SCRANTON - This city not only once lost a baseball team, but also a stadium. In 1954, a year after the Scranton Miners left town, officials had the vacant Scranton Stadium sold, dismantled, and shipped to Richmond, Va.
They didn't play professional baseball in this old coal city - almost equidistant from Philadelphia and New York - for 36 years, until the Phillies brought in a minor-league affiliate in 1989.
That relationship lasted 18 years, until the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Red Barons left after the 2006 season, irritated that local government would not help improve aging Lackawanna County Stadium.
The Yankees stepped into the void and took up residence in 2007 to protect and expand a fan base in northeast Pennsylvania.
"It was bittersweet," said John Dimond, a 70-year-old lifelong resident of Kingston, a suburb of nearby Wilkes-Barre. "Here's a team we've been following for 18 years. But on the other hand, the Yankees are coming in."
The Phillies and Yankees will face off in the World Series starting tomorrow, which makes this week so weird for baseball fans here.
In this city, some fans rooted for the Yankees before they came to Scranton. And the relationship with the Red Barons bred some Phillies fans.
"Being a lifelong Yankee fan, I'm almost rooting for the Phillies just because those guys all played here," said Dimond, who has had season tickets in Scranton since the Red Barons landed in 1989. "I watched them grow up."
The World Series could feature 16 players who spent time in Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. (The official rosters haven't been set yet.) For the Yankees, it's mostly relievers and fringe players. But for the Phillies, a good portion of their core - Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Cole Hamels, Shane Victorino, and Carlos Ruiz - spent time playing for the Red Barons.
Scranton Mayor Chris Doherty - a self-proclaimed baseball nut who has visited every major-league stadium with his family - grew up a Yankees fan because "that's all we ever saw on TV," he said. But Doherty, 51, said he would root for the Phillies now.
"A lot of people - even Yankees fans - they love baseball, so they go to the games," Doherty said. "Then they start following these guys. Then, all of a sudden, a year later, you see them on the game of the week. And you want to watch them."
On a quiet Monday, when both the Yankees and Phillies played in their league championship series, half a dozen patrons gathered at Whiskey Dicks in downtown Scranton to watch the Yankees in the afternoon. Owner Greg Evans, 29, who has lived nearly his entire life in Scranton, knows all the regulars by name.
"Who are you all rooting for?" Evans asks. He goes down the bar... Yankees. Yankees. Phillies. Yankees. Phillies.
"It'll make it a lot of fun," Evans said. "People sitting next to each other not rooting for the same team, it makes it more competitive."
All of the TVs were on the Yankees, who had gone to extra innings, even as 8:07 p.m. and first pitch of the Phillies game occurred. Someone spoke up later and Evans turned on the Phillies game, already in the second inning.
Scranton sits about 125 miles north of Philadelphia and northwest of New York. Because of its large Irish population, many residents are fans of Notre Dame football. And Scrantonians root for their hometown athletes. Sixty busloads of people made the trip to watch college basketball star Gerry McNamara play his final home game at Syracuse University.
But baseball has deep roots here. Archibald "Moonlight" Graham, immortalized in the book Shoeless Joe and, subsequently, the movie version called Field of Dreams, toiled in the minors here. After playing one inning in right field for the New York Giants in 1905 - without ever batting - Graham was sold to the Scranton Miners. Over the next four seasons, Graham logged 1,726 at-bats for Scranton before he retired in 1908 to become a doctor.
And from 1939 to 1952, the Boston Red Sox housed their single-A affiliate in Scranton.
When CBS owned a majority stake in the Yankees during the 1960s and '70s, the CBS affiliate in Scranton televised all Yankees games - nearly the only baseball Scrantonians were exposed to, Doherty said.
Mike Vander Woude spent eight years calling minor-league baseball in the Midwest before he came to Scranton to become the radio voice of the Yankees. Traditionally, Scranton lands in the middle of the pack in International League attendance. But what Vander Woude saw surprised him.
"I never would have ever guessed there would be this big of a Yankee fan base here," Vander Woude said. "When I got here, I was shocked with the amount of Yankees fans here."
The numbers reflected it initially: In 2007, the first season the Yankees' affiliation began, attendance climbed by 59 percent from the final season with the Red Barons.
Lackawanna County Stadium, originally designed as a miniature Veterans Stadium, was renamed PNC Field and the old Astroturf was torn up, replaced with grass. The club spent $2.5 million to renovate the home clubhouse.
Not all is well. Attendance decreased significantly this season, and the team had to give up seven home games because heavy rains destroyed the new grass field that was hastily installed without proper drainage. An assessment commissioned by Lackawanna County found that PNC Field needs $13 million in repairs.
When the Yankees came to Scranton, they envisioned constructing a new ballpark, but have tabled the idea because of the recession. Plans for a Yankees-themed museum and hotel are also less certain.
"They were worried that the Mets were going to come here," Doherty said of the Yankees. "The Mets would steal the kids. So 10 or 12 years from now, they would become adults and go to Met games and buy Met merchandise. They didn't want to lose this market."
That's the name of the game in a minor-league town. Doherty predicts there will be more people rooting for the Phillies because they are familiar with the players. But the city is very much split, he said.
Last week, Dimond visited the National Baseball Hall of Fame Museum in Cooperstown, N.Y., with five friends. He bought two new hats - a Yankees one and a Phillies.
Evans said the rooting interests in his bar are typically split. But many are united by a simple phrase whenever Evans, as he usually does, asks around, "Who are you rooting for?"
"Anyone but the Yankees."
Some, like Dimond, are still undecided. Doherty, the mayor, said the decision is easy for a lot of fans. They saw the Phillies' stars before everyone else did.
"We have this sense of ownership of these players," Doherty said. "Before they became big, they were walking in downtown Scranton."