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  • Staff photo by Don Himsel

    from left- Tim Geromini, Matt Berhiaume, Jarrod Fitzgerald and Jon Goode.
  • Photo by Jodie Andruskevich - New England Patriots placekicker, Stephen Gostkowski, left, signs autographs for members of the Raptors Baseball team from Milford prior to the start of the Nashua SilverKnights game against the Martha's Vineyard Sharks at Holman Stadium.
  • Photo by Jodie Andruskevich - New England Patriot placekicker, Stephen Gostkowski kicks autographed footballs into the stands inbetween innings of the Nashua SilverKnights game against the Martha's Vineyard Sharks on Sunday evening at Holman Stadium.
  • Photo by Jodie Andruskevich - New England Patriot's placekicker, Stephen Gostkowski throws some heat in the bullpen before the start of the Nashua SilverKnights game against the Martha's Vineyard Sharks at Holman Stadium in Nashua.
Sunday, April 29, 2012

Silver Knights focusing on target audience with opener approaching

Tim Bawmann took a walk around Holman Stadium a couple of weeks ago and the competitive juices to turn silver into gold were in full gear.

“I was just looking around to see what we could do different, what we could improve upon,” he said. “It’s been such a long layoff, we have to re-introduce our product and do everything we can to get the momentum going again.”

They’ve been partially out of sight for about nine months, but the Nashua Silver Knights and Bawmann, their vice president/general manager, certainly hope they haven’t been out of the community’s mind.

Thus, they are revving up the engines for their second season in a now revamped Futures Collegiate Baseball League that begins in just six weeks, and it’s certainly been easier the second time around.

“It’s like night and day,” Silver Knights Vice President Jon Goode said. “It’s such a better feeling than last year.”

That’s probably because a lot of the start up costs and lack of familiarity with both Holman Stadium and the community are a thing of the past. In turn, ticket sales are up – group sales, non existent a year ago, are at a 200-300 percent increase, according to Goode – and Bawmann says corporate sales are also well ahead of their 2011 pace.

It’s mind-boggling at times to think what this franchise, owned and operated by the Lowell Spinners of the NY-Penn League, can do for an encore. They expected to average 350-400 fans a game and more than doubled that to the tune of just shy of 900. They won a four-team FCBL league inaugural championship, were named the leauge’s Organizaton of the Year, and before 2011 was out the club signed a two-year lease extension with the city.

Tough to top, but they’re going to give it a shot, because, as Bawmann says, there are still naysayers scattered through the community.

“We’re still running into that a little bit on the corporate level,” he said. “You have some who say they want to see us around a while before they make a commitment. There’s also still that faction of downtown that doesn’t believe in us.”

But the Silver Knights believe that feeling is ever so slowly fading away. One of the questions they had to answer a year ago dealt with the Futures League, and how could a circuit possibly survive with just four teams? That is not an issue this year, as the FCBL has more than doubled with four new teams in Massachusetts – Fitchburg, Lynn, Pittsfield and Brockton – and another in Old Orchard, Maine.

“I think it just gives us credibility,” Bawmann said. “You look at some of the people that are coming into the league, there’s the Goldklang Group (in Pittsfield), who have successful minor league franchises.

“There’s Pat Salvi (owner of successful teams in the independent American Association and Frontier League) who bought North Shore (Lynn). And with Brockton’s facility, North Shore, Pittsfield, Old Orchard is an old Double A ballpark – you’ve got great facilities.

“It’s minor league baseball with a different business model, using collegiate players.”

And this year, it’s an expanded schedule with more teams. The season ended with the Silver Knights celebrating a championship on Aug. 5 in Torrington, Conn. This year, the regular season doesn’t end until well after that – Aug. 9 – and there are not one, but two rounds of playoffs to go through.

But because of how their attendance rose through July into early August last year, the Silver Knights don’t mind that one bit.

“It’s funny. Last year we were lobbying for fewer games, because we didn’t know what we were getting into,” Bawmann said. “But late in the season we picked up steam, so this year we were the ones lobbying for more games.”

They also got something else – the league’s inaugural All-Star game, which will be held at Holman Stadium on July 26. Coincidentally, the Spinners hosted the NY-Penn League All-Star Game in 2011 so there will be some familiarity there.

“We were glad for the chance,” Goode said, “because Holman is the centerpiece of the league.”

Familiarity isn’t a luxury the team had a year ago.

“People now know who we are, that’s a start,” Silver Knights business development director Tim Geromini said. “When we contacted them, they had a lot of good things to say instead of a lot of questions to be asked. People had been to the games, they knew more about the team.”

The team felt comfortable enough to reduce lower box seat ticket prices from $6 to $5, with the $7 price only for the padded lower seats. The suites, at a nightly rental, remain at $225, and Goode said their usage will be increased over even what was surprisingly high for the club in 2011.

Promotional events should be a lure again, with a Bruins Night and Patriots Night on the schedule as Goode hopes to lure a Bruin and also Patriots placekicker Stephen Gostowski, if possible.

The biggest thing will be Saturday starts moving from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m.

There will be a Mike O’Malley Bobblehead Night, with the Bishop Guertin alum a hopeful attendee.

To lure fans into the park, a huge blownup Sir Sterling (the mascot) will be out in front of the stadium on game days as a reminder. There will be six nights of post-game fireworks, mainly Fridays except for July 3, and the dollar draft nights return as well. To appeal to the traditional fan base, the team will have a night where it gives away baseballs with a panoramic picture of Holman on them.

On the field, of course, the Silver Knights should remain competitive, and Nashua’s own B.J. Neverett is now the field manager. The club’s roster is basically set with a mix of holdovers and newcomers, including a couple of interesting infielders – Griff Tewksbury of Concord, son of former major leaguer Bob Tewksbury, and Chris Shaw, who will be a graduate of Lexington (Mass.) High School, is Boston College-bound and although not officially a college student is allowed in the league under special circumstances. Those include being a top five national prospect and already committed to the Cape Cod League for 2013.

The baseball has worked hand in hand with the promotions and the atmosphere to provide the entertainment package. Goode said the team considers Nashua its primary market, “and we’ll look for opportunities as they exist (outside the city).”

The opportunities they feel should be plentiful for the upcoming season. Things started slowly last year, with bad weather most of June, so that’s the focus of improvement for 2012. Bawmann would love to see 1,000 people a night in the seats, but he’s being conservative again with a goal of 750. That’s still double what his expectations were a year ago.

“I think for us, now it’s a year of branding,” he said.

“All the pieces,” Goode said, “are in place.”