Rob Fowler has a really good baseball story to tell.

Dads are special. Many of us have those special moments, usually at a young age, where at a first ball game or at an amusement park with dad that repeats the joy felt at that time, well into our years.

This post , which I began in search of was to collect first-hand memories of the Utica Blue Sox , from when professional baseball had a home in the City of Utica; circa 1984-2001.  What I stumbled on was an even more meaningful angle to the connection to pro baseball in the Mohawk Valley.

I'm breaking format here and now. Traditional news story format has been sent to the clubhouse.  As a dad, when speaking to Rob Fowler earlier this week about his time in running the day-to-day operations of the Blue Sox, my heart couldn't have been warmed more, when hearing how much he admires his late father Robert Fowler's contributions to the region.

Here goes.

I remember clearly the Blue Sox's final home game in 2001. I took my son Mark, then eight-years-old). As our usual schedule for attending a game at Donovan Stadium at

For baseball fans, the end of an era loomed with every pitch. For the Fowler family, the family business for 18 seasons in the New York-Pennsylvania League (Class-A) would be ending.

Murnane Field over on Sunset Avenue, we were among the first to arrive. Mark had his Blue Sox cap on, his Yankees jacket snapped up, and ball in hand for autographs.  It was pretty well known before the night's first pitch that the odds were high that pro ball would be packing it in after the scheduled nine innings that night.

For baseball fans, the end of an era loomed with every pitch. For the Fowler family, the family business for 18 seasons in the New York-Pennsylvania League (Class-A) would be ending.

What a run.

When I spoke with Fowler, who today is the executive director of the Herkimer College Foundation, the more I heard of how his dad found Utica while living and working as a sports writer in Orlando, Florida, the more I knew that I found a hero.  Like all owners of minor league clubs back in the day; Bob Blumberg with the Little Falls Mets and San Nader of the Oneonta Yankees come to mind, these gents put their money where their mouths were, and brought pro ball to their "small cities".

The Fowlers, and investors, knew all too well the meaning of sacrifice, while in pursuit of their dreams in operating a ball club in Utica.

A good place to start, my thought, in speaking with Fowler would be at the end of his family's involvement with baseball - February 6, 2001.  The press conference at the Hotel Utica. Fowler, as the club's general manager, announced that Ripken Baseball purchased the club, and would be moving it to Aberdeen, Maryland.

"My parents (Robert and Patricia Fowler) pretty much lived a marriage by commute since the team was bought," said Fowler. " He would fly home as much as he could; usually every other month."

Home base for the Fowlers, who were married for 45 years until Robert's passing on January 16, 2009, at 69, after battling Lou Gehrig's Disease, was Orlando, Florida.  Right from when future Hall of Famer Larry Walker played his first pro season in Utica (1985), up until the announced club being sold to another of Cooperstown's finest - Cal Ripken, Jr., Fowler recalls his dad being entertained with offers to take the club off of his hands.

" Regularly. Annually. Offers were made," says Fowler of outside interests looking to purchase the Blue Sox.

When inquiring how he felt in making the announcement at Hotel Utica that his family would no longer be in the baseball business, Fowler laments that his dad felt some sadness. He had put so much into his dream - owning a minor league baseball club. There was so much joy and fondness with the memories of guys who got their start in Utica, and went on to play in the major leagues.

Miguel Cabrera, Adrian Gonzales, Esteban Beltre, Ray Durham, and Walker are among the more notables who came through Utica on their way to The Show, during Robert Fowler's tenure as Blue Sox principal owner.

Fowler's coming to Utica was a road traveled, first, through Detroit, Minneapolis, and Orlando.

He  was a sports writer at a Detroit-area newspaper, then in Minneapolis where he covered baseball's Twins and football's Vikings, then moving on to the Sentinel.  It was while covering the Orange Bowl in Miami that the Sentinel made an offer to Fowler to switch employers.

"In something like six weeks, we moved to Orlando," Fowler remembers.

It was while working in Orlando that several of Fowler's writer buddies had a plan wanting to buy a minor league club, preferably one in the Florida State League.  While this never materialized, Fowler says his dad heard through the grapevine that there was a team in Utica, New York for sale.

The previous season, the Blue Sox won the New York-Penn League championship.  Famed sportswriter Roger Kahn bought his way into the club with a reported investment of $15,000, to become president of the independent short season-A club.  He subsequently wrote a book about that season - Good Enough To Dream.

"Dad was as big a baseball fan as you could see," Fowler, who was in high school when his father purchased the Blue Sox, tells.  "I have to give my dad credit. He wasn't a classically trained businessman. He was a reporter. Ever since he was covering the Twins back in the '70's, owning a team was his dream."

Fowler reveals that one of his dad's Blue Sox partners, fellow sports writer from Jacksonville, Greg Larson (Florida Times-Union), left the club around the 1990 or '91 seasons.  But, the relationships Fowler forged, coming from outside the Mohawk Valley, were among his accomplishments that he was most proud of.

When the Blue Sox sale went through, after 18 seasons, Fowler was ready to move on.

"Dad  was proud that both his kids (Robert and Peter) earned college degrees, and were doing well," states Fowler.

It was when the Blue Sox began their affiliation relationship with the Florida Marlins (1996-'01) that minor league baseball changes had Fowler thinking of selling.

"The contract that we (Blue Sox) had with Major League Baseball and Minor League Baseball had changes.  We agreed to pick up expenses that they used to pay for."

In some instances, Fowler recalls expenses doubling. Thus, clubs were being sold, and going to bigger cities.  He uses as examples of the New York Yankees having their New York-Penn League club leaving Oneonta for New York City's Staten Island, and Boston Red Sox exiting Elmira for Lowell, Massachusetts.

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How would teams in smaller markets as Utica, Watertown, and Batavia survive with added expenses?

Rob Fowler's best baseball season experience comes to mind without hesitation.

1999.

He remembers the Blue Sox playing good baseball all season. Around August 1, the Marlins' top draft pick in 1998 Chip Ambres and shortstop Luis Ugueto really hit their stride.  The club was in the playoffs against Hudson Valley. 

Then, when in Game Two, Ambres homered in the bottom of the ninth, a walk-off, the place went bananas. It was the coolest thing I had ever seen.

"The series was best two out of three.  We (Blue Sox) open on the road, and get the last two games at home.  We lost the first game. Then, when in Game Two, Ambres homered in the bottom of the ninth, a walk-off, the place went bananas. It was the coolest thing I had ever seen," Fowler remembers.

Hudson Valley went on to win the series.

According to Fowler, the Blue Sox fanbase was terrific.  But, bringing them into Donovan Stadium took work.  There was no rest during the winter for Fowler to remain out in the community, and drum up support for the coming season.

"In the winter it was a kick to go sit down with members of the community.  They were always happy to talk baseball."

During the off-season, during the pre-internet days, the ballpark was a lonely place for Fowler.  He remembers shoveling a path from his car to the door of the Blue Sox's office.  Fowler kept a schedule of being at the office daily.

As for the reported $3 million price tag paid by Ripken for the Blue Sox, although not disclosing how much of the sale price went to his father, Fowler does admit that there were bills to be paid out of that money.

Fowler looks back and feels very fortunate that their was a baseball club for sale in Utica.  The experience was everything that he had hoped to have.  He has raised his family in the Mohawk Valley, and remains glad that he has never left.  Fowler gives his dad credit for "pulling the trigger", and following through on the risk of coming to a foreign area to him, and set up stakes.

Robert Fowler immersed himself deeply in the region, and would become the president of the Mohawk Valley Chamber of Commerce.

Any man that has the stomach and resolve to follow his dream, face its enemies, and battle on to professional victory is a hero. Robert Fowler is such a man.  As part of his lasting legacy in Utica, his son was able to witness the greatness bloom, at his side, for many years.  Being a dad is cool, being a son or daughter is equally valued.

The Utica Blue Sox of the New York-Penn League had their run, and thousands of baseball fans benefited.  Thank You, Robert Fowler.

Kristine Bellino, WIBX
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Don Laible is a freelance sportswriter from the Mohawk Valley, now living in Florida. He has reported on professional baseball and hockey for print, radio, and on the web since the 1980's. His columns are featured weekly at WIBX950.com. Don can be contacted via email at Don@icechipsdiamonddust.com. 

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