BY DAN GLICKMAN
ROCHESTER, N.Y. – Rochester is rarely regarded as a major source of modern professional baseball talent, at least when compared to the warmer climates of California or the southern states. And yet, several local players have made their way to the highest reaches of the game in recent years, and two of them were at the Rochester Red Wings team store at Innovative Field on Saturday. There, Toronto Blue Jays utilityman Ernie Clement and Baltimore Orioles farmhand Greg Cullen met with fans and signed autographs during the Red Wings’ Small Business Saturday sale.
Lines of fans weaved their way through the store to meet the two ballplayers. One group gave Clement a baseball from an RBI single he’d had with the Blue Jays (Clement said he’d likely give it to his grandmother as a momento). Other fans were younger: little leaguers, high schoolers, and college students in baseball apparel. Perhaps the next generation of professional baseball players from the Flower City.
“The coolest part for us now is we’ve shown it is possible,” said Cullen, a McQuaid Jesuit alum who played infield for several of Baltimore’s farm teams in 2023, including the AAA Champion Norfolk Tides.
“Rochester, it’s tough; we can’t play year-round,” he said. “But we love what we do, and if you have fun and compete, it’s going to lead to success down the road.”
Clement, who has played parts of three major league seasons and hit .348 for AAA Buffalo last season, is a Brighton graduate who then won a College World Series with Virginia; said that he and Cullen have played against each other “at pretty much every level so far.”
“From McQuaid [and Brighton], to Virginia and Niagara, and then Buffalo and Norfolk,” said Clement. “[It’s] pretty cool.”
The pair are also friends, fantasy football rivals, and competitors on the golf course. The two have been training together since the offseason began, resuming their hitting in the last week. Once the season starts, they’ll keep an eye on each other’s success and the success of other local players, like Pittsford Mendon’s Danny Mendick, who spent time with the New York Mets this past season.
The reason for the bond between the Rochesterian ballplayers, they say, is because of the shared challenges and good people that come with baseball in the region.
“It’s a tight-knit community, and we’re very, very thankful that we had the support that we did,” said Clement.
There is also their love for the game, which was born partly at Red Wings games as they grew up.
Clement, for example, estimates he went to between 20 and 25 games at what was then called Frontier Field in his senior year of high school and considers his favorite Red Wing to be Matt Hague– who is now his hitting coach in Buffalo. Clement returned to Rochester with Buffalo this past season, playing for the Bisons in several games against the Wings, including a two-for-three day in April where he hit a two-run home run. He called the experience “amazing” and credited the Red Wings staff for treating his family and friends well.
Cullen hasn’t had a chance to play at Innovative Field yet- the Red Wings visited Norfolk last season and won’t face them in 2024- but says it’d “be a childhood dream come true.” It’s entirely possible that Cullen will get the opportunity he’s been waiting on in Baltimore (“It’ll come,” he says) by the next time Norfolk plays in Rochester.
Even if he never takes the field in Rochester, though, he’s glad to have his name in his hometown’s baseball history.
“You can look back; the history of baseball in Rochester runs so deep, and just being a part of it is a privilege,” said Cullen. “It’s a special place, we love coming back, and there’s a lot of good people.”