B is for Binghamton

Binghamton is a city located on the Southern Tier of New York State. It is the county seat of Broome County. It was named after a rich guy named William Bingham, how owned the land in the 1790s. Yet, the place has often been misspelled as Binghampton, as though it were part of the Hamptons of Long Island. Google “Binghampton” and you’ll find some references to Binghamptons in Illinois and Tennessee, among others, but also many erroneously referring to a place in in New York State, such as this one. The most egregious error I ever saw was on a road map book. The New York State map actually was accurate, but the Pennsylvania map – Binghamton is less than 20 miles from the PA border – spelled it Binghampton. It’s BINGHAMton, town of Bingham.

Why am I obsessing on this? Because it’s my hometown.

You can read about Binghamton in its Wikipedia posting, and it seems accurate as far as it goes. It is at the confluence of two rivers; I was almost arrested for swimming in one once, a long time ago. It WAS called the Parlor City, and I recall a Parlor City Shoe Store when I was lived there in the 1960s.

I grew up in the First Ward of Binghamton, or “The Ward”, a melting pot of largely people of southern and eastern European stock (Italian, Czech, Ukrainian, Russian, and especially Polish). I remember halupki and pierogies, plus the regional favorite, the spiedie.

Binghamton’s school district used to do something quite interesting when I was growing up. Instead of starting school only in September, kids could start in September or February. the kids that started in the winter had birthdays in December through March, generally. While my sisters (born in May and July) went to school in September, I started in February because my birthday was in March. Of course, our class sizer was smaller because it was taken from a different calendar pool. One of the things I recall is that, while we had the same teacher for kindergarten (Miss Cady) all year, we had eight different teachers for Grades 1 through 4. At least two of the teachers left because they were “in the family way”, as they used to call pregnancy.

What was particularly important in my growing up was that our school, Daniel S. Dickinson, was a K-9 school, with the younger kids on the lowest floor and the junior high kids on the third floor. There were 16 kids in my sixth grade class, nine (including me) who had gone to kindergarten together. Seventh grade meant an infusion from other elementary schools including the Catholic parochial school nearby. Yet by the end of ninth grade, we still only had 16 kids, including the same none from K. Dickinson was razed a couple decades ago for a housing development.

I went to Binghamton Central High School back in the day when there were two public schools, Central and North. The declining city population, from over 80,000 in 1950 to under 50,000 in 2000 meant that the blue and white of the Central HS Bulldogs and the red and blue of the North HS Indians gave way in 1982 to the red, white and blue of the Binghamton HS Patriots.

For many years, the area used to have a baseball team called the Triplets, named for Triple Cities of Binghamton, Johnson City and Endicott, though the latter two were actually villages rather than cities. It was never called, in my hearing/reading, Binghamton Triplets except in out-of-town box scores. It was primarily a farm team of the New York Yankees, though other teams had brief affiliations. Johnson Field, in Johnson City, was razed in the late 1960s that Route 17, the major east/west corridor from the northern suburbs of New York City to western New York State, could be rerouted through the area. Binghamton was without a minor league baseball team (or stadium for same) until the early 1990s, when the Binghamton Mets, a farm team of the New York Mets, came to town.

I recall vividly Christmas Eve 1971 when downtown Binghamton was bustling with activity at McLean’s and Fowler’s department stores, plus a variety of other shops. The decline in downtown was easily visible to anyone who had been there over time, with one department store, Boscov’s in the old Fowler’s building now a primary guardian against a massive collapse of the downtown business district.

I know it’s a story not unusual in the so-called Rust Belt of the Northeast and Midwest United States, where formerly thriving industrial towns are now struggling. I myself thought of Binghamton like the Simon & Garfunkel song My Little Town; Billy Joel’s Allentown also comes to mind. It is, though, http://www.streetsblog.org/2006/09/11/binghamton-revitalizing-around-livable-downtown/ trying to make a comeback.

Still, it was where I was rooted. It is a comfortable place to return from time to time. I mean, it’s the carousel capital of America; the one in Recreation Park inspired Rod Serling, who grew up in Binghamton in the late 1930s, to write an episode of his television series, the Twilight Zone in the 1960s. So it was with no small bit of surreal horror when I discovered on April 3 of this year, that my little town was the site of another case of mass violence. I don’t have much more to say on it than I said here, except to reiterate that it wasn’t just an assault on the city, but of the specific location, one with which I had more than passing familiarity.

Binghamton was incorporated as a village in 1834, so this year marks 175 years since that event, though it wasn’t incorporated as a city until 1867. I wish my hometown hope and healing.

The map is c. 1920. The high school noted was my high school, the cemetery south of Prospect Street is Spring Forest Cemetery, where my material grandmother and many of her relatives are buried, and very close to where she lived. I lived just off Front Street, north of the railroad tracks. The First Ward is north of the tracks and west of the north/south running Chenango River.

ROG

Play ball!

Today is the beginning of baseball season.

WHAT? you proclaim. The Yankees, Mets, Red Sox and the other teams have been playing for nearly two months. Indeed they have, but I wasn’t talking about Major League Baseball. I was talking about Minor League Baseball, specifically the Class A New York-Penn (NY-P) League.

When I was growing up in Binghamton, my father or grandfather (but seldom both) would take me to see the Triplets. They were team in the Eastern League from 1923 to 1963 and again in 1967 and 1968. They were called the Triplets because they represented the Triple Cities in New York State’s Southern Tier: Binghamton, Johnson City, and Endicott (the fact that only Binghamton was a city and the other two were villages is not germane to the discussion). The out-of-town papers referred to the team as Binghamton. They were an affiliate of the New York Yankees from 1932 to 1961, so I was a fan of the Bronx Bombers as a kid.
I saw Al Downing pitch there. He eventually became a Yankee starter. (He was best known, though, for being the Dodgers pitcher when Atlanta Braves’ star Hank Aaron hit home run #715 in 1973, breaking Babe Ruth’s record.)
The Triplets were a Kansas City Athletics affiliate in 1962 and 1963. The team spent three years (1964-66) in the lower level NY-P League, linked with the Milwaukee Braves the first year, and the Yankees subsequently before their brief return to the Eastern League, still affiliated with the Yanks. Then nothing, as Johnson Field was torn down after the 1968 season so that a newer Route 17 could be built west of Binghamton.

That Yankee Class A NY-P team that was in Binghamton in 1965 & 1966 ended up in Oneonta for over 30 years before moving again. Oneonta is now a Tiger affiliate in the NY-P.

Albany has had trouble fielding a team. For a time, they had an Eastern League team in Heritage Park in Colonie (near Albany) that was affiliated with the Oakland A’s (1983-84), then the New York Yankees (1985-94.) I saw Bernie Williams play there. But those arrangements eventually collapsed.
Then there were the Diamond Dogs (alas, no David Bowie) in an independent league not affiliated with major league baseball. I went to a few of those games and they were quite a bit of fun, though not always the highest caliber of play.
Now, the Capital District has a new team, the Tri-Cities Valley Cats (the Tri-Cities in this case being Albany, Schenectady and Troy — all CITIES) in the NY-P League.
The out-of-town papers referred to the team as Troy. Today’s opener is against the Oneonta Tigers at the Joseph L. Bruno Stadium, nicknamed “The Joe”. (The running joke at the time: “It’s a good thing his name wasn’t John.”) Joe Bruno is the Majority Leader in the New York Senate.

One of the cool games this season will be on July 30, when the same two teams meet in Cooperstown at Doubleday Field. The Oneonta team has, for many years, gotten a “home” game there, and I understand that it’s quite a thrill for the players. Since my father-in-law has had season tickets to the Oneonta Yankees -he saw Ricky Ledee play for them- and now the Oneonta Tigers, I’ve seen a couple games there myself.

It’s a bit surprising that a market the size of Albany/Schenectady/Troy has a Class A team, especially since Binghamton, which is about the size of Troy and half the size of Albany, once again has a team in the Class AA Eastern League, with a higher caliber of player.
Last year, for the first time, I went to the stadium in downtown Binghamton where the Binghamton Mets have played for a few years, after a nearly three-decade gap for baseball in Binghamton. The program had third baseman David Wright on the cover; he’d already been promoted to the New York Mets, but that’s baseball. It’s a lovely stadium, but I have to think that foul balls must hit the cars driving by on Henry Street.

In any case, if you like baseball, but have gotten cynical over Major League Baseball because of the salaries, or whatever, check out Minor League Baseball.