Posts Tagged ‘American Defenders’

Meet The New Hampshire Road Warriors

tractor at holman

It’s a banner day: Nashua, New Hampshire made Deadspin.  Wheee.

For those who don’t like clicking links, the city of Nashua locked the American Defenders of New Hampshire out of Holman Stadium yesterday afternoon due to a number of unpaid bills.  The team and city could not reach an agreement on an acceptable payment plan, so the few remaining home dates have been rescheduled as road games.

As the title suggests, the situation calls to mind the old Pennsylvania Road Warriors from the Atlantic League, who played entire seasons on the road in the early 2000s.  I don’t recall the exact problem with the Road Warriors – lack of funding to build a stadium, maybe – but that’s not the point.  The point is that I remember what those teams were like: full of young guys who were willing to play for next to nothing, managed by one of the nicest guys in the game, and they almost never won.

You’d think I would be sad about what appears to be the death of professional baseball in Nashua, but I’m really not. Dan Duquette can blame it on the people of the city all he wants – the fact of the matter is that the ownership did an extremely poor job of a) selling the team to potential fans and b) understanding the situation they were getting themselves into.  They wanted a quick, easy buck, and when it didn’t work that way (because people in the city have been burned often in recent years and needed to be won over), they threw in the towel and refused to pay, hoping to make the mayor and the people of the city the bad guys who just wouldn’t support their team.

It was inevitable that we would get to this point.  For at least two, maybe three years now, Nashua baseball has been an exercise in futility, with owners who seemed to think that insulting potential fans was the best way to draw them to the ballpark.  Surprisingly, it didn’t work.  The newest group, Duquette and Company, wanted us to believe that they weren’t like the rest, that they meant what they said and said what they meant.  But in the end, as WGAM’s Rich Keefe pointed out yesterday, “It was just lipstick on a pig.”

The only thing that really bothers me is that this will renew the chorus of the idiotic minority who claim that professional baseball “stole Holman Stadium from the kids,” because they used to play high school football and baseball there before the Pride arrived.  Never mind the fact that the presence of the Pride resulted directly in renovations being made to refurbish and somewhat modernize the ballpark, or that a beautiful new football stadium, Stellos Stadium, was built down the street from Nashua High School South, or that in the years I worked there (2003 and 2004) there were over 130 non-Pride events at Holman.  Why worry about facts?

Oh well.  Professional baseball in Nashua is finally gone, probably never to return (unless they can further improve the stadium, pay off the Red Sox to waive territory rights, and lure a low-level affiliated team to the city; oh yeah, it’s that easy).  Sure, the NECBL might drop a franchise in there, and there will be plenty of high school baseball to be seen, but if you want to see the pros play (and say what you will about the quality of the Defenders, they WERE professionals; probably in the A range, but professionals nonetheless), I don’t know what to tell you.

Oh,wait, yes I do…

There’s a game in Manchester tonight.

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The Minor Links

More good stuff about the world of minor league baseball. If you read something that belongs in The Minor Links, please do pass it along to onemoredyingquail@gmail.com.

Raul Ibanez loves “The Office”?  I think I heart Raul Ibanez (The Hog Blog)

John Sickels breaks down the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers (Minor League Ball)

Nick Hill may be a darkhorse candidate to help out the Mariners bullpen within the next year or two (U.S.S. Mariner)

Rhett Barber must have broken a mirror during his senior year of high school; fortunately, his seven years of bad luck appear to be over and he is pitching well for the Alexandria Aces (The Town Talk)

“Sugar” is being released on DVD and Blu-Ray (Baseball Musings)

Marty Popham, a pitcher for the Cleveland Indians Short Season affiliate in Mahoning Valley, pitched seven no-hit innings on Wednesday before being pulled; Austin Adams gave up an infield single with two outs in the ninth to end the no-no (Indians Prospect Insider)

Cooper Brannan lost part of his left hand in Iraq about 3 1/2 years ago; he was just released by the Padres, then caught on with the American Defenders of New Hampshire (Nashua Telegraph)

Is It The End Of Nashua Baseball As We Know It?

After last night’s American Defenders game, my friend Chris was moved to write down a few thoughts of his own on the current state of the team and its seemingly inevitable demise.

There comes a time in everyone’s life where their childhood memories eventually fade away. It may be something small and minuscule or it may be something significant. This is minuscule but it is still something that is hard to watch die right before your eyes. I am talking about Nashua minor league baseball. Last night I went to the American Defenders of New Hampshire game at Historic Holman Stadium and in front of a crowd of about 150 I saw former all star and major league record holder Eric Gagne pitch.

Gagne was someone who at one time was considered one of the best closers in the game, then injury struck and he was never the same. He pitched for the Red Sox for a short time as well, but those facts alone were not good enough to draw more people than an average night at the Olive Garden. I bought the cheapest seats in the house and had free roaming abilities to move all the way to the first row behind the visiting dugout.

This brought me back to a time when I used to work for this ball team. I was making minimum wage but loved every minute that I was able to work there. On a good night two to three thousand people would be there cheering on their beloved Nashua team, watching local legends like Butch Hobson and Glen Murray.

I am not going to compare Gagne’s appearance to Ricky Henderson’s… actually, I am. When Henderson came to town the house was packed, the energy was fantastic and it was the place to be. The scoreboard was working, and the reason why I start with this is because the scoreboard was turned on but it was like when your computer is on screensaver – it’s on but no one is there. The PA announcer had to keep announcing the score and if it wasn’t for the outfielders putting up their hands to show how many outs there were the game could have gone on all night.

To see a team that I once had the privilege to work for in the state that they are in now was tough to sit through. I heard the players swear when they made a mistake, a conversation from three sections away, and (worst of all) the cheers from the Little League game just outside the stadium completely overshadowed any cheering that took place for the Defenders baseball team. Unless there is some sort of miraculous marketing change in Nashua where they can convince people that they need baseball in that city, Holman Stadium will turn into another baseball memory that will be written about in a book or magazine that people will always say “whatever happened to…” It truly is the end of an era for Nashua minor league baseball.

Eric Gagne Comes To Nashua

My road trip was originally supposed to end on Sunday, June 28, with a trip to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York.  About three weeks ago, however, I saw a story that changed my plans slightly: the day after our return, Eric Gagne was coming to Nashua.

gagne looking sadIn a way, it’s more fitting that the long weekend (which I’ll write about eventually, provided I can remember all the wild stuff that happened) came to a close in Nashua.  Holman Stadium has become my home ballpark over the past five or six seasons, and the prospect of seeing Gagne from one of it’s 2,800 seats made the situation all the more perfect.

It rained at multiple points early in the day, making my actual attendance virtually a game-time decision.  My friend Chris and I were the only two people from the trip who were interested in going; we exchanged texts at 2:30 and basically decided that if they played, we were there.  I laid down on the couch shortly thereafter and didn’t wake up until my boss called at 4:37.  It was somewhat sunny, which could mean only one thing: it was American Defenders time!

Pulling into the parking lot, I was surprised by the number of empty spaces.  Gagne may not have been impressive in his last trip to New England with the Red Sox in 2007, and he may be working as a starter now, but he was a former major leaguer, and a damn good one.

While the weather certainly played a role in the low attendance, I ultimatelygagne in nashua chalk it up to the same old story: the team did a poor job of getting the word out about Gagne’s impending arrival.  It was mentioned on the road sign on Amherst St. and on the team Web site (the latter according to Chris; I looked there and never saw it), but obviously, those don’t do the trick.  Now, according to the most recent information I could find, about 25% of Nashuans have French or French-Canadian ancestry.  The team should have sought out prominent members of that population (like the mayor, perhaps – Donnalee Lozeau) and put together some sort of celebration, with Gagne’s appearance serving as the central point.  Who cares if he doesn’t play for the home team?

It was sad to see so many empty spaces outside, and it didn’t get any better after I paid my $5 and passed through the gates.  The people were nice enough and they had a band playing covers on a platform next to the offices on the first base side, but it was very clearly a minor league operation.  (Actually, the words I used to explain my thoughts to Chris when he arrived were, “Train wreck.”)

They have a woman who handles game-day promotions from the field level.  Prior to the game, she was walking around on the field with a microphone, chatting with Booster Club members who were doing some sort of Player of the Month presentation.  When the time came for them to give their award, though, she was nowhere to be found.  As the guy with the microphone struggled through his prepared speech (without any introduction from the main PA, as well), it was obvious that she should have done the main portion of his talk and turned it over to him for the actual presentation.  It would have achieved the same results and appeared much more professional.

This woman actually holds the key to improving attendance, in my opinion (as long as she works full-time for the team during the day).  The problem with the Can-Am League is that it’s hard to build the franchise’s image around a particular player or core of players because most of them don’t stick around very long.  So what they should do is make HER the face of the franchise.  Instead of having her sit in an office and make cold calls all day, get her out into public.  Send her to downtown Nashua, the Pheasant Lane Mall, anywhere people gather in the city, to hand out pocket schedules and chat with people about the team.  Bring the mascot.  Get the word out on a grassroots level.  Eventually, expand the operations to Merrimack, Hudson, Amherst, Milford, and other nearby communities that might be interested.  But give people a personal connection.  Think about it – is someone more likely to attend a game because they saw something about it on a road sign or because a pretty blonde took a few minutes to talk to them?

The biggest problem with Holman Stadium on this night, however, was the scoreboard.  There are two sections to the scoreboard: the top is a small message board, the bottom shows the line score, balls and strikes, and other basic stuff.  The top half hasn’t worked since 2003, I think (although I might be wrong), which is awkward in itself because rather than make an attempt to cover it up with something useful, the darkened screen just sits there, blank.  By this point, however, I think it’s one of those things we’ve all gotten used to.

The problem last night was that the rest of the scoreboard didn’t work.  The power was on, so either the unit in the press box was busted or they didn’t have anyone to run it.  Either way, it was embarrassing.  None of the fans knew the score.  The pitchers had to keep asking the umpire for the count.  Combined with the 150 people in attendance (official announced crowd: 892; must’ve been a lot of groups or season ticket holders that didn’t show up), it made me wonder just how long we can keep this “baseball in Nashua” thing going.

On the field wasn’t much better.  Gagne got lit up for nine runs on fourteen hits with only two strikeouts (one of them on a silly-slow breaking ball to end the first), and it wasn’t like the Defenders got lucky.  Dude got hit hard.  You kinda had to feel bad for him.

The good thing about small crowds is that we were able to leave our seats after the fifth and sit directly behind the third-base dugout.  Great seats, although I was constantly terrified that a foul ball was gonna take my head off.  It’s been awhile since I sat that close to the field.

(That makes me think of something else.  Mike Coolbaugh was killed by a foul ball less than two years ago.  Last season, Major League Baseball made a big deal of instituting a rule requiring all base coaches to wear helmets on the field.  No base coach last night, for either team, had any sort of protective headgear.  Now, I’m inclined to think that the MLB rule is a little reactionary – based on where he was hit, Coolbaugh wouldn’t have been saved by the type of helmet those coaches now wear – but it’s not a terrible idea.  And the coaches last night were standing pretty close to the action.  I’m just surprised the rule change hasn’t filtered down into the independent leagues yet.)

The clouds looked ominous all evening.  They finally opened up in the seventh – I felt a drop on my arm, looked out at the field, and realized it was pouring rain in center field.  I looked at Chris and thought, “That’s our cue.”  Almost at the same time, he looked at me and said, “That’s my cue.”  We had barely made it to shelter when the rain began in earnest, quickly making it apparent that baseball was done for the night. I hit the store for a couple things (a program, two packs of 1987 Topps baseball cards, and a U.S. Military All-Stars card set that included Jonathan Johnston), decided against wandering into the Capitales locker room to interview Gagne (and trust me, I thought about it) and called it a night.

If the Defenders can put people in the seats, they might have a shot.  The in-game promotions were unimaginative but not awful, the team can hit, and all the staff I dealt with was very nice (when I got into the store, the girl behind the counter was receiving a call from the tarp crew saying that the tarp was messed up.  I told her, as seriously as I could manage, that I had tarp experience and could help if they needed me.  I then told her that I had experience messing up the tarp and could help out with that as well.  She didn’t look very amused).

But man, they need to get that scoreboard fixed, and more people in the seats to look at it.  In other words, not much has changed in Nashua.

Proof That God Is Not A Fan Of Independent Baseball

On Monday evening, the Manchester-based New Hampshire Fisher Cats played in front of 7,057 fans.  It was Memorial Day, and it was beautiful – my wife opened every single window in our apartment while doing some spring cleaning.

On Tuesday evening, the Fisher Cats welcomed the Portland Sea Dogs to town.  Always a good draw, the Sea Dogs on this occasion brought a little something extra – rehabbing Red Sox pitcher John Smoltz (now known in the local media as “future Hall of Famer John Smoltz”; it’s weird that his candidacy was cemented by the fact that he made a rehab start in New Hampshire).  Nearly 9,000 fans – more than last year’s Eastern League All-Star Game – turned out on another bee-yoo-ti-full night for baseball.

On Thursday evening, the American Defenders of New Hampshire (nee Nashua Pride) were scheduled to play their Can-Am League season opener at Holman Stadium.  It rained all morning, into the early afternoon, and when I stopped by the box office just after three o’clock to buy tickets, was told that the game had been postponed.  It continued raining into today, until just an hour or two before game time.  If the pushed-back opener was played this evening, surely the weather was bad just long enough to convince scores of potential fans that it was NOT a beautiful night for a ballgame.

A doubleheader is scheduled for tomorrow starting at four o’clock.  It’s probably going to snow.