It had been over 30 years — 34 to be exact — since an Auburn baseball franchise could call itself the sole champion of the New York-Penn League.
Whether it was through an affiliation with the New York Mets or Minnesota Twins, Auburn was as successful as any team in the league through the 1960s.
From 1962 to 1967, Auburn won four New York-Penn League titles, then another in 1970 before capturing the championship in 1973 that would serve as the last for decades.
Auburn's franchise struggled for most of the next 20 years, qualifying for the postseason only twice from 1974 to 1993. Only seven times in those 20 seasons did the team even finish .500 or better.
In 1981, Auburn did not have a team.
Auburn had a fair amount of success during the latter years of its affiliation with the Houston Astros, having been declared co-champions of the league in 1998 when the championship series against the Oneonta Yankees was canceled.
The 2001 season prompted a new era with the Toronto Blue Jays, and the following season Dennis Holmberg was appointed manager. Holmberg established a winning tradition, guiding Auburn to division titles in each of his first five seasons at the helm.
But postseason success eluded the Doubledays. Auburn had the second-best win total in league history in 2003, but failed to win a playoff game. In 2005, the Doubledays swept the Oneonta Tigers in two games in the first round, but were conversely dispatched of by the Staten Island Yankees in the championship series.
After decades without a title and five straight years of playoff disappointment, the 2007 season finally provided the end-of-season glory so long overdue.
Leo Pinckney was a Goliath not only for baseball in Auburn, but the New York-Penn League as a whole. Pinckney was instrumental in a campaign to provide Auburn with a New York-Penn League team in 1958, served as the team's first president and was also the league's president from 1982 to 1994. He helped lead the effort to build a new Falcon Park in the early 1990s.
Eventually known as Auburn's "Mr. Baseball," Pinckney died on Nov. 20, 2006 at the age of 89.
Months later when the 2007 season began, there was a sentiment that the team would dedicate its performance to the man who helped bring the New York-Penn League to Auburn half a century ago.
Dennis Holmberg had been introduced to Pinckney after taking over Auburn's managerial duties in 2002. In the year's prior to his passing, the two developed a friendly relationship.
"He was the kind of guy that win or lose, he'd come into the office and we'd talk baseball or something else," Holmberg said. "He was just a very personal guy and was instrumental in keeping baseball in Auburn."
That season, the Doubledays' jerseys featured a patch on the sleeve of a golden crown with the name "Leo" stitched in. On opening night, Auburn held a ceremony for Pinckney's life with his wife, Chris, present.
"I told her this season was going to be for him," Holmberg said. "That team didn't know Leo like the previous teams had, but he was the consummate baseball man.
"We were on a mission that year."
Joe Putnam recalls all the bumps and bruises he had to endure in his first year calling play-by-play in professional baseball.
A recent graduate of Syracuse University, Putnam was simply looking for post-college work when an opportunity presented itself to share broadcasting duties with the Auburn Doubledays in 2007. He had never called baseball at school, instead focusing on the university's major sports programs like football and lacrosse.
“I thought maybe I could try that while I decided what I wanted to do with the rest of my life,” Putnam said. “It’s been a foot in the door for many folks.”
Putnam was there opening night on June 19, 2007 when, after honoring Leo Pinckney, rain forced a postponement between the Doubledays and Batavia Muckdogs two innings into the season.
He was also with the team on the ride home from Lowell when the bus broke down and everyone was forced to stay overnight in Holyoke, Massachusetts, showing up at 6:10 p.m. for a 7 p.m. game the following day in Auburn.
While he dealt with the rain delays and incompetent buses, Putnam was also a de-facto member of the Doubledays and had special access to the players and their manager, Dennis Holmberg.
“Dennis is one of the all-time classic individuals,” Putnam said. “He could’ve been mayor of Auburn if he really wanted to. He has his personality quirks, like his alien memorabilia, but he’s one of those geniuses when it comes to baseball. You look at the players he’s had a hand in developing and the list is staggering.
“Working with him was a great introduction into the game of baseball. It gave me the love of working in this industry.”
Putnam also had a daily view of a roster that featured seven future MLBers and a handful of major contributors that, while never making it to the major leagues, were productive for the Doubledays. The team wasn’t dominant in any particular area — Auburn finished third in runs and ninth in batting average offensively, while the team’s ERA was 11th and total runs against was middle of the pack.
A master of none, but a Jack of all trades.
“It was a team that could adapt to any style. They had a lot of clutch hits along the way,” Putnam said. “Auburn never got swept in a series. There were a couple where maybe they lost the first two but salvaged the last game. It was hard to ever go into a series and take three games from Auburn. I always thought that was crucial to that season.”
The Doubledays went 24-11 in August and early September to cruise to the Pinckney Division crown, winning it by nine games over runner-up Mahoning Valley. That set up a playoff semifinal meeting with the Oneonta Tigers, a team that took two of three games from Auburn during the regular season meeting.
Oneonta delivered the first blow of the series, capturing Game 1 1-0 on a walk-off in the 11th inning.
“That was another one of those classic games, and it was the first time I got the sense that this could be the end of the season,” Putnam said. “What I felt on the bus coming back, after we had our regular fried chicken dinner, was that the team was not desperate. There was no sense that this might be the end. It was about getting back home and taking care of business.”
Take care of business, the Doubledays did. Auburn pummeled Oneonta pitcher Guillermo Moscoso, who had thrown a perfect game earlier in the season, for four runs in 5 1/3 innings to win Game 2 6-0, and then squeaked by 4-3 in Game 3 to advance to the championship series.
Awaiting the Doubledays was the league’s top team, the Brooklyn Cyclones.
Maybe it was fate.
The 2007 Doubledays might not have been the most talented group assembled during Holmberg’s nine-year tenure as manager, but they were the ones able to seize the moment.
In front of 2,487 fans on hand for Game 1 at Falcon Park, Auburn erased a 1-0 deficit in the sixth inning on a two-run home run from Brad Emaus, eventually taking the contest 7-1.
A day later in Brooklyn, Game 2 was a much closer affair. The Doubledays fell behind by a run in the first inning, but a pair of two-run shots — one from J.P. Arencibia in the fifth, and another hit by Darin Mastroianni in the sixth — put the championship within reach.
Starter Brett Cecil gave way to reliever Alan Farina after eight strikeouts in seven innings, with Auburn ahead 4-1. Farina worked through the eighth unscathed.
One inning away.
Micah Schilling stepped into the box to start the bottom of the ninth. Farina sat him down looking.
Two outs away.
Jacob Eigsti took three hacks and missed.
One out away.
Joaquin Rodriguez had no chance. Farina got him swinging. Players from the Auburn dugout spilled out onto the field.
Finally, the Doubledays were New York-Penn League champions again.
“It was like the weight of the world was taken off my shoulders,” Holmberg said. “The players knew that five other teams had come close and not succeeded. You could not imagine the happiness, the joy, the excitement the players were showing beating the Cyclones in Brooklyn. We won it in Gotham City.”
The Doubledays retreated to the clubhouse after league president Ben Hayes presented Holmberg with the trophy to signify the newly crowned league champions. As the New York Mets, the Cyclones’ affiliate, did not permit alcohol in the clubhouse, Doubledays players and staff doused each other with sparkling grape juice.
“To have all that happen in your first pro season was pretty sweet,” Putnam said. “Then just like that, it’s over.”
Game 2 of the championship series was Putnam’s last as play-by-play announcer for the Doubledays. The native of Bellefonte, Pennsylvania returned home and caught on as broadcaster for the State College Spikes, which is where he's remained ever since.
While the Spikes captured championships in both 2014 and 2016, no one ever forgets their first. When reminiscing about the 2007 Doubledays, Putnam still carries fond memories.
“I’ve always had a soft spot for Auburn and it’s always great to come back,” Putnam said. “Auburn was a great training ground for minor league baseball, as it takes a lot of ingenuity to come up with things for the Doubledays. It created relationships that lasted a long time and hopefully will continue to last."
Holmberg lasted three more seasons as Auburn’s manager, though none resulted in a playoff berth. As the Doubledays switched affiliates to the Washington Nationals in 2011, Holmberg remained with the Blue Jays organization and has coached their Appalachian League team in Bluefield, West Virginia since.
After almost 50 years involved with the game of baseball, Holmberg captured his 1,500th managerial win on Aug. 4 and afterward was presented with a key to the city for both Bluefield, West Virginia and Bluefield, Virginia.
The 67-year-old was also given a wooden rocking chair, signed by every member of his team.
The nine years in Auburn remain his longest and most successful run as a manager. Holmberg won six division titles and finished .500 or better seven times, concluding with a record of 386-288.
If Leo Pinckney was Auburn’s Mr. Baseball, Holmberg is one of the favorite sons. The skipper still holds the city in high regard, even as the time of his departure approaches an entire decade.
“There were great people there,” Holmberg said. “One playoff team led to another. It was a good place to spend the summer, up in upstate New York. It was the friends, the great crowds. The fans were absolutely incredible.”