Renovated Thurman Munson Stadium recalls Yankee catcher, captain

CANTON — In some minds it is as if the city has stolen home.

On May 7, in celebration of a $5 million makeover, Thurman Munson Memorial Stadium will be rededicated and extolled as a community asset safe for decades to come.

Not so long ago, before the stadium was even 20 years old, Munson Stadium was going, going, almost gone. Joe Sidor and Skip Riser were co-captains of the team that saved the famous captain’s ballpark.

Both of them were old baseball players suiting up at twice the age Munson was on that stunning day when his jet crashed near the Akron-Canton airport. They weren’t Thurman Munson, but one of them, Riser, had been Munson’s Lehman High School teammate. Both applied a lot more than just playing ball to saving Munson Stadium.

The new playing surface, fence and scoreboard are shown at Thurman Munson Memorial Stadium on Saturday, March 26, 2022.

Double-A affiliate left Canton as World Series years arrived in Cleveland

It was shaky from the start as to how long Canton could keep Cleveland’s Class AA farm team after it arrived in 1989. The new Munson Stadium was built for $2.2 million, shortly before ballparks costing more than 10 times that much came into vogue.

Still, the stadium got built, and people came. Game-day atmosphere crackled. It was sickening when the team bolted to Akron in 1997.

The first pitch is thrown at the Canton-Akron home opener at Thurman Munson Memorial Stadium in Canton on Wednesday, April 19, 1989. Deion Sanders, the future Pro Football Hall of Fame cornerback, is the first batter for the Albany-Colonie Yankees.

Subsequently bringing through independent pro team teams was a nice try. The vibe paled in comparison to having a Major League affiliate just when former Canton players were popping up in World Series games for Cleveland.

By the time the stadium was the age of the high school players using it, Canton government people debated whether it was more trouble than it was worth,

The Ohio Men’s Senior Baseball League (OMSBL) showed up like a guardian angel. Sidor and Riser, the OMSBL’s main men, wanted Munson Stadium as the league base.

The Canton school district and the City of Canton have pledged more than $4 million worth of upgrades to Munson Stadium.  The seating areas will all be refurbished at the ball park.

Munson Stadium’s baseball appeal: ‘There was nothing like it around’

It wasn’t just an available ballfield. It had Major League dimensions. It had lights. Whether the seats got used or not, there were 5,500 of them, once filled with people watching Jim Thome, Manny Ramirez and Bartolo Colon. It was named after a Canton legend.

“There was nothing like it around,” Sidor said.

The senior league, with only five teams then, began playing at Munson when it was operated by the city of Canton.

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