Dewayne Wise is 34 years old and has played nearly 500 games in the major leagues for six teams. He's best known for his ninth-inning, over-the-fence catch that saved Mark Buehrle's perfect game for the Chicago White Sox in 2009. One day in March at the New York Yankees' spring complex in Tampa, Wise and other Yankees players on the big-league bubble were talking about their options for the season.
Wise recalled guys saying there was no way they would go to Triple-A and others wondering what it would be like. He had no idea what the conversation was about.
Then a couple players dropped the bombshell to him: The Yankees' Triple-A team in Scranton/Wilkes-Barre would have no home this year while renovations were being made to its stadium. You're playing the whole year on the road.
"I thought it was a joke, to be honest with you," Wise said last week in Toronto after getting called up to the big club. "I didn't believe them until I got on the Internet and did some reading for myself."
It's not a joke. The Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees aren't playing a single game at PNC Field in Moosic, Pa., because of its $43 million renovation. They're playing 38 home games at Frontier Field in Rochester and the other 34 at a variety of sites. Six of them, all against the Bisons, are at Coca-Cola Field in Buffalo and the first was Thursday night as the Yankees dressed and batted as the home team in the opener of a four-game series.
"It's a little bit different," manager Dave Miley said before Thursday's game. "I was talking to [Rochester manager] Gene Glynn and I said to him that sometimes you have to look down at your pants [to see white with Yankees pinstripes] to figure out if you're the home team or not."
The Yankees started the season 1-5 and there was plenty of talk around the International League about what a long year their circumstances could contribute to. But things have been dramatically different of late. They hit town Thursday with a 24-20 record and were winners of 10 of their last 15. And they've shown remarkable perseverance with 14 come-from-behind victories.
"We've got some guys that get after it. It's a tribute to them," Miley said. "We've been kind of beat down a little bit as far as injuries but these guys have come out and play a hard nine [innings]."
But there's not much cheering for them. Most crowds for games in Rochester have been in the 1,500 range (losses or profits go to the team hosting the Yankees, not the Scranton franchise itself). Many of the "home" games are like the ones here this weekend, where they're actually playing in the other team's park and getting hooted at.
"It's really kind of silly," said a laughing Wise. "You go to a place like Syracuse and you're still the 'Taco-K man' [where fans get free tacos if an opponent strikes out], so they're still yelling like crazy at you."
The one exception was the completely pro-Yankee crowd of nearly 13,000 that packed Frontier Field for the May 6 appearance of Yankees pitcher Andy Pettitte against Pawtucket.
"We need more home games like that but I know that's not going to happen," catcher Francisco Cervelli, who spent most of the last three years in the Bronx and won a World Series ring in 2009, said after that game. "Sometimes it's a little boring. Not much noise."
How does Cervelli cope with this after being Jorge Posada's backup?
"Man, I just close my eyes every day before the game and think there's 50,000 people around."
The Yankees hope to have some full houses in their new home starting next season. The new park is a renovation around the existing field and lower bowl seating area, so that cuts construction time. Plans are for the Scranton franchise -- which may be renamed this winter -- to open on time next April.
It was sold earlier this month by Lackawanna County (Pa.) to the Yankees themselves and their Mandalay Baseball Properties arm that runs several minor-league clubs.
"We all wished we would have had those events a few months earlier," IL President Randy Mobley told The News earlier this month from the league office in Dublin, Ohio. "But it's good to finally have something going on that you can actually see. The parties involved had been working behind the scenes to get agreements in place for the last several months. Now that they're tearing things down and moving forward, it feels much better."
In Rochester this year the Red Wings went the extra mile to make the Scranton team welcome. The former visitors clubhouse in Frontier Field was painted Yankee blue and made exclusively the home of the Yankees for 2012. When other teams come to town to play the Yankees -- or the Red Wings -- they use an even smaller auxiliary room to dress.
As for the players, the travel itself is not horrific. The Yankees have 82 of their 144 games in upstate New York (46 in Rochester, 18 in Syracuse, 14 in Buffalo, and four in Batavia) so those are some short bus rides from the Rochester home base. Most players are simply staying in hotels for the season rather than renting apartments.
"It's going to be hard," Wise said. "Being on the road all year, living in hotels, living out of your suitcase, being away from your family. We'll see if guys start getting aggravated later in the summer."
"Everybody has been outstanding with us," Miley said. "The Buffalo grounds crew just came up and said, 'Hey, if you need the field early, we'll get it set up.' [Buffalo GM Mike Buczkowski] and [Rochester GM] Dan Mason and everybody have really helped as much as they can."