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Thursday, May 22, 2014

Nashua sports losing its voice as Bob Bates sets retirement date

Joe Marchilena

If you’ve never been to Holman Stadium for the American Legion senior baseball state tournament, I suggest that you do this summer, even if none of the local teams are involved.

The tournament will be back at Holman on the final weekend of July after a year away. And, while it’s five days of some pretty entertaining baseball, it’s also five days to hear Bob Bates, for the final time, try to snooker someone into buying a burial plot in the stadium’s center field grass. ...

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If you’ve never been to Holman Stadium for the American Legion senior baseball state tournament, I suggest that you do this summer, even if none of the local teams are involved.

The tournament will be back at Holman on the final weekend of July after a year away. And, while it’s five days of some pretty entertaining baseball, it’s also five days to hear Bob Bates, for the final time, try to snooker someone into buying a burial plot in the stadium’s center field grass.

If you’ve attend legion baseball games at Holman, or a Nashua football game – whether unified, North or South – in the last 20 years, or a Daniel Webster College hockey game, you’ve heard Bates’ voice.

He’s been calling games in Nashua for about 30 years, starting with a Little League tournament at Murray Field – the baseball field in front of Holman – in 1984. On Monday, he announced to friends and colleagues that he’d decided to retire following the winter season of 2015.

“They had just installed a sound system at the field,” Bates said of the tournament that started it all. “Someone asked who is going to try this thing out. My son (Don) was playing in the tournament, and it’s the first and last time I got to introduce him. It didn’t go too bad, so they asked if I’d do it again.”

Announcing that Little League tournament led to a request to announce a Babe Ruth World Series at Holman, which turned into announcing Legion games. Before the 1996 high school football season, Bates was asked to announce games for Nashua High School.

“Wrong place at the wrong time, I guess,” Bates joked. “I said, if you want me to take a chance, I’ll give it a shot.’ ”

That was the first season the football field was laid out across the outfield at Holman, and from the old press box – which was located down the left field foul line – announcing became quite a challenge.

“I hadn’t done football at all and the site lines were terrible,” Bates said. “As long as the play was in front of you, you were golden, but you needed a telescope to see the other end.”

Bates added a lot of his success as an announcer is due to the man who has served as his spotter, Bill Thorpe, who also helped him get into announcing hockey games at Conway Arena.

As for the burial plots in center field – for those who wish to “spend eternity at Holman” – that’s just one of several amusing announcements Bates and friends have come up with over the years to help with lulls during baseball games.

“That started right out at the park in front of Holman,” Bates said. “We started doing tongue-in-cheek commercials for the refreshment stand, and it seemed to go over well. A lot of those are ancient history.”

It’s always fun to see the reaction of those attending games who aren’t yet in on the joke. When the legion tournament moved to Concord’s Memorial Field last summer, Bates brought his sense of humor with him.

“Last year, the groundskeeper was doing the infield,” Bates said. “He came in (the press box) and yelled ‘Bates, you got me!’ I get requests for that one.”

There’s still a chance to get your requests in. But remember, just like the burial plots, time is limited.

Joe Marchilena can be reached at 594-6478 or jmarchilena@nashuatelegraph.com. Also, follow Marchilena on Twitter (@Telegraph_JoeM).