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Futures League needs to recover from Shark bite

By Tom King - Staff Writer | Jan 6, 2019

Ah, there’s nothing like a trip to Martha’s Vineyard on a fine summer day.

Beautiful boat ride, and the excitement of arriving in Oak Bluffs or Edgartown and getting ready for a day’s or few days excursion. Good food, beaches, quaint atmosphere. Summertime and the livin is easy.

Unless, of course, you’re a Futures Collegiate League team. You’re there for business, to play and hopefully win a baseball game. You’re taking a couple hours bus ride. Then a ferry ride – probably the only good part of the trip – and then you hop on a school bus to a field that seems, until you see the high school in the distance, in the middle of nowhere.

When you’re done, you may get a meal provided by the Martha’s Vineyard Sharks to chomp down while you wait for the yellow bus to pick you up. Oh, but the boat back isn’t on a ferry, because those have basically stopped for the night. You get a fishing boat, and hope you can handle the waves and not turn purple like the color of the Sharks uniforms.

For the Futures League teams, a trip to Martha’s Vineyard has been a pain, not a holiday. Certainly not easy for the Sharks, either, going the other way much more often.

Yet the FCBL has been embroiled in a legal dispute to make the Sharks stay in a league they don’t want to be in. Why? Because they don’t want to set a dangerous precident by losing them to a rival league, the older, more established New England Collegiate Baseball League, whose shadow you’ve been fending off for the last seven years.

We’ve been worried about the health of the Futures League for quite some time, ever since it first expanded to 10 teams all too quickly and then cut back in each of the last two years, winding up at seven for 2018.

It’s a bad trend. Yes, we all know that the Seacoast franchise in hiatus owned by Dave Hoyt is planning on building a new facility in Dover on land current Nashua Silver Knights owner Drew Weber has a partial investment in. But Hoyt was allowed to suspend operations while he waits to get settled, where he really shouldn’t have been. Find a place and play for the good of the league.

Why does MV want out? They’d have the same travel issues with some teams in the NECBL, but some are in southern New England and you’d guess that the long distance teams would only play them home and away a couple of times.

Also, the NECBL operates on a non-profit deal. A lot of the fields are like the Shark Tank, probably worse, except for perhaps Keene’s Alumni Field. It’s a lawn/folding chair type league, but had some pretty good major Division I schools providing players. MV has had a connection with Vanderbilt and a couple of other schools, and some have speculated that they’ve told the Sharks enough of playing against players from Division II and III schools, get out and into the NECBL. Just speculation. Also, there’s some word the Sharks were furious with the FCBL and former commissioner Chris Hall for the lame co-championship deal due to rain and scheduling.

Either way, it’s just added to the FCBL’s issues. We said this was going to be a critical off-season for the league, and it’s been nothing short of a mess. Commissioner headed out the door. Team wanting to head out the door. Schedule delayed, causing teams delays in business and ticket sales. All in the wake of the league’s top franchise, Worcester, having to contend with the future arrival of the Red Sox Triple A team and their new stadium, due in 2021.

In general, it’s all just created a look that’s not good.

The NECBL, if you check their web site, doesn’t have a schedule posted yet,either. But with a non-profit format, it’s not as critical, but still needs to be done soon. It also has 13 teams, so it certainly has room to add the Vineyard to make it an even 14.

There’s been a rumor of a settlement, but we’ll just have to wait and see if that’s been done. Look, the Futures League has good owners. Weber has said he has faith in his fellow owners, likes their business approach, otherwise he still wouldn’t be involved.

It has good facilities, securing a lot of the former minor league stadiums around the region. The Silver Knights are solid, with adding local investors to the mix and a revamped front office.

It’ll all play out soon, if it hasn’t already. The league needs to give its teams a schedule to sell, sell, sell. Come this summer, people will be enjoying baseball and all of this will be the furthest from anyone’s mind. But the off-season has not been good for the FCBL.

Funny, though. When the Nashua Pride were around, you worried more about the franchise’s well-being than the league it was in.

With the Silver Knights, it’s the exact opposite.

Tom King can be reached at 594-1251, or@Telegraph_TomK.tking@nashuatelegraph.com


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