Rochester isn’t looking so grim and depressing anymore

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Well Rochester, it’s been fun.

On Saturday, two years after throwing down the gauntlet, the Rochester Red Wings hosted me at their “Grim & Depressing Night,” named after my unthinking swipe in a column (occupational hazard).

At the time, I thought the headline said it all: “Why are New Yorkers Losing Their S—t Over Wegmans in Brooklyn?

The only hate mail I expected was from Manhattanites and Brooklynites. As it turned out, they thought it was hilarious.

Not so Rochester, which took umbrage at what I thought was a throwaway line: “This is Wegmans, an exotic (!) import originating in upstate New York — not fashionable or hipster upstate New York, not Rhinebeck or Kingston, but grim and depressing Rochester.”

“Grim and depressing.” That did it.

Hundreds of outraged Rochesterians e-mailed me. How dare I! Had I even been to Rochester? (Yes, but not the happening part, apparently.) None were as harsh as the expats from downstate, raging at my provincial elitism.

Then the Red Wings came along. Rochester’s minor league baseball team threw down a challenge in the only forum that matters: Twitter.

“We think it’d be great for her to come here and show her what Rochester is,” Tim Doohan, the Red Wings social media and promotions manager, told the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle back then. “We hope she can make it and throw out the first pitch.”

“Grim & Depressing Night” was named after Maureen Callahan’s swipe in a column.
Hans Pennink

I wrote another column declaring, “Game on!”

Aug. 21, 2020 was our date.

When that didn’t happen, Red Wings General Manager Dan Mason said not to worry, that the team would reschedule for summer 2021.

I thought he was just being polite.

Then I got the call. They really weren’t kidding.

New York Post columnist Maureen Callahan who wrote an article calling Rochester a "grim and depressing” city is honored by the Rochester Red Wings on Grim and Depressing Night at Frontier Field during a minor league baseball game against the  Lehigh Valley IronPigs Saturday, Aug. 21, 2021,
Two years after throwing down the gauntlet, the Rochester Red Wings hosted Maureen Callahan at their “Grim & Depressing Night.”
Hans Pennink

And so began my epic pilgrimage to Rochester last weekend, beginning with an 8-hour drive from Williamsburg, Brooklyn to the upper reaches of New York State.

The big day began with a tour of Wegmans in Pittsford — the ultimate Wegmans, the first and the best, guided by Dan Wegman himself and joined by Red Wings owner Naomi Silver (herself one of only two female owners of minor league teams).Over two hours, I learned more about optimizing the flavor profile of marbleized steaks and the scientific properties of placing open cheese under steady streams of mist than I ever thought possible.

Could I become a Wegmans convert? Dan and his team turned on the charm, then served up a sit-down lunch of Wegmans best: fresh sushi, Caesar salad, an assortment of sandwiches and, a detail all true New Yorkers appreciate, still and sparkling water.

New York Post columnist Maureen Callahan who wrote an article calling Rochester a "grim and depressing” city is honored by Spikes and the Rochester Red Wings on Grim and Depressing Night at Frontier Field during a minor league baseball game
People there were wearing special “Grim & Depressing” T-shirts and caps.
Hans Pennink

Side note in my defense: The head chef of this Wegmans honed his craft in Brooklyn. Just saying.

Lunch was delicious, Dan and his team delightful, and the locals a bit threatening.

“Hey, I know you!” one man exclaimed as I made my exit. “And I’m from Brooklyn!”

The tone was set.

Hours later I was at Frontier Field, in a custom designed “Grim Wings” jersey, ready to throw out the first pitch. I’d say I got 75 percent cheers for showing my face and 25 percent boos. That seemed fair.

Despite practicing a decent 30-foot throw, I did what I was warned all day not to do — bounced the ball. It wasn’t as bad as 50 Cent’s first pitch, or even Dr. Fauci’s, but it was enough to give the people what they wanted.

Rochester, you’re welcome.

That said, almost everyone I met was incredibly nice. They got the joke. They came out specifically for this tribal celebration-slash humiliation, and most were wearing special “Grim & Depressing” T-shirts and caps — a special run, their fastest-selling ever, currently sold-out with a waitlist.

New York Post columnist Maureen Callahan who wrote an article calling Rochester a "grim and depressing” city is honored by the Rochester Red Wings on Grim and Depressing Night at Frontier Field
Maureen Callahan threw the first pitch at Frontier Field.
Hans Pennink

Dan: Where’s my cut?

All in all it was a phenomenal night, and Rochester — a beautiful city with architecturally significant homes, prideful of its downtown area with its five or so buildings that no one can name — couldn’t have been more fun or welcoming.

The great irony, of course, was returning to Brooklyn in 2021, still empty and desolate and nowhere near its eventual comeback. Talk about grim and depressing. Looking good by comparison? Rochester.

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