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Sunday, December 19, 2010

FCBL banks on success of D-II, III stars

NASHUA – Are there enough good college baseball players to go around in the summer?

Chris Hall, the new commissioner of the Futures Collegiate Baseball League, and its prospective franchise owners are banking on it.

“One hundred percent, absolutely,” said Hall, the former Nashua Pride and American Defenders of New Hampshire general manager. “I think by Year Two, we’ll have the top players in New England. The talent is going to be great. After year two, year three, you’ll see those kids getting drafted, and in high rounds, signing professional contracts. That will be the fun.”

Around New England circles, those draft picks are going to players out of the dean of college wooden bat leagues, the Cape Cod League, and also the New England Collegiate Baseball League, which has been around since 1993.

So what stands out about the FCBL, which officially placed a franchise in Nashua run by the Lowell Spinners late this week? The circuit’s clubs, according to will have to have half of its roster, at least 12, made up of New England players or players from New England schools.

“Half of those kids,” Hall said, “wouldn’t have gotten spots in other years. … We still want the elite players, but we also want the New England players. We’re going to provide this for them.”

In any event, there will now be some heavy recruiting going on, as college coaches will be lobbied heavily now by three leagues. Hall says there will be players from all three college Divisions – I, II and III.

“Are there enough players to go around? The answer is 100 percent yes,” said Daniel Webster College head baseball coach J.P. Pyne, who actually was on the coaching staff of the NECBL’s Keene Swamp Bats for a couple of summers. “As for good players, I think there will be, but there will be a pecking order.”

Of course, the Cape Cod League really isn’t even in the conversation, as they get nationwide talent – top nationwide talent, future major league stars. It appears the competition will be between the FCBL and NECBL, but Pyne agrees with Hall’s theory.

“When I was in Keene, we used to joke about it,” he said. “We called it ‘The Bumper Sticker War’. You’d have these kids from South Carolina, or Texas, or some major school driving in and they’ve got their school’s bumper stickers on their cars. Then you were filling out your roster with kids from Franklin Pierce, UMass Lowell, etc. But turned out a lot of those players were better.”

Why? Because, Pyne said, the NECBL was getting role players from the national powers. But they had to play.

“You were getting a red shirt kid from Clemson and he has to play so you can continue to establish a relationship with those schools,” Pyne said. “We weren’t playing the best players sometimes because we had to satisfy those big programs.”

Naturally, Pyne is an advocate for the small college player getting wooden bat league exposure, but he cited two pretty good examples.

“One year I had my number one pitcher and I finally got him a place to play – but it was in Colorado in the Mountain Collegiate League. He was playing against Division I talent and he had a pretty successful summer.

“And Riv had a pretty good pitcher in Isaac Burkett (who eventually played for the Pride). He couldn’t get a sniff for a summer contract, because at Riv, nobody saw him. Adding another tier (with the FCBL) is just going to give (more opportunities). It’s going to be a great opportunity for the Division II or III guys who might otherwise be overlooked. If it’s run right, and the general managers get after it a little bit. It will, of course, probably struggle early with just a few teams.”

“There’s going to be some great talent,” Hall said. “But people have to understand this is not professional baseball.”

Meanwhile, it’s the Spinners job to sell that talent to the public. Hall feels that Nashuans who balked at coming to see minor league baseball will see this team play because of the Spinners’ longtime ability to draw fans. Of course, they are always boosted by the fact they’re a Boston Red Sox affiliate.

“Now in Nashua, you’re going to get run by the best,” he said. “Here’s the reality. Professional baseball hasn’t worked (at Holman). We had some wonderful people who tried to make it work and worked awfully hard. But the budget had to be so high to make it sustainable it was impossible to make it work.

“And now you have some great people from Lowell, Drew Weber (Spinners owner) and his staff to come in and run it. They’ve got one of the most successful minor league franchises in the country.”

How did this league come about? The answer may be as far south as Brockton, Mass. and Martha’s Vineyard. Chris Carminucci, the successful Brockton Rox (independent Can-Am League) field manager and also player procurer for several independent minor league teams, has an organization called the Carminucci Sports Group which was a key component in the financial reorganization of the Rox over a year ago.

The rumors have it CSG wanted to get into the NECBL with a franchise at Martha’s Vineyard, but was denied. “The NECBL is not expansion friendly,” one baseball source noted.

So Carminucci and his group started their own circuit, with a minimal number of franchises the first year. In addition to Martha’s Vineyard and Nashua, it’s likely at least two more teams will enter from either the New Hampshire seacoast (Portsmouth?), north central Massachusetts (Leominster-Fitchburg area) , possibly somewhere on the Massachusetts south shore, and maybe even as far west as the Springfield, Mass., area.

“We’ll go with four if we have to,” Hall said.

The prospective owners and organizers of this league felt strong enough about making it work that they hired Hall to be a full-time commissioner. “The anchors of the league felt it important enough to have a full-time commissioner,” he said. “My role will be to oversee expansion, to oversee the day-to-day operation of the league, solicit sponsorships, etc.”

Meanwhile, Hall feels Nashua will draw well, that the Spinners goal of 300-500 fans a night is low. “My guess is by year two, Nashua will average 1,000 fans a night. Maybe as much as 700-800 the first year.

“The Spinners are doing things (promotion wise) for Saturday nights that could pack in as much as 2,000 into the place. … We’re in a pretty good situation here. The Mayor (Donnalee Lozeau), and Nick (Park-Recreation Superintendent Caggiano) and their staffs have really worked hard to pull this off.”

Again, Hall promises the product will be worth that hard work.

“The anchors of this league have a vision of making it a great league,” he said. “Make it work the way they think it can work, which justifies having another league.”