Posts Tagged ‘Nashua Pride’

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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You Want Mascot Stories? I’ve Got Mascot Stories

Yesterday, Extra P brought us the story of Jacob Osterhout and his audition to be the mascot for the Brooklyn Cyclones.  Jacob’s story made me laugh, yeah, but it also caused some seriously scary flashbacks.

As I’ve mentioned on here a time or ten, I used to work for a professional baseball team (I think this is the first time I’ve talked about it this season, so if you had May 7 in the “OMDQ brags about his past work experiences” pool, you win!).  One of my responsibilities?  Dressing up as Prime Time the Moose for appearances at local schools and community gatherings.  Fortunately, I was never called upon to do it during a game, although I always sort of wanted to try.  Still, it probably would have been a disaster – with small groups, I was decent; I couldn’t see myself as an entertainer of hundreds.

Still, Extra P asked for mascot stories, and I’ve got a couple, so I figured I’d share them here.  I’m even sitting on the couch as I type, so it’s like therapy.

3) My worst mascot experience actually doesn’t involve me wearing the suit.  In 2004, the Nashua Pride didn’t really have a set person in charge of promotions, so three front office people handled various aspects of the job.  I generally put the game script together for the PA announcer (sometimes to great comic effect, as I’ve chronicled here before) and occasionally bossed the mascot around.  Yes, I’m terrible at management.

Our primary mascot that year was a high school kid named John.  He loved the gig, got really into it, did a great job.  One day, however, I saw him sitting down on the stone wall that runs almost parallel to the field just past first base.  This offended my delicate sensibilities regarding what a mascot should and should not do, and I told him so.

“Don’t sit down when you’re outside,” I ordered the next time I saw him.  “If you need to sit and take a break, come into the office.  It doesn’t look good for the mascot to be sitting down like that when he should be entertaining.”  Sound advice, I thought.  Unfortunately, it was about a million degrees, and he interpreted “Don’t sit down outside” as “Don’t take breaks ever,” which led to a call over the radio that he had stumbled into the umpire’s locker room, taken the head off, and passed out.

He was okay in the end, of course, but really, it was a terrible feeling and one of the main exhibits for why I should never be in charge of people.

2) In an effort to extend the Pride’s reach out to the Seacoast region, I signed Prime Time up to take part in Portsmouth’s holiday parade.  It was actually my second parade in the region – I grew up in Rye, the town next door, and my parents still live there and know everybody, so they got me involved in that one (it took some time for my nephew Patrick to grasp that it was Uncle Brian inside that big hairy moose suit).  For Portsmouth, I was joined by my brother Tim.

I realized something important that night: when you take cold December air and hot breath and combine them in an enclosed space, glasses will fog up.  Within minutes, I was blind as a bat, truly A Moose On The Loose, with Tim doing his level best to point me in the right direction.

He couldn’t protect me from everything, however, and that’s why this experience made this post.  I was walking along the street, waving to fans, maybe attempting the occasional high-five, when all of a sudden, “WHOOMP,” I felt something hit my midsection.  No idea what it was until I was able to find Tim, who leaned in close and told me what had happened:

A little kid had broken free from the crowd, run out into the street, and attempted to give Prime Time a big hug.  Not a problem ordinarily…except, of course, in this situation, Prime Time couldn’t see a damn thing.  From what Tim told me, the kid hit me at full speed, bounced off, and was eventually corralled by his parents.

And then I finished the parade, changed behind a parked car, and got the hell out of there.

1) My best mascot story is also my first mascot story.  I started working for the Pride on June 1, 2003.  Somehow, I made it all the way to July before it became necessary for me to don the smelly, perpetually wet suit.

It was another parade, this one for the Fourth of July.  It wasn’t in Nashua, but one of the surrounding towns, Hudson or Litchfield or Hollis.  Someplace not too far away.  My spotter was Andy, our assistant general manager.  I figured it’d be a piece of cake.  Wear the suit, dance around, shake some hands, entertain some kids.  How hard could it be?

At the beginning, it wasn’t bad.  I did all the aforementioned stuff, and I think I was okay.  Then, my body started to realize that it was 95 degrees.  Right around the time I actually started to melt, Andy leaned over and said, “Hey, we’re about halfway.  I’m gonna go grab the car and meet you at the end.”  And he left me there, to die all alone in the streets of Hudson or Litchfield or Hollis or wherever the hell we were.

What he neglected to mention, I think, was that he was getting out right in time (or maybe he did mention it.  This was six years ago).  The end of the parade route featured a hill.  A very, very big hill that might as well have been Mount Washington at that point.  It was horrible.  I thought I was gonna have to crawl to the finish, which would not have been a positive memory for the local children to have of Prime Time.

Luckily I made it and changed in a dugout at the local Little League field, where Andy found me and gave me a bottle of water.  I think I ate it rather than waste time with something silly like drinking.  Then he took me home (after laying a towel on the front seat to soak up my sweat – I looked like Jason Giambi), leaving me to reflect on the situation and hope that it never happened again.

Little did I know that the day would come when our then-promotions manager would set an ambitious appearance schedule, figuring he could do as many as necessary, only to be laid off a month before the season, leading to me donning the mascot suit as many as three times in a single Saturday.  I still can’t pet a wet dog without shuddering.

Life After Baseball

So hey, remember yesterday when I went on a mini-rant about the way old ballplayers have a tendency to fade gently into anonymity without anyone really noticing, and as an example I used the fact that I knew the whereabouts of perhaps one or two of the guys from my time in baseball?

Mr. Moynahan, “Irony” is waiting for you on Line Two.

As I was walking into a building with a client this afternoon, a Fed Ex deliveryman held the door on his way out.  I looked at him the way most people look at deliverymen, nothing more than a passing glance, until the part of my brain that handles visual memory decided to kick in.

“Hey, wait a minute…I know this guy.”  It was Glenn Murray, without a doubt the greatest player in Nashua Pride history.  He was the Atlantic League’s Most Valuable Player in 1999, led the team to a championship the following season, and became the first Atlantic League player to reach 100 career homeruns in 2003.  If the powers that be were ever to create a Hall of Fame for the Atlantic League, Murray would easily be a member of the inaugural class.

In the middle of performing the automatic and mindless task of holding a door for someone, Glenn realized that I was studying him fairly closely.  He took a closer look at me and recognition dawned.  I don’t know if he knew exactly where he knew me from, and there’s no doubt in my mind that he didn’t remember my name, but he seemed to know that he knew me.

We exchanged greetings, shook hands, and talked for a minute or two, all about him of course.  He coached for awhile after his playing days were done, but it didn’t really work out.  He’s been working for Fed Ex for a couple of months now, delivering packages and making more money than he ever did as a ballplayer.  I informed my client that he was looking at a living legend – he asked Glenn what he did, where he played, how long he played.

And then, it was done.  With a “Take it easy” and “Good seeing you,” we continued into the building and he continued out to his truck.  As I walked inside, I realized I should have obtained some contact information, that the life of an ex-ballplayer is something that fascinates me to no end and I would have liked to talk to him about it in greater detail.  What, if anything, did he miss?  Does he still talk to his former teammates?  When did he know that it was finally over?  Has he adjusted to the fact that it’s March and there is no spring training on the horizon?  Will he ever really adjust to that reality?

Knowing Glenn, he’ll continue to accept that his time in the game is done without dwelling on it.  But for me, a guy who watched him play every day for two seasons, watched him during late game at-bats in close games where you just knew a homerun was only moments away, watched him strike out on sliders low and away that simply looked too good to resist, watched him hobble around the bases on two bad knees, it was awfully hard to see him wearing the purple uniform shirt and carrying the clipboard of an average working Joe.

John Updike once said of Ted Williams, “Gods do not answer letters.”  In Nashua, New Hampshire, unfortunately, one delivers them.

Butch Hobson Gets His Number Retired (Video)

I wrote early in the season about the ceremony to retire Butch Hobson’s number 17 in Nashua.  Looking around YouTube tonight, I found a video of the event:

The Shot Heard Round Nashua

I was sitting in the scoreboard booth of the Holman Stadium press box, above and to the left of home plate, when James Lofton hit the most dramatic homerun my eyes have ever seen.

The game had not started off well for the hometown Nashua Pride, knotted with the Bridgeport Bluefish at one-win apiece in the best-of-three Atlantic League North Division playoffs. Heading into the bottom of the sixth inning, they trailed 6-2, with the prospect of facing the league’s best bullpen looming on the horizon. Bobby Chouinard (5-4, 2.17, 46 games) had a great season in the setup role; Mike Guilfoyle (7-3, 1.90, 40 saves), only the greatest closer in the history of the league, was at his absolute best.

My memory tells me that even though Chouinard was Bridgeport’s regular setup man, he came on in the sixth. Either I’m wrong or Jose Lind brought him in early to quiet a threat from the Pride. Whatever the case, whoever was on the mound, the end result was not optimal for the Bluefish: Nashua loaded the bases and second baseman Joe Kilburg, the team’s most intense player, jumped on a pitch and deposited it over the wall in right centerfield.

Steve Cox and I were in the press box. He was working the scoreboard, I was on message board duty. When the ball came off the bat, Steve, a one-time star player at Daniel Webster College, began yelling at the top of his lungs; when it went over the wall, we both destroyed the unwritten “no cheering in the press box rule”. It was warranted, though. In the blink of an eye, in no more time than it takes to bring the bat through the strike zone, we had a whole new ballgame. Six to six.

Bridgeport scored one run in the seventh. With Guilfoyle getting ready to warm in the visitors bullpen, it might as well have been five. Truth was, Guilfoyle didn’t really belong in the Atlantic League. He was just too good. But there were two factors that kept him on the Bluefish roster: one, his age (35) probably discouraged affiliated teams from taking a chance and two, he lived in the Bridgeport area, considered it his home, and didn’t want to leave.

It was a 7-6 game heading into the bottom of the ninth and sure enough, here came Guilfoyle. Steve had departed for parts unknown, leaving me in the scoreboard booth. I might have been alone – I hated doing both jobs at once, but this would have been one instance where I wouldn’t have much cared – or they might have thrown an intern in there to cover the scoreboard. Impossible to say. And ultimately irrelevant.

Two batters quickly became two outs. Guilfoyle was really dealing as Chris Petersen came to the plate.

Petersen was a tremendous defensive shortstop. I don’t have the fielding numbers from that season, but I can’t imagine that he made more than six or eight errors all season. He played the position exceptionally well. He was not, however, the type of guy you wanted to have at the plate in a “loser-go-home” situation. His batting average in 2003 was .267, his on-base percentage .325, his OPS .650. He had little power – only three homeruns all year. Petersen’s primary offensive contributions were sacrifice bunts and grounding into double plays.

Predictably, Guilfoyle quickly gained the upper hand, starting Petersen off 0 and 2. The Bluefish players lined the top step of the dugout, preparing to run on the field in celebration of a trip to the Atlantic League finals. They waited there as Guilfoyle delivered the ball to the plate (I think it was a curveball)…

And hit Petersen with the pitch.

Who knew a hit batter could be the most exciting play in baseball? It was like seeing Rocky cut Drago. Petersen scampered down to first as the ballpark, all two hundred people still in attendance, came alive. I worked the message board as hard as possible, throwing up stuff like “LET’S GO PRIDE!” and “CLAP YOUR HANDS!” My boss, Eric, had a different perspective: he was on top of the home dugout in the mascot suit, running back and forth and trying to get people fired up. It was working.

With two down, Petersen on first, and Guilfoyle suddenly proven mortal, here came James Lofton to the plate. Lofton already had a special place in Pride history, having played for the 2000 team that won the city its first baseball championship and later playing in the major leagues for the Boston Red Sox. I don’t think his number was one of the ones added to the Holman Stadium press box last season; if not, it should have been.

Still, like Petersen, he wasn’t the guy you wanted at the plate in that situation. The only hope was for survival, that he might do something that would keep the inning going until the lineup came back around to guys like Kilburg and Glenn Murray, the heavy hitters who could change the game with one swing of the bat.

Also like Petersen, Lofton fell behind 0 and 2 almost before we realized what had happened. He was clearly overmatched. Again, Bridgeport’s entire roster was on its feet, poised for a celebration. This time, Guilfoyle stayed with the fastball, trying to overpower Lofton, but he left it up in the zone and Lofton turned on it. It left his bat and flew on a line toward left-center field as I screamed at it to “KICK, KICK!”, hoping I could convince it to get an afterburner in its ass and at least catch the wall. No way Petersen doesn’t score on that. No way.

We didn’t have to worry. The ball landed safely on the other side of the wall and the ballpark went insane. It was the first homerun Guilfoyle had allowed all year. I was no longer just cheering in the press box – I was screaming in the press box, which I figured was okay because our assistant general manager came running into the scoreboard booth, more excited than I was, and hugged me. Somewhere in the middle of all this, the PA announcer, Ken Cail, showed what an unbelievable professional he is: he threw a wireless microphone at me and suggested I run down to the field in case the manager, Butch Hobson, wanted to say a few words to the crowd.

I flew down as fast as I could. Butch was already gone by the time I got there, outside the locker room door with a crowd of people around him. I saw Kilburg, who was pulling a Jim Valvano and hugging everyone he could get his hands on, and screamed into his ear, “THAT’S HOW YOU HIT THE BALL!” as I pounded him on the back. At that point, armed with my microphone and no one to talk to, I just stood on the field and basked in the moment. My future wife and mother-in-law later commented on the big goofy grin that was plastered all over my face.

It would be a nice ending to say that the Pride went on to the Atlantic League Championship Series and took care of business against the Somerset Patriots. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case. They held a two games to one lead in the best-of-five series, with a chance to clinch the title at home, but all did not go according to plan. The long season finally caught up to them – Hobson had been juggling things mightily for some time due to injuries – and they dropped Games Four and Five. Just like that, there were no more games left.

Even with the less-than-storybook ending, Lofton’s Homerun remains the most dramatic I have ever seen. Others, like Carlton Fisk or David Ortiz, might have occurred on a grander stage and stimulated greater excitement, but the circumstances surrounding Lofton’s blast make it the best. Not only did he do it with two strikes, two outs, in the bottom of the ninth, in an elimination game, with his team down a run, he hit it off the best closer in the history of the league. All things being relative, I’ll take Mike Guilfoyle over Pat Darcy and Paul Quantrill. But maybe that’s just because I was there.

You Can Run, D’Avilia, But You Can’t Hide

You remember the old show “Unsolved Mysteries”, right?  The one hosted to perfection by Robert Stack?  Every so often, they would go through a case, present all the weird details, Stack would wrap it up…then, out of nowhere, the word “UPDATE” or “SOLVED” or something like that would flash on the screen and we would learn that what we had just seen was, in fact, no longer an unsolved mystery.

Tonight’s Nashua Pride game featured the long awaited UPDATE on the D’Avilia situation.

To recap: prior to the season, the Nashua Pride hung numbers on the front of the press box to commemmorate important players in team history.  Glenn Murray and Butch Hobson are honored for their contributions to Nashua baseball; several others, including Curtis Pride, performed admirably in the city before returning to the major leagues.

During my two years in media relations with the Pride, I became reasonably well-versed in the team’s history, so it was surprising when I didn’t recognize the name on Number 11: the one-named “D’Avilia”, who was involved with the team in some capacity back in 1999.  I knew he wasn’t a player – a coach, maybe?  The mystery was enticing, the team staff utterly useless.  They’ve changed over almost entirely since I left in 2004, but I still made a point to ask at the last couple games I went to.  My query was always met with a blank stare and, “You know, that’s a good question, I’m not really sure.”  I realize they’re busy trying to sell the team to local businesses and fans so it can stay in business, but if you’re going to put a piece of information out there like that, wouldn’t it make sense to have a story behind it in case anyone asks?  Even the general manager didn’t know who D’Avilia was, which to me is just stupid.  Sure, it’s a small point, but it’s a small point that left me shaking my head as I walked away from at least four front office employees this season.

Anyway, the general manager (I think it was the general manager, anyway) was the least useless because he directed me to the people who could answer the question: the Boosters Club and a gentleman named Spike, who attends a good many games and used to be known for bringing a cowbell (this was before someone decided they should sell cowbells in the ballpark.  Not a good idea).  Though I had never actually spoken to Spike before, this was a no-brainer; to let the chance of learning D’Avilia’s story slip away after coming so close would have been a tragedy.

I made my move at the end of the eighth.  The Pride had just broken a 2-2 tie with a six-run rally (the eventual game-winner was hit by Edgard Clemente, nephew of Roberto) and Spike was sitting in a lower row in my section, so I figured what the hell.  I walked down, made my approach, and told the small group that I had a question and thought they were the guys to answer it.

Turns out, the name on the circle, D’Avilia, was incorrect; the actual name was Davila, with a little accent above the first “a”, and the player in question wasn’t a player, but a coach: Angel “Papo” Davila, the pitching coach early on in the Pride’s tenure.  Spike thought he had gone on to the major leagues as a coach for the Reds, hence the special circular honor.  I don’t know where he is now – he did a one-year stint as the manager at Laredo in 2007 and Google doesn’t want to tell me where he is this season.

So ends the mystery of D’Avilia.  Like many things associated with the Pride, the resolution was, in my opinion, a bit underwhelming.

The rest of the ballpark experience was typical.  Chris was invited, but unable to join us, and our friend Colleen’s invite got lost in the mail (i.e. I started sending a text but fell asleep before it was finished, then didn’t realize until later that the message never sent), so it ended up as family night: me, Vicki, and Joey.  As usual, Joey was a hit – he’s big enough to sit in the seats now, so he did that for awhile, then he turned around and hammed it up for the older couple sitting behind us, then the teenage girls sitting behind them.  And, not to get too crazy personal or anything, for the first time in awhile, my wife and I actually talked, just shot the shit about her mother and some work and other little stuff.  I called her Vicki Leigh at one point (long story) and got an actual real laugh and threat to my life, which is always nice.  So that was good.

On the down side, the concession stands were predictably light on food items.  It was the last game of the season and they had obviously ordered a bit on the low side.  When I went in the second inning, they were out of all chicken-related items and fast approaching the end of the french fries.  The reason for it was understandable – you don’t want to leave money in the freezer, especially with the team’s status up in the air for next season – but it’s still too bad that fans had to be left with a negative memory (although I DID get my italian sausage sub.  Not sure what I would’ve done if I hadn’t downed one more before the offseason).

Another thing about the concessions, and this doesn’t have anything to do with the team: when you’re in line, spread out.  Please.  The guy behind me tonight was so close I thought he was either gonna try to steal my wallet or wanted to spoon.  When he turned around every so often to check out the action on the field, he would actually bump into me.  That’s how close we were.  I felt like we were slow dancing at a junior high dance, only there was no principal nearby to stop over and slide us apart.

Anything else…Joey almost won a tricycle, but it went to an older kid a couple rows back…Monkey Boy was on hand to provide entertainment, but no other on-field promotions were held; it’d be easy to say that they were mailing it in on the last night with a subpar crowd, but I think the truth is that they never really figured out how to handle that aspect of their game presentation…once again, the Pride may not be back next season – the owner, John Stabile, claims to have lost $500,000 on the team this year and is looking to sell.

Welcome Back, Brian Daubach. We Missed You

When I went to a couple Nashua Pride games over Opening Weekend, I remember making a mental note that the team’s hitting coach was former major league slugger Richie Hebner, who also coached in Boston during my formative years as a fan. 

Maybe a week or two later, I noticed that Pittsburgh was giving away a Hebner bobblehead and thought it might be cool to talk to Hebner and get his thoughts on the honor – you know, since he was practically in my backyard and all. 

Imagine my surprise when the Pride Web site made no mention of Hebner as hitting coach.  In fact, I’m not sure his name was mentioned anywhere www.nashuapride.com; I had to do a little digging to find out that he had accepted a minor league managerial position with the Baltimore Orioles.

So that was kind of uncool.  Hebner had been the big name on Nashua’s coaching staff – former Red Sox outfielder Rick Miller is the manager and longtime Nashua presence John Roper is the pitching coach – and surely would have been an interview subject of this blog at some point.  It was very disappointing.

They say that the Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away, however, and today, He did the former.  Brian Daubach, the former Red Sox first baseman whose most perplexing and endearing qualities were his world-class mustache and maddeningly inconsistent consistency, ventured into town to lay claim to the position. 

Yeah, that’s right folks: Dauber is the Nashua Pride’s new hitting coach.

I have no strong visual evidence to support my moustache claim – there’s an interview question right there: “Did you, in fact, sport a phenomenal moustache earlier in life?” – but Baseball-Reference.com has the skinny on Daubach’s consistency, mostly in the form of his homerun and RBI totals (21, 21, 22, 20 and 73, 76, 71, 78, respectively, from 1999-2002).  It seemed like at least once a month, he’d go through a horrible slump, then rebound and go on a tear.  I could never get over the fact that a player like that could produce such similar numbers, year after year after year after year.

Hopefully Daubach can help the Pride’s offense find its groove: the team currently ranks last in the Can-Am League in team batting average and next-to-last in runs scored.  Whatever happens, though, I’m already looking forward to making my next trip over to Holman Stadium, and that’s the true value of an addition like this.

(Side note: how about a hand for the Pride, which is averaging 1,719 fans per game through 18 games this season?  Rumors of the franchise’s death have sandbagged operations since I worked there in 2003, and this season, the third (?) under local owner John Stabile, was rumored to really really be the last unless fans started coming out in greater numbers.  So far, unless someone’s cooking the books, it appears they are doing just that.  Great job, Pride; great job, Nashua.  Let’s keep this thing afloat for a few more years, shall we?)