Monday, September 26, 2016

More on Baseball

Baseball, once firmly entrenched as the national pastime, has lost its place in the American conversation.  Sports radio is dominated by football talk, and the occasional discussion about baseball occurs seemingly less often every year.  National television ratings remain marginal, with the World Series losing ground to Netflix original series.  In many ways, the tale of baseball has numerous similarities to the tale of Rochester.  And, of course, the simple story of decline is at best misleading and at worst completely inaccurate.  Here are a few parallels:

  • Baseball, it could be argued, had its heyday in the 1950's and 1960's.  The city of Rochester peaked in population at about 332,000 in 1950.
  • Baseball, in its heyday, boasted names such as Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays, and Sandy Koufax. Today, names like Mike Trout, Bryce Harper, and Clayton Kershaw don't have the same ring, which is not to say that they are not great players.  Rochester once had an impressive lineup of iconic companies, namely Kodak, Xerox, and Bausch & Lomb.  Today's anchors include the University of Rochester, Wegmans, and Paychex - while they may not carry the same weight, they are powerhouses in their own way.  (Not to mention that the iconic companies are still around.)
  • Baseball, as it stands today, is not a flashy sport.  Rochester is known much more for intelligence, hard work, and grit than glitz and glamour.
  • Baseball has a tendency to glorify its past, much in the same way that is seen in Rochester.  Interestingly, the glory days were not always so glorious.  As an example, when Roger Maris broke Babe Ruth's single-season home run record, Yankee Stadium was more than half empty.  Similarly, it's hard to imagine that Rochester's history was as utopian as remembered.
  • Baseball has been accused of being slow to adopt 21st century technologic advances.  Rochester's risk aversion can be viewed as a similar handicap, leaving Rochesterians with amenities that don't quite match the quality of the residents.
  • Baseball, largely due to regional television contracts, has moved from a sport of national prominence to a sport of regional prominence.  Rochester, while not a household name across the country, undoubtedly remains a critical presence in Upstate New York.
  • Baseball has lost ground to football, an immensely entertaining yet rather brutal sport, one that may not stand the test of time.  Rochester has lost residents to the sunnier and apparently trendier Southwest.  Yet this same region may have difficulty reconciling population growth with water scarcity.
  • For all the discussions about baseball's decline, many facts point to a baseball that is stronger than ever.  Ratings on local television broadcasts are extremely strong, revenues are at all-time highs, and paid attendance in 2015 was the seventh-highest ever.  And as much as certain residents want to talk of Rochester's decline, the metro area's population is larger than it has ever been, the millennial growth rate is among the highest in the country, and downtown's population is booming

Monday, September 19, 2016


Now that the Bills' season is over, Rochesterians can focus on baseball.  The national pastime is a good fit for Rochester, a musically inclined city, but not in a top 40 sort of way.  While football is like pop music (catchy, immensely popular, and possibly overrated), baseball is more like classical music (painful at times, yet occasionally exhilarating and unrivaled).  In any event, here are a few interesting tidbits about our region's contribution to baseball:

  • Baseball was invented in Upstate New York (Cooperstown).  Apparently, this story is not actually true, but as the current election cycle shows, the truth is unimportant.
  • Many of the baseball scenes of one of the best baseball movies of all time, The Natural, were filmed in Buffalo's old War Memorial Stadium.
  • Traditionally, baseball bats have been made from ash trees (now seriously threatened by the emerald ash borer).  Where are these ash trees located? Upstate New York, of course.  Rawlings obtains its ash wood from the Adirondack region.  Louisville Slugger bats have largely originated from 6,500 acres of timberland in northern Pennsylvania and across the border in New York State.
  • Alumni of the Rochester Red Wings include Bob Gibson, Eddie Murray, Stan Musial, Cal Ripken, Jr., Frank Robinson (manager), and Earl Weaver (manager).
  • The upcoming Major League Baseball postseason looks to feature many teams genuinely longing for a World Series.  The Chicago Cubs haven't won since 1908, and the Cleveland Indians last won in 1948.  The Texas Rangers and the Washington Nationals, both somewhat younger franchises, have never won.  The Baltimore Orioles last won in 1983.  At the time, the Orioles were managed by Rochester Red Wings alum and Rochester resident Joe Altobelli.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Crime Revisited

Rochesterians, both historically and currently, have embraced change.  This endearing characteristic is representative of our small town's worldliness.  Yet listening to certain Rochesterians discuss urban crime often raises the question of whether these discussants have ever stepped foot outside the Rochester metro area.

The city of Rochester, while by no means the safest spot on the planet, has some serious competitors when it comes to violent crime.  In 2014, the violent crime rate in Rochester was 839 per 100,000.  Here are a few equally-branded locales that in the same year put Rochester's violent crime rate to shame:

  • Cleveland: 1,334.3 (per 100,000)
  • Baltimore: 1,338.5
  • Milwaukee: 1,476.4
  • St. Louis: 1,678.7
  • Oakland: 1,685.4
  • Memphis: 1,740.5
  • Detroit: 1,988.6 

But how about better-branded locales? Here are a few that also had Rochester beat:

  • Las Vegas: 841.1 
  • Anchorage (in Alaska!): 864.6
  • St. Petersburg (in the Florida that Rochesterians worship): 864.9
  • Chicago: 884.3
  • Orlando (yes, in beloved Florida): 901.1
  • New Orleans: 973.9
  • Houston: 991.4
  • Minneapolis: 1,012
  • Philadelphia: 1,021.4
  • Miami (that's in Florida by the way): 1,060
  • Nashville: 1,122.5
  • Washington D.C. (that's the nation's capital): 1,185.3
  • Atlanta: 1,227.4

Thursday, September 8, 2016


I don't run, although I clearly should.  As it turns out, for those who do run, Rochester is a rather desirable spot to carry out this pursuit.  Runner's World recently sought to identify America's 50 Best Running Cities.  Beginning with a list of 250 U.S. cities with populations over 160,000 that had been identified as having a high participation in running, the authors then ranked each city based on five weighted indexes of importance to runners:

  • Run Index (40% weighting) - included factors such as number of races, number of running clubs, number of running stores, etc.
  • Parks Index (20% weighting) - included factors such as parks per 10,000 residents, walkability, etc.
  • Climate Index (20% weighting) - included data on precipitation, temperature, and air quality
  • Food Index (10% weighting) - included data on farmers markets per 1,000 residents and healthy food availability/affordability
  • Safety Index (10% weighting) - included data on violent crime, pedestrian fatality rate, and travel time

Rochester was not a top performer in any individual index, but as is often the case, it excelled as a total package.  Of the 50 best running cities, here are the top 20:
  1. San Francisco, CA
  2. Seattle, WA
  3. Boston, MA
  4. San Diego, CA
  5. Washington, DC
  6. Portland, OR
  7. Minneapolis, MN
  8. New York, NY
  9. Omaha, NE
  10. Denver, CO
  11. Chicago, IL
  12. Madison, WI
  13. Colorado Springs, CO
  14. San Jose, CA
  15. Los Angeles, CA
  16. Rochester, NY
  17. Pittsburgh, PA
  18. Tucson, AZ
  19. Raleigh, NC
  20. Boise, ID

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Blank Canvas

Rochester, for all its detractors, also maintains a remarkably passionate fan base.  This fanaticism is driven by several factors (all of which have been noted many times), including:

Beyond these factors, Rochester also offers one other key element that generates an immense amount of enthusiasm: a blank canvas.  For an undeniably creative community, the ability to be part of a revitalization story borders on exhilarating.  While citizens shape their communities all over the world, the process in Rochester is arguably one of the most alluring:
  1. Rochester is a paradoxical blend of unestablished and established.  In other words, while opportunities for rebuilding and reshaping are numerous, a strong and proven foundation exists.
  2. Rebuilding in Rochester is a not-so-subtle undertaking.  Our conversations do not revolve around a small corner at the margin of the city but rather the following somewhat conspicuous stretches:
  • The waterfront along a picturesque, northward-flowing river that bisects the heart of the entire metropolitan area
  • The waterfront abutting a Great Lake, across which lies by far the largest city of another country
  • The most important plot of land in downtown Rochester and perhaps the whole region

So let's get painting (okay, that was bad.)