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Monday, August 11, 2014

Not every FCBL home stands up to Holman

Tom King

We have to give credit where credit is due:

Commissioner
Chris Hall and the Futures Collegiate Baseball League hit a home run this year with the Wild Card play-in game. ...

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We have to give credit where credit is due:

Commissioner
Chris Hall and the Futures Collegiate Baseball League hit a home run this year with the Wild Card play-in game.

Last year’s play-ins were rushed. Weather pushed everything back; Wild Card teams had to go to the sites of their potential next round opponent and play two games in one day, not the way the additional round was intended to go.

No, it was intended to not only create a race down the stretch for teams who otherwise would be eliminated, but also
give fans the thrill of a single game-elimination scenario. If you’re lucky, there would be drama.

You didn’t get much in a glamorous stadium with a pristine field in Brockton on Saturday night, where underdog Pittsfield, which backed into the tournament, romped. But you sure had it in a tiny broken down ballpark in an out of the way Connecticut town called Torrington.

For those who missed it, the Silver Knights fourth season came to an end 9-8 in 11 innings late Saturday night in a fairly outdated old ballyard known as Fuessenich Park. It’s a place where a 1971 World Series hero, former major league pitcher and Pittsburgh Pirate Steve Blass, tossed the final pitch of his high school career.

It’s also the same place where three years and one week ago the Silver Knights celebrated the first ever Futures League championship.

Back then, the FCBL was only a mere fraction of what it is today, a 10-team league ranked by scouts as the eighth best wooden bat league in the country. Nashua dominated the first two years.

But the rest of the league has caught up, including the Titans, who Nashua played four times in four days, including Saturday’s play-in game. The rivalry intensified, with Saturday’s tug of war a prime example. Nashua trailed 6-1, rallied to take leads of 7-6 and 8-7, but couldn’t hold on.

“It was always an extra inning game,” Silver Knights reliever R.J. Warnock said. “I don’t think we played nine innings. It’s tough to go out this way, but we worked as hard as we could and that’s all we can say.”

Saturday’s game was clearly one for the ages. The Silver Knights showed incredible emotion when shortstop Michael Pierson made a sparkling play up the middle in the bottom of the ninth with a runner on third and two out to preserve the tie and send the game to extra frames.

Bonus baseball for what compared to even two FCBL seasons ago was a bonus round game. Between two rivals, no less. Torrington, unlike some other spots in the FCBL (including Nashua), has no charm. It’s actually the anti-Nashua. Hard and long to get to. The site of beautiful trees in the distance beyond the outfield is marred by an ugly, empty, decaying warehouse in left.

General manager Joey Abis, an Amherst native and Souhegan grad, is also a former Nashua Pride bat boy and intern. He’s worked overtime to try to get the community to care and on short notice had to consider it a victory to get between 100 and 200 people in the park on Saturday night.

But the Titans had enough offense to win a classic on the field. Nashua struggled trying to get Langston Calhoun, an upcoming junior from Bryant University, out all night, as he reached base six times in seven at-bats and ultimately drove in the game-winner in the bottom of the 11th.

“We had good games with them all summer,” Silver Knights manager Ted Currle said. “Two evenly matched teams. Tonight it was a slugfest. Other nights it’s been pitching battles.”

“The competition is phenominal,” Torrington manager Dan McNamara said. “It really fires everybody up.”

But for the Knights the fire was doused.

“Tough way to lose,” Currle said. “But it’s definitely been an enjoyable summer, one I’ll definitely never forget, my first one in Nashua.”

And it ended with a game to remember, but a result the Silver Knights will try to forget – until the next time they play the Titans, in the summer of 2015.

But believe it, death in Torrington is no way to go.

Tom King can be reached at 594-6468 or tking@nashuatelegraph.com. Also, follow King on Twitter
(@Telegraph_TomK).