This weekend Flower City Union takes a short jaunt down the thruway to play a home game in Auburn. While this is undoubtedly nicer to draw in a fan from the Finger Lakes or Syracuse areas, it’s a shame that very few fans from Rochester will make the 70-minute or so trip down for a unique experience. Instead of a match preview, as I know nothing about their opponents and don’t know the strength of the team Coach Sullivan will be fielding, I’d like to write something different: a history article about a couple of different topics.
Leo Pickney Field at Falcon Park (the full name) is technically the fourth oldest stadium in minor league baseball. Being built in 1927, it was originally an all-wooden grandstand built for the fraternal organization the Polish Falcons, hence the name. It was not until 1958 that the stadium found its current permanent tenant, the Abner Doubledays. Over the decades, they had 9 different names, as they were affiliated with different major league teams, before settling on the current name which doesn’t reflect their affiliation. They’ve had this name since 1995 when the stadium was completely torn down and rebuilt, hence why I said technically one of the oldest, as it is really only 28 years old. Over the decades, in addition to minor league baseball, the stadium has hosted a myriad of events. The stadium has hosted concerts, as well as at one time a go-kart race track. While I was not able to verify whether it has been used as a soccer venue prior to Salt City Union’s matches there this summer, they have hosted college sporting events and tournaments.
Falcon Park also has an interesting history of having night lighting installed in 1940. The first-night baseball game ever had only been held 5 years before. Baseball at that time was played during the daytime. Barnstorming clubs in the Negro leagues were the only teams that regularly played at night under lights, as they’d rig up portable lights and generators to bring with them from town to town, as they generally traveled on a daily basis. Having lighting in this field was a fairly early adopter. It wasn’t until after World War II, in 1948, that the final major league team added lights to their stadium. It would be another 40 years before night games were even played by the Chicago Cubs. While the old stadium that has this history is torn down, and a newer more modern one is in its place, Falcon Park has a history in the sporting world.
It may seem that playing at Falcon Park is a strange choice for a team from Rochester, but it does have its roots in the history of soccer in our city. First, and the one most people reading this would know, is that last season Flower City Union played a home game in Batavia, at their high school. So, traveling for a home game is not even unique for this team. The longest-lasting Rochester professional sports team, the Rochester Rhinos, played multiple home games in places other than their regular home stadiums (Fauver Field/Frontier Field/Paetec Park with its various other names). To start with, over the years they played preseason games as the home team in Batavia, but these aren’t notable as they weren’t meaningful matches that counted. In 1999, in the midst of their famous US Open Cup run of beating 4 straight MLS teams, the semi-finals were played in Virginia Beach, with Rochester as the home team. In 2002, another US Open Cup match against an MLS opponent was played at Webster Municipal Stadium. Perhaps the weirdest change of home team venue for the Rhinos though came in their first season, in 1996. Their game on August 10, 1996 against the New York/New Jersey MetroStars was played at Frontier Field, and there’s nothing odd about that. However, the MetroStars were the home team and Rochester were the visitors.
While it may be that most of you will not travel down the road for an hour to watch the match, it’s a shame as there is good history for the Leo Pickney Field at Falcon Park, and with teams playing home matches away from their normal field. It’s sure to be an interesting night and a unique experience. I hope they come home with a win and another trophy.
Editor note: While you’re down in Auburn, stop in at Shep’s Brewing Company just down the street from the stadium.