BATAVIA — Certain distinguishable sights, sounds and smells coincide with summertime in the city. The crack of the bat, the voice of Paul Spiotta on the public address system, and the smell of hot dogs and popcorn being sold at Dwyer Stadium are among them.

All of those signs point to one thing — the Batavia Muckdogs are back with a vengeance as they look to build upon the groundwork laid during their inaugural season in the Perfect Game Collegiate Baseball League.

Batavia fell short of a playoff spot last season, finishing in third place in the PGCBL’s West Division with a 22-19 record. Despite a small measure of disappointment to conclude last year’s campaign, if you ask those closely involved with the team, they believe big things are on the horizon.

“We’re looking for a great year, and we have a lot of talent coming back,” said Batavia owner Robbie Nichols during a preseason interview with the News. “This is a year, I’m going to tell you now, we’re going to win a championship.”

Joe’ Skip’ Martinez is back for his second season at the helm of the ‘Dogs, who are out to a 5-1 start following an 8-0 win over the Geneva Red Wings on Thursday night. Batavia has won three straight games and currently holds a half-game lead over the Utica Blue Sox for first place in the West.

Throughout its hot start, the ‘Dogs have scored the second-most runs in the league (48) while allowing the seventh-fewest runs amongst the 16 teams in the PGCBL. Several familiar names have played critical roles for the ‘Dogs in the early going, including Medina High School alumnus Brian Fry who is third in the league in batting average.

Fry is batting at a .476 clip through his team’s first six games, recording four doubles and scoring nine runs from his position near the top of the Batavia lineup. The former Mustangs multi-sport standout has shown excellent plate discipline, reaching base via a walk seven times, which is tied for the league lead.

Notre Dame High School graduate Tyler Prospero is another former GLOW high school athlete who’s contributed to his team’s early success. The ND grad hurled three clean innings during the Muckdogs’ home opener to help set the stage for a 6-4 win over the Elmira Pioneers this past Saturday night. Prospero is expected to toe the slab for the ‘Dogs matchup with the Jamestown Tarp Skunks on Friday night.

A few others from the GLOW region have chipped in, including Albion High School alumnus Liam Ward. Ward is batting .286 through his first seven at-bats of the season, and Batavia High alum Jerry Reinhart started the season on a three-game hitting streak before falling into a brief slump. Reinhart will enter Friday’s game with a .250 average, four runs scored and three RBI. Notre Dame High School ’22 graduate Gavin Schrader has played a critical role, primarily defensively, manning center field for four of Batavia’s six games this year.

“All these guys are well known in this town, and it’s good for the team, good for the program,” said Martinez. “I think these players understand right away that they are supported here.”

Martinez, who is in his second season as Muckdogs manager, speaks highly of his newfound summer home. He believes there is no better place to play within the PGCBL than Dwyer Stadium in front of Batavia baseball fans.

“It’s just a special place to play,” said Batavia’s ‘Skip.’ “Batavians are amazing Muckdog people. They just love their Muckdogs. There is a rich history here. It is rich with a lot of guys that played in the big leagues. And the town, when (baseball) was gone in 2020, they missed it. So in 2021, when we came back, it was like a big gift to these people, and I’m just happy to be a part of it.”

Martinez and his team have provided a quality on-field product since bringing baseball back to Batavia last summer. Although they fell just short of a playoff spot during the ’21 season, before the ’22 campaign began, Nichols vowed that things would be different this year. Thus far, he has been proven correct.

“I think first is the winning culture we’ve created here,” said Martinez on what has carried over from a solid season last summer. “And the guys that are returning this year, I think that’s big. This is the first year we have (guys for a second year). I think that those guys coming back have established the leadership in the clubhouse and have said hey, this is how we do things here.”

Two of those returning players are Reinhart and Prospero, who have both brought a business-like approach that Martinez says has spread throughout the clubhouse.

“We had a lot of fun last season, and I think this is a revenge tour type of thing, as Skip would say,” said Reinhart. “As Robbie would say and Skip would say, they are guaranteeing playoffs this year. So we just have to keep working hard to do that.”

Reinhart and Prospero, both outgoing seniors at the University of Akron and Niagara University, respectfully, were able to return to play for their hometown team thanks to a change in the PGCBL rules. Last season, outgoing seniors were not permitted per the league’s bylaws.

“I think the league changing the rules was huge,” added Reinhart. “As soon as that happened, Skip got on the phone with me and Tyler, and we all talked about it and decided to come back and decided it would be a good last summer.”

The draw for the duo of Batavia natives to return to Dwyer Stadium was simple — the environment created by the fans that they experienced a season ago.

“A lot of people came out (on opening night), and it was a great environment and something you think about during pregame is it’s very cool to have,” said Prospero. “Right next to us is the little league stadium where we played (as kids) and to have your whole family (at the game). It’s something you think about.”

Through word of mouth and perhaps the promotion the team received last season, other local athletes felt it was important for them to come home and play in front of their friends and family while continuing to pursue their dreams.

“I heard nothing but good things about Batavia,” said Fry, who recently completed his freshman season at the University of Toledo. “It was close to home, and I played here all throughout high school. Dwyer Stadium is a good spot to be.”

If you ask Martinez, he believes he has a special group in tow this season. Beyond the goal of achieving a playoff spot, Skip’s ultimate goal is to keep this collection of guys together during a long summer on the diamond — something that isn’t always easy during offseason college ball.

“One personal challenge to myself, and I put it out there for the guys, is, if we start with 40 guys, I want to end with 40 guys,” said Martinez. “That means we did a hell of a job. Barring injury, barring other unforeseen circumstances, we want to make sure they stay here this summer, enjoy this experience and just continue to build.”

Another of the team’s objectives this season is to continue to build the relationship with the community, as it has proven to be committed to doing since they came to town a year ago. The team walked in the Batavia Memorial Day Parade for a second straight summer, and they also welcomed little league players from throughout the Genesee Region to the field on opening night. These are just two examples of the connection the ‘Dogs have with their fans.

“What makes Batavia special is that a lot of these fans have been here for years being fans, and we have embraced them, and they have embraced us,” said Martinez. “So I think what was lacking here before was the relationships that we have with the community. The little league, all these organizations that we deal with, and that’s really what this is about. This is the community’s team, and we want to make people understand that. That’s a big part of what we do here.”

As special as the Muckdogs’ return to the field has been to the fans the past two summers, the experience the players have had interacting with their fans has been one they’ll likely never forget. Often times before games, the fence beyond the third-base dugout will be lined with young fans, pleading with their favorite players for a picture or an autograph.

“Unless you play pro ball, you don’t really experience that,” said Martinez. “So for them to experience that, they feel like big-leaguers, they feel like professionals. Just to know, when they walk out that gate, out of the clubhouse, and they see 4,000 people, they say, wow. this is a baseball town. They feel really special, and I think they enjoy that. The fan base is there, so they become fan favorites and our kids love those fans, and the fans love them back. So it’s a special place. We like it. We love it here.”

For some of the talented athletes that line the Muckdogs’ roster, the ride won’t end here. Many ‘Dogs play at high-level Division I programs, and those who have since moved past their collegiate playing days have hopes and dreams of pursuing a future in independent league baseball and perhaps the big leagues.

“Some of these guys are going to be playing on TV one day,” said Martinez. “That’s your dream. That’s your goal. That’s the object of this whole thing. So you’re going to see some guys, hey, I remember that guy. I remember seeing him in town.”

With a significant portion of the season still in front of them, the ‘Dogs remain focused on their goal of punching their ticket to the PGCBL playoffs. Currently sitting atop their division, Batavia has placed itself in a good position early in the season to do just that. But with many games still ahead of them, Martinez has preached to his players that success in a league with so many great teams and athletes won’t be found overnight.

“Winning at any level is hard, especially at a high level like this,” said the Muckdogs manager. “Batavia is starving for a winner, and we guaranteed a playoff spot. But there are some dudes in this league everywhere up and down the league, so the parity is really good. So you just need to be playing your best at the right time, and you can beat anybody, but at the same time, anybody can beat you. But we have faith in our guys, and we’re trying to make a playoff run right from the very beginning.”

The Muckdogs’ journey to the promised land will resume on Friday as they hope to win their fourth straight game, under the lights in front of their hometown fans.

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