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  • Staff photo by Bob Hammerstrom

    Facebook: Bob Hammerstrom at The Nashua Telegraph

    Silver Knights shortstop Rob Benedict turns a double play over Sharks baserunner Jack Colton during a game at Holman Stadium Wednesday night against Martha's Vineyard.
Sunday, January 8, 2012

Nashua Silver Knights’ league expands to eight

When they first went out into the Nashua community to sell their product, the Nashua Silver Knights certainly faced their share of obstacles.

But, after calming most of the fears of a sometimes skeptical potential fan and sponsorship base, the final question was always the same:

“What about the league?”

Well, right now, the future of the Futures Collegiate Baseball League looks just fine, thank you. The FCBL answered those questions by being on the verge of doubling from four to eight teams for the 2012 season in just its second year of existence.

“We’re in a strong position right now,” Silver Knights vice president Jon Goode said. “We’re a league that has great owners, great locations. It’s huge for us, it’s huge for Nashua. It’s one less thing (to question). You always want to eliminate skeptics.”

It means longevity. No longer is the FCBL seen as a fledgling league after adding former New England Collegiate League sites Pittsfield, Mass. and Old Orchard, Maine to the mix in the last six weeks. Last summer it announced Leominster-Fitchburg was entering the league and any day now a lease is expected to be finalized in Brockton, Mass. In doing so it has added three more stadiums to the mix, including the modern Campanelli Stadium in Brockton (once it’s official), and has again entered territory where independent baseball once existed (Pittsfield and Brockton).

Also, there are three strong ownership groups spanning five franchises that have strong minor league experience: Drew Weber/Lowell Spinners in Nashua, the Goldklang Group in Pittsfield, and the Carminucci Group in Brockton, Martha’s Vineyard and Torrington, Conn.

“Not only did we double in size, but we doubled in size adding some really creditable ownership,” Goode said.

“It’s been crazy,” FCBL Commissioner Chris Hall, the former Nashua Pride general manager who has rediscovered the art of the deal in his year-old job. “When you try to build a league, my role is to try to find locations that could work, that either haven’t had baseball or may have had baseball in the past that didn’t work because the conditions may not have been right. And, of course, we need the right owners.”

Not only for the success of the individual franchises, but for its overall expansion. When Hall is at a municipal meeting armed with a Drew Weber or a Chris Carminucci to speak on the league’s behalf, it’s a plus. And Marvin Goldklang owns affiliated minor league teams and is a minority partner in the New York Yankees. That’s clout.

“To be honest, I’ve been really lucky,” he said. “We have a bunch of people who have the right mentality when they go into a board room. And when you bring in a Weber, a Goldklang or a Carminucci, people start coming to you.”

The FCBL has emerged at the right time, a time economically where independent baseball has taken a hit because of the costs of paying players, insurance, etc. – costs that don’t exist with summer collegiate leagues. Thus it’s attractive for owners who have been involved in independent pro ball, such as Goldklang and Chris Carminucci.

“The budgets the way they are, you immediately take $600,000 off player costs,” Hall said. “And you give kids a chance to showcase themselves in, in some cases, a minor league style of baseball.”

In fact, in Pittsfield it was the Goldklang group’s experience owning professional teams that tipped the scales in their favor vs. a local group that was set to buy Old Orchard of the NECBL and move it to Pittsfield. Once Old Orchard was in limbo, the FCBL swooped in and a retired couple, John and Pam Gallo, who moved to Maine from Baltimore, became the principal investors there. In Brockton, the Rox, once a premier New England franchise of the independent Can-Am League, were in decline. For the Carminucci Group, it became more cost-effective for the college game, and now Campanelli will rival Holman Stadium as the FCBL’s premier facility.

Pittsfield was the failed site of several attempts at minor league ball, most recently the Colonials of the Can-Am League, the former Nashua franchise. But it had comfortably housed an NECBL franchise in the past.

Old Orchard, of course, was the site of the Ayotte family-owned franchise that almost moved from Lowell to Nashua two years ago. Hall disagrees that baseball didn’t make its mark there in money-losing year in 2011.

“I actually think it worked,” Hall said. “They drew up to over 400 people a game, but no one really knew it was there because it wasn’t heavily marketed.”

That the league succeeded in Nashua last summer, where professional baseball had failed, was a selling point for the FCBL to other communities, Hall said.

“I think it was pretty important, especially for the Pittsfield location to show,” Hall said. “That was huge. It was a big example for us to highlight and focus on.”

Can a league grow too fast?

“You can grow too fast if you’re not careful of who you bring into the group,” Hall said, citing the importance of solid ownership. We’re pretty excited about what we have, and I think there’s still more room for growth.”

Next question: Are there enough players to go around, especially with the NECBL neighboring just about every franchise? Hall says yes to that as well, citing the fact that there are “about 3,000 kids playing New England college baseball” and that talented players were playing in summer rec leagues that could have been on a collegiate wooden bat league roster.

One financial advantage to the addition of teams is the help with travel costs. The Silver Knights will now be able to make the relatively short drive to Leominster/Fitchburg, and even Old Orchard and Pittsfield may be slightly shorter rides than Torrington.

The league now offers a variety of atmosphere. You have the luxury suites of Holman and Campanelli, the very old facilities of Waconah and Torrington, and the Cape League/lawnchair viewing style of Martha’s Vineyard and Leominster, which is heavily fundraising to refurbish its field.

“That’s the fun part of growing this league,” Hall said. “The neat thing is you don’t need a stadium.”

No, you need good owners, a financial plan, enough players and sponsors and eventually fan support. And unity.

“We know we’re going to have some hiccups,” Hall said. “But the one thing we do differently than other leagues is try and help each other. The communication is excellent.”

And now in 12 months time the FCBL is no longer a question mark.

“Without a doubt,” Goode said. “It’s a strong entity, a more credible entity.”

And the future for the Futures League is bright.