Silver Knights far removed from glory of last title

What were you doing two years ago tonight?

If you’re a die-hard Nashua Silver Knights fan, you know exactly. You were at a packed Holman Stadium, watching your fav summer baseball team win its second straight Futures Collegiate Baseball League championship.

Now the work to be able to do that again begins.

The FCBL’s League’s ninth season is over after Sunday’s championship deciding encounter in Bristol, Conn.between the Bristol Blues and the Worcester Bravehearts.

Let another critical off-season begin.

It would be tough to top last year’s drama, especially for the Nashua Silver Knights who underwent more changes, especially in the front office, than a Trump White House staff. Plus an ownership change.

On the field, there were too many changes with the Silver Knights with all the players coming and going. And now the baseball end will have a big change with a new field manager and new player personnel director.

Two years ago this time Nashua was celebrating its second straight FCBL championship, a veteran core of players led by the likes of Ryan Sullivan and Cam Cook, plus a couple of late signees, carrying the squad after a mediocre regular season. As current FCBL Commissioner Joe Paolucci said the other night in Lynn, “All you need to do is get hot at the right time.”

But the last two seasons, the Knights have said good-night far too early. The over-reliance on incoming college freshmen has hurt; the lack of commitment from the majority of the few players signed from big-time schools has hurt; injuries have hurt – and all of this has contributed to a lack of consistency.

That lack of commitment finally got to Nashua field manager/VP of Player Personnel B.J. Neverett. We all knew that Neverett has been grooming pitching coach Kyle Jackson for the job running the team in the dugout; but when Neverett said he’s not going to keep his player procurement job, it was a surprise. But it made sense. He wanted a clean break, and the now you can probably say the Silver Knights need a new approach.

Team owner John Creedon, Jr. – whose other team, the Bravehearts, have made the FCBL Finals in all six years of their existence, and incredible feat – has some decisions to make with the baseball end, probably even before he and Worcester/Nashua dual team president Dave Peterson turn to the business end.

Naming Jackson as new manager would be a no-brainer. The guy has craved the job for years, is local, popular, a former Red Sox farmhand and approaches the game on a very logical way, as seen with his work with the pitchers.

It’s the other job that’s the tricky part, and whoever takes it has to make some decisions on a somewhat new approach in terms of dealing with the college coaches.

Neverett finally admitted he felt he wasn’t on the same wavelength with a lot of them. Players arrived hurt, etc. Some big time schools would call a couple of weeks in and say their guys had to come back for this reason or another. Also in the FCBL, when players get hurt, they get shut down. College coaches send their players to play, and don’t want them coming back to school nursing injuries suffered in summer ball.

Unfortunately, though, they like to use summer ball to rehab players, get them back on the field after they missed a lot of time in the spring, and Neverett seemed to be saddled with too many of those. He also, on his way out, realized that whoever takes his spot should not rely as much on recent high school grads as much as Nashua did in the last two seasons.

Hey, it’s not easy. In a lot of ways, the college coaches have some leverage with all the summer league choices. Neverett’s personnel successor has to figure out a way to get some of that leverage back.

Don’t discount the words of former Knights general manager Rick Muntean, who said at the end of last season, “We should be telling coaches that we don’t want your backup shortstop, we want your starting shortstop.”

The early Knights success stories were built on players from high caliber New England schools, such as UMass-Lowell and Southern New Hampshire, to name a few. UMass-Lowell has barely sent anyone in the last few years while SNHU players – such as Phoenix Hernandez (third base) and Mike La Rocca (incoming freshman who played first) – usually come here when the call comes for help to get some guys summer spots during the season.

What’s Worcester’s secret? Hard to say. The Bravehearts weren’t dominant in the regular season this year, but did just what Paolucci said, they got hot late. Two years ago, remember, when they lost to Nashua in the finals, they were just the fifth seed (and Nashua was sixth). Their roster this year had a good mix of schools with several Division I colleges represented.

Neverett had a lot of interesting things to say in his final few days on the job. He’s going to be missed, because no one knew the league better than he did. He knew that some teams with big time school players would be in trouble because they would leave early, and that happened. He knew North Shore would be an offensive threat in the first tound, and that happened. He knew back in June Bristol would have the arms to get to the finals, and they did.

Creedon likes to leave the baseball to the baseball people, that’s why we think Jackson will quickly be named manager and then someone will be found asap to get the players. Then he, Peterson and GM Dave Pahucki can concentrate on the business side, which they admit took a hit this season with the late ownership change. As Pahucki, who didn’t start until April, said, “Eight months is a lot better than eight weeks.”

But the Silver Knights need to find players who are committed. They need to find a league saves leader, a league ERA leader, a top offensive player. When they won it in 2016, they had the league’s Offensive Player of the Year in Mickey Gasper. They had gamers like Sullivan and Cook. In 2017 they had a closer like Kyle Murphy.

Look, it’s always a crapshoot. But when Neverett said he looked out at the field in Pittsfield and saw just four from his original roster, you know that something is wrong and has to change.

Let’s face it, we’ve all been spoiled. Nashua’s last playoff win and subsequent FCBL title celebration was two years ago.

It seems even longer.

Tom King may be reached at 594-1251,tking@nashuatelegraph.com, or@Telegraph _TomK.