Winning needs to return at Holman

The catch phrase "Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing" has been wrongly attributed over the years to legendary Green Bay Packers coach Vince Lombardi.

Actually, the first one who used it was UCLA football coach Henry Russell "Red" Sanders back in the early 1950s.

The question now is, should the Nashua Silver Knights adopt Sanders’ creation? The franchise won the first two Futures Collegiate League titles, and went to the finals in 2013, but haven’t played a home playoff game since.

Important or not?

"As a business, you’d like to say (winning) is not, but that’s just not the case here," Silver Knights general manager Ronnie Wallace, who missed the title years, said. "I’ve heard all the stories, but I haven’t been able to experience it myself."

You see, the Silver Knights set a pattern that is hard to live up to. The last two summers the team has been mediocre, although making it to the FCBL semis was an accomplishment. But the Knights haven’t played a home playoff game at Holman since 2013, and at the stadium on Monday night were players who experienced those winning ways.

"It was exciting, we had a blast," said former Silver Knight Logan Gillis, who is now the varsity baseball coach at Nashua High School North and marveled just the other night at the Holman atmosphere for the North-South game. "I think the biggest thing on those teams was we had more fun than any other team in the league. … We took it pretty seriously when we were playing."

That’s what Silver Knights manager B.J. Neverett wants this year’s club to do – every night. There may have been nights the last couple of years when the team wasn’t completely focused. It looked that way to these eyes. The team needed to bring in midway through the season a player who had last won a playoff game for the franchise, Merrimack’s Tom Hudon. He pitched the Knights to a win over North Shore at Lynn’s Fraser Field that earned them a trip to Bristol, Conn. But there they sang the Blues in a semifinal loss.

"Look, last year to make it to the semifinals was pretty impressive," Neverett said. "But I will say that the last couple of years, I don’t know if the beginning of the season was taken as seriously (by the players) as it should have been. The beginning of the season does matter."

Circumstances certainly favored Nashua the first three years. The league wasn’t as deep. There weren’t as many facilities as good as Holman. Now there are 10 teams and all but a couple play in stadiums or near-stadium type facilities. The league has better talent.

"It’s a lot harder," Neverett said. "You’re not going to get a home playoff game unless you win your division. And our division is tough."

Neverett went through a litany of the improvements teams have made in the league. But there may be many reasons that the Knights need to put a good product on the field. They want the baseball fans to keep coming back, especially when owner Drew Weber may look to sell after this season. A good looking franchise has fans in the seats and a good product on the field.

But on a Memorial Day night when the Silver Knights past met the present in the first annual Alumni Game, the reminder was there of the swagger this franchise used to have.

"We knew we were going to win every time we took the field," Gillis said.

Sean Connors, the speedy outfielder from Bedford who also starred on those teams, said the Holman atmosphere helped.

"We had a lot of energy here," he said. "You always looked forward to coming to the games here, we wanted to win for the fans and we had fun doing it. … We’d have that edge. That took the pressure off."

"I remember we hated going on the road," Gillis said. "And we hardly ever lost at home."

The Silver Knights need that feeling back. Maybe this is the year where once again winning is finally the only thing.

Tom King can be reached at 594-6468, tking@nashuatelegraph.com, or @Telegraph_TomK.