oakland as a rookie), former Baltimore Orioles prospect Allen Edwards, former Detroit Tigers prospect Mark Fellows and former Los Angeles Dodgers farmhand Rusty McDonald. The bullpen included former Chicago White Sox pitchers Rich "Tex" Wortham and Ken Kravec, former Baltimore Orioles prospect Jesse Anderson, long-time A's farmhand Brian Abraham, A’s prospect Joe Law, and minor leaguers Mike Lynes and Paul Josephson. Two players from this club, outfielder Ronnie Harrison and pitcher Joe Law, both received promotions to Oakland, but sadly, never appeared in a game with the A's.
The A's struggled that year under the tutelage of long-time minor league veteran manager Pete Whisenant, who was fired mid-season and replaced by Idaho Falls A's manager Keith Lieppman (who is now the Oakland A’s director of player development) on July 6, 1983. The A-C A's finished in 5th place that year with a record of 63-73. The A-C A's had a few standouts in 1983, including Pyznarski, who won the team's MVP by hitting 28 home runs and making the EL All-Star team, Romano, who hit 24 home runs with a .320 average and a team-high 89 RBIs, and Kiefer, who drove in 81 runs. Ontiveros was the team’s top pitcher with an 8-4 record and 3.77 ERA.
A total of 200,126 fans came out to see the A's play during their first season in Albany and it was truly a success. Fellow Capitol District fans enjoyed and supported their team. One of the most memorable moments that season came when utilityman Ashman became the only professional baseball player to play all 10 positions in one game. This idea came from then-Albany-Colonie A's owner and general manager Ben Bernard, who thought it would be a good idea to break a baseball record at the new Heritage Park. Luckily, he had the blessing of Walt Jocketty, the A's director of minor league operations at the time, and, thus, a new record was created.
The 1984 Albany-Colonie A's team was filled with high expectations, a team dotted with some very talented minor league prospects and a hunger to win. This team's lineup had future major league All-Star Mickey Tettleton catching, hitting machine Jose Tolentino (who went on to play for the Houston Astros) at first base, Brian Graham at second base, Ray Thoma at short, Thad Reece at third, and future Toronto Blue Jays infielder Jim Eppard as the designated hitter/first basemen. The outfield consisted of slugger Jim Bennett, Rodney Hobbs, Dave Wilder and future A's hitting coach Dave Hudgens.
The starting staff was led by lefty Tim Lambert, highly touted prospect Tim Belcher (who had been selected by the A’s in the player compensation pool draft from the New York Yankees in February 1984), flame thrower Ed Myers, future Minnesota Twins hurler Les Straker, and prospects Mark Bauer and Bobby Hallas. The bullpen featured A's prospects Rick Rodriguez (who is the current Sacramento River Cats pitching coach) and Jeff Kaiser, future California Angels pitcher Todd Fischer, former St. Louis Cardinals prospects Tom Dozier and Jim Strichek, former Chicago Cubs prospect Stan Kyles and former Toronto Blue Jays farmhand Tom Zmudosky.
A total of 199,534 people came out to see the A-C A's that year, and the team returned the favor by capturing the Eastern League Division title. The A-C A's finished in first place that year under manager Keith Lieppman, with a record of 81-57. Unfortunately, they were trounced by the Vermont Reds in the playoffs, swept in three games in the semi-finals. Some of the brighter spots on the team that year were Lambert, who lead the EL league in wins with 17, and Reece, who won the batting title with a .331 average. Eppard came in third in the league in batting with a .312 clip. Tettleton was also an EL All-Star that year.
Unfortunately, dark clouds were soon seen on the horizon for local Capitol District A's fans. There were rumblings in the press that the Yankees were looking to move a team to the Capitol District and the A's two-year agreement was not renewed with Albany. At the conclusion of the 1984 season, the Yankees announced that they had reached an agreement with Albany-Colonie team officials to move their Double-A affiliate to Heritage Park, thus ending Oakland's two year reign in Albany. Not only did the Yankees replace the A's in Albany, but they knocked them out of the Eastern League entirely. The A's then moved their Double-A affiliate to the Southern League, relocating them to Huntsville, Alabama (a closer destination to their parent club in Oakland), and re-naming them the Huntsville Stars.
It turned out to be a good move for both the Yankees and A's, geographically and business-wise, but from a personal standpoint, I was devastated. No more 20-minute rides to Heritage Park to see my beloved A-C A's play and to razz their opponents. Looking back, I consider myself very fortunate to have seen the likes of Tim Belcher, Mike Gallego, Mickey Tettleton, Mike Warren, Thad Reece, Jim Eppard, Mike Ashman and so many other A's players and Eastern League players perform in my backyard. They were some of greatest times of my life as a baseball fan, that will always stay with me forever.
In a strange twist of fate, current Oakland A's manager Bob Geren actually played for the Albany-Colonie Yankees along with some other well-known Yankee players, such as Derek Jeter, Bernie Williams, Mariano Rivera, Andy Pettitte, Jorge Posada, Oreste Destrade, Deion Sanders, Doug Drabek and Randy Velarde, who spent time with the A’s at the end of his career. I hardly ever went to Heritage Park after the A's left, because it was too painful after the disappointment of the A’s leaving; plus, I couldn't stand the Yankees anyway.
The Eastern League abandoned the Albany area again at the conclusion of 1994 season. The Independent Northern League Albany-Colonie Diamond Dogs moved into Heritage Park and stayed there for a few years until they folded. Now it's just an
overgrown field of weeds, rusty metal and trees, that soon will be bulldozed over and made into a nursing home. It's truly sad to see this place in ruins, a place that brought so much joy and great memories to many in this area. Nonetheless, I'll always keep my Albany-Colonie A's memories alive in my heart forever.