For both league and its players, future is bright
Fledgling outfit plans expansion
The inaugural season of the Futures Collegiate Baseball League is now history, and by all accounts, league founders and officials got all that they hoped for, and more.
Yes, there were birthing pains for the four-team wood-bat league, but the level of competition and attendance figures went way beyond anyone’s expectations.
So much so, that the league will expand next year.
The Wachusett DirtDawgs, based in the Leominster-Fitchburg area, will become the league’s fifth franchise, and commissioner Chris Hall of Chelmsford says it’s “very likely’’ a sixth team will be added in the not-too-distant future.
The ultimate goal, according to Hall, is to have eight solid franchises.
The league is unique in that 13 players on its 26-man rosters must be from New England or play at a New England College.
“I think when we look back, knowing how late we got started,’’ said Hall, referring to the league’s mid-December birth, “we have to consider our first season a great success.’’
“We were able to pull it off in four different locations,’’ - New Hampshire Seacoast, Nashua, Martha’s Vineyard, and Torrington, Conn. - “and did not just a great job of putting players on the field, but in building promotions and putting fans in the seats. It’s very much like minor league baseball, in that you really need a full year under your belt to sell sponsorships and season tickets.
“Travel was difficult at times, especially to the Vineyard, but nobody complained. As we grow, the travel logistics will become easier.’’
The league also dealt with tragedy early on, when University of Massachusetts Lowell player Adam Keenan of the Seacoast Mavericks died June 6, the first day of practice, of a heart attack.
“That was tough, obviously not the way you want to start the season,’’ said Hall. Keenan “was a tremendous kid from a wonderful family. It was an awful tragedy. It was extremely tough for the Seacoast players and coaching staff who witnessed his death. It was also tough on the Nashua franchise, which had four players who were teammates of Adam’s at UMass-Lowell. It affected us all.’’
The league established the Adam Keenan Memorial Sportsmanship and Scholarship Award, and the first recipient was Seacoast infielder Tommy Chase of Notre Dame, a Boston College High grad from Cohasset.
“It was real honor to be named winner of this award,’’ said Chase. “I didn’t know Adam all that well, but for the short time that I did I could tell he was special. I wish I had had the opportunity to get to know him better.’’
When the games began, Hall said he was delighted with attendance figures. On opening night, with actor Bill Murray greeting fans at the gate, over 2,100 fans were on hand at Martha’s Vineyard. Average attendance for all four teams during the 44-game season was just under 600.
League champion Nashua benefited from its affiliation with the Lowell Spinners and its promotion-savvy marketing crew.
Spinners general manager Tim Bawmann served as Nashua’s president and called the season an overwhelming success. “We have already expanded and are getting inquiries from other teams in other leagues that may want to affiliate with us,’’ he said. “Things can only get better for the FCBL. We don’t want to grow too fast and want to put teams in the right market.’’
Bawmann’s team led the league in attendance, and as the season progressed was selling close to 1,000 tickets per game. The first five games, Bawmann pointed out, Nashua drew 665, 612, 346, 584, and 578 fans. The last five: 781; 1,657; 1,177; 1,489; and 1,331.
“We did all of the crazy stuff here as we do in Lowell,’’ Bawmann said, “and eventually the fan base caught on. That bodes well for the future.’’
The talent level of the league was top-notch, said Hall, and an afternoon showcase drew 14 major league scouts. Even before the first pitch of the season was thrown, five league players were chosen in Major League Baseball’s First-Year Player Draft.
Two of those players - infielder/outfielder Ruben Sosa of Western Oklahoma University and pitcher Mike Hashem from North Andover and Fisher College - were plucked from the Seacoast roster.
“We finished last, but when all was said and done, we were very competitive,’’ said Mike Daboul, director of baseball operations, who doubles as an associate scout with the
“Twenty of our losses were by one or two runs.’’ Losing Adam Keenan “was very difficult. Not everyone on the team knew him, but they all had one thing in common, and that was their love of baseball. It had a lasting effect on them, knowing that one of their own was struck down in the prime of his life. The league bounced back, though, and I was highly impressed with the quality of play. There were less bumps in the road than I thought there would be.’’
Hall had the pleasure of handing out the first league awards during the playoffs. Among the winners were Nashua infielder Logan Gillis (Bentley) of Merrimack, N.H., who hit .376 to win the batting title; Nashua pitcher Dylan Maki (Northeastern) of Gloucester, who was named the league’s top relief pitcher; and Nashua pitcher Eric Perrault (Keene State) of Salem, N.H., Pitcher of the Year and Best Pro Prospect. He was 5-0 with a 1.57 earned run average. Nashua’s Mike Chambers was Manager of the Year.
John Vellante can be reached at JohnPVel@aol.com.