No time like the present for Silver Knights this week
Their time is now.
It’s Camp Week for the Nashua Silver Knights, but it also should be their week.
There’s no time like the present for the local Futures Collegiate League entry, both on the field and in the stands, because after Saturday night’s rainout and Sunday’s off day, they are home beginning tonight for six of the next seven games going into the FCBL All-Star break.
They’re 15-17, having lost their last two, which isn’t what they expected after sweeping the Worcester Bravehearts in the John Creedon Jr. Ownership Series in front of a good crowd at Holman Stadium on Wednesday night. They did it in dramatic fashion, winning the nightcap with four runs in the bottom of the last inning, the winning run scoring from third on a wild pitch.
That brough the Knights to 15-15, and even in their game release they intimated that it could be a trend-setting, season changing win.
Hasn’t happened. They lost in a slugfest to Worcester on July 4 and then were bludgeoned by perhaps the league’s top team this season, the Pittsfield Suns, at Wahconah Park 13-4. That put the count at 24 runs allowed in the last two games, as the team is suddenly facing a pitching issue. It was the Silver Knights strongpoint in June but some top starters have either gone down, been shut down, or headed back to school. Ouch. And now the team earned run average is 5.04, tied with Westfield for last in the league.
That doesn’t make Silver Knights pitching coach Kyle Jackson’s job any easier. A pitching coach’s job in the FCBL may be the toughest of all, because you may have as many as 18 arms to sort out and try to figure out where they fit. Rotation? Bullpen? How many innings will their college coach allow? The pitching is the thing the college coaches fret about the most. They want their guys to develop, but, please, oh please, don’t wear them out. The first sign of trouble, be it an ache, pain, hiccup, etc., they very likely get shut down. Like the insurance commercial, coaches will say don’t mess with my discount.
The former Red Sox farmhand and Alvirne alum is in its sixth year on the job, and he’s had great success. He’s the third longest tenured Silver Knight employee after manager B.J. Neverett and official scorer Luke Fortier. He never knows any of the pitchers until the day they arrive.
He meets with the pitchers on day one and tells them all the same thing: “I’m not going to change you. Unless you want to work on something, my door is always open, if you want to ask questions, I’m here. Understand that I’m here to help you guys get better for your next season.”
Some take advantage of his knowledge, others don’t. This group, Jackson said, is mainly in the former. He’s been doing it long enough that there’s a thought that the pitchers are told by others who have been here that Jackson is an asset to take advantage of.
“I think as the years go on, they know how I’m going to be,” he said. “That I know what I’m talking about, and that I want them to be the best pitcher they can be.”
That part makes it easy. But Jackson has admitted he was super nervous before his first two years. He was a high school JV coach, and it was an adjustment.
“Probably halfway through that first year, the kids started (to learn), but then the second year it’s a whole new batch again,” he said. “I have to start from square one again. But I think each year gets a little bit easier.”
Jackson was a pro, is a pro, and wants his pitchers to act like pros. “Whether it’s on the field, off the field, at BP (batting practice),” he said. “That’s how I was brought up, that’s how it was with the Sox, everything is professional.”
Jackson says he’s gotten good feedback over the years. He talks to his pitchers after every outing, and in between innings.
Getting it all to mesh takes time. The Silver Knights won their last title in 2017 mainly because they got their pitching figured out just in time and had a couple of late additions.
But the competition now is fierce. The league is improved over 2018, and the games in the next four weeks will decide a lot. Neverett desperately wants a home playoff game, and for the team to get more dominant at home. It’s into the heat of the summer, the attendance is now up over 1,000 (1,129 a game), and if they can draw good crowds during this homestand interrupted only by a Wednesday trip over the Mass Pike to Westfield.
Then it’s the All-Star break, followed by the final 15 games, eight of which are home. The arms will need to win the race. With Jackson’s help, of course.
Tom King may be reached at 594-1251, or@Telegraph_TomK.firstname.lastname@example.org