Silver Knights set for a new beginning after so much change

Staff photo by TOM KING New Silver Knights general manager Dave Pahucki has certainly faced his share of challenges in trying to get the franchise ready for the upcoming 2019 season after his late hire and an eventful off-season.

NASHUA – It was a daily habit. Ray Smith, a season ticket holder since Day One of the Nashua Silver Knights, would open up the paper every morning and look specifically to see what the next turn of events was with the team.

“It was disconcerting,” Smith said, “because every time something different was happening. It was almost every single week.”

“There have been a lot of general question marks, obviously,” new Knights general manager Dave Pahucki said. “For anybody who follows the team, with all the changes in a short amount of time. Going in, I had a lot of those questions myself.”

But now the time for stability is here as the city’s Holman Stadium tenant opens up its ninth season Wednesday night at home vs. the Brockton Rox.

In a span from late August to late March, the Silver Knights made a ton of news, from firing one general manager, hiring co-general managers, acquiring a local limited partner, then a new owner, who fired the co-general managers, then hired a new general manager and new front office staff, and buying out the limited partner.

And all that doesn’t include what was happening with the Futures Collegiate League, which sued the Martha’s Vineyard Sharks to prevent them from leaving for the rival New England Collegiate Baseball League, then relented when the courts refused to grant an injunction, and at the same time announcing one of the founders of the league, Chris Hall was stepping down as commissioner to be replaced by Joe Paolucci and administrator Joe Malkin. Oh, and replacing the Sharks with an expansion franchise in Westfield, Mass.

Whew.

Here’s a timeline of what went down with the franchise:

LATE AUGUST

The call came from then-owner Drew Weber, and when he calls, there is usually news. And that news was that general manager Rick Muntean and he were parting ways. Weber said the parting was mutual, in his mind, but it was clear he wanted to make a change despite record high announced average attendance for the rain-plagued season.

“Expenses were through the roof,” Weber said, adding that he blamed himself for lack of communication between him and Muntean. “And that’s the easiest thing to control. … We’re going to work this all out. We’ve got some things in the fire already.”

Ticket manager Brian Anderson was also leaving the team, leaving business manager Victoria Cookson as the only team employee for the time being. That turned into a stretch of nearly four months.

DECEMBER 2018

Things were quiet all through the fall as Cookson held a November meeting with Smith and other season ticket holders who were looking for some clarity as well as some new ideas for 2019. And then, Weber had another announcement on Dec. 7 as he was hiring one-time Nashua mayoral candidate Michael Broderick to be co-general manager along with Cookson. That came four days after the league announced Hall was stepping down to enter the private sector but would still be an advisor the the league.

Broderick had an extensive sales career. “I wanted someone with a sales background,” Weber said. “That’s something we were really lacking. That was important to me.”

Two things from these moves made a couple of things clear: One, the team had spent far more than it had been taking in in 2018. And two, Weber was looking to recreate the chemistry that former GM Ronnie Wallace and assistant GM Cheryl Lindner had not only developed with each other but with the owner as the team became very popular.

“I think we’ll develop a good team here,” Broderick said.

Six days later, Weber added to the team in terms of a minority owner. He sold a small percentage of the franchise to a group headed by local banker G. Frank Teas called No No Nanette LLC, named after the play whose funding led to the legendary Red Sox sale of Babe Ruth to the Yankees. Teas had long been rumored to be interesting in owning a piece of the Silver Knights. Weber’s main stipulation was that Teas and his group address any suggestions for the team to him and not the staff.

“I think its darn important to have some local representation,” Weber said. “I regret I’m not there a lot. I’ve known Frank a long time and like him. This can only help the team. They’re going to be involved in the team.”

At the end of December news leaked out that the FCBL was suing the Sharks, but all were silent on the issue.

JANUARY 2019

The biggest news was the quiet hiring of former Cranberry League commissioner Joe Paolucci as Hall’s replacement. That was kept fairly low-key until the league released its schedule, which came out much later than ever on Jan. 24, and the Silver Knights were set to open for the first time ever on a mid-week night, Wednesday, May 29. Basically Paolucci and Worcester (and eventually Nashua) team president Dave Peterson put the schedule together.

MARCH 4, 2019

The biggest bombshell in Silver Knights history – topping the dual resignations of Wallace and Lindner in November of 2017 – was the announced sale of the team by Weber to Worcester Bravehearts owner John Creedon, Jr. The fact that Weber was selling the team at this juncture was a suprise after he had seemingly put things in place the way he wanted for the 2019 season; the fact it was sold to another owner in the league – and the owner of the Silver Knights’ chief rival – was a stunner. Weber called this reported on March 1, and also informed the rest of team personnel that weekend, including field manager and VP of Player Personnel B.J. Neverett, who was in Florida for school vacation week. “I saw the (cell) phone ring and it was Drew,” Neverett recounted, “and I figured it had to be pretty important.”

The reason? Weber, who spends much of his winters in Arizona, had some health issues, but also after reviewing the team finances felt the losses were too much to keep going and more hands-on ownership was needed.

“Why am I selling it at this point? The team has dipped a lot – we’ve had significant (financial) losses,” Weber said. “I want to keep baseball running smoothly in Nashua, and make sure everyone I owe is paid. … This is the best thing for the city in every single way.”

Creedon and his family, which runs a successful catering business in Worcester, also bought out Teas and his group. That meant the end of any local minority ownership. Weber said he felt that it was in Teas’ group’s best interests.

The Creedons, of course, face a significant challenge in Worcester with the Red Sox Triple A affiliate set to play there beginning in two years in a brand new ballpark. But Creedon said he was looking to own multiple teams in the FCBL anyway.

“We want to be able to grow our model, be able to grow the Futures League, and this move will help both of those things,” he said.

The sale meant the team’s lease renewal, which had yet to be finalized, had to be redone as new ownership needed new approvals.

MARCH 27

The Creedons announced that Broderick and Cookson have been relieved of their duties; it was left open that Cookson possibly might return in some capacity but that has yet to happen. In their place, the new Silver Knights ownership hired former Nashua Pride and Lowell Spinners pitcher Pahucki to be the new general manager and former popular Silver Knights third baseman Cam Cook to be the defacto assistant GM as Operations Manager. The new beginning was in place and ready to go.

“I want to work closely with Dave (Peterson) and John,” said Pahucki, who had been working in hospitality for a Monticello, N.Y.casino but jumped at the chance to get back into baseball, “and make sure the players are comfortable and the franchise is woven into the fabric of the community. The appealing thing is to be back in baseball in a full-time role. …And with any new ownership, there’s a lot to be done.”

APRIL 25

The Nashua Board of Aldermen approved the new lease/concessions agreement through the 2020 with the Silver Knights, with five one-year options. “The new owners have come in and shown a lot of enthusiasm for the team and the ability to have quality baseball at Holman Stadium,” Nashua Mayor James Donchess said.

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How has Pahucki, who admits he also has a soft spot for Weber back to his Spinners days, overcome some of those questions and the sweeping changes? The fact he was installed in late March didn’t leave him and Cook with much time.

“I think the right people bought the franchsise based on all the changes,” he said. “It’s tough when that happens in life in general. For me, the smartest thing to do is go back to funamentals. Try to get the organization back on its feet, and gain a little momentum. … There are going to be aspects we don’t do perfectly, but as long as we’re progressing in a positive direction, and when we fail, fail forward.

“Under the circumstances, what else can you do?”

Both the Creedons and Pahucki aren’t looking for a quick fix, knowing the organization in terms of attendance, sponsorships, etc. may have to take a step back in order to take many steps forward in the coming seasons.

“They know what works in baseball in terms of getting people to the stadium,” Pahucki said of the new owners, whose Bravehearts annually lead the league in attendance. “We’re going to work off their template, and mold that into the Nashua market and make it work here. It’s going to take time. … It’s a challenge, but that’s when I retreat back to the fundamentals.”

Season ticket holders in the past week have strolled in to get their tickets and bring up any ideas or concerns to Pahucki and Cook in the past week. There will be a pre-game reception for them and sponsors on Opening Night in a new tented area down the right field line.

“My impression of the Creedons is they know baseball,” Smith said, “and I think they’ll get fans into the stadium. They’ve brought some people with them that I think will make a big difference. … We’re all looking forward to this thing starting on the 29th.”

Yet it was a strange, twisting and turning road to get there.