Posts Tagged ‘Nashua Pride’

A Lovely Night For A Ballgame

Last night, my wife and I took our ten-month-son, Joey, to his first professional baseball game, a Can-Am League tilt between the Brockton Rox and the hometown Nashua Pride.  We weren’t sure if we’d make it, considering the rain showers that peppered the area during the afternoon, but things cleared up as game time approached and we were able to settle in for a nice (albeit cold) evening at the ballpark.

Watching my son look around Holman Stadium for the first time was both awesome and hilarious to see.  I’ll have pictures tomorrow, hopefully – you could just tell he was thinking, “Alright, what in the hell is this place, and why have they brought me here?”  I had high hopes of his first exposure to the crack of the bat – maybe he would instantly perk up, eyes totally focused on the field, and I would know at that moment that my boy was SUPPOSED to be a ballplayer – but alas, it was not to be.  Joey’s first reaction to the crack of the bat was to continue staring down the teenage girl sitting next to my wife.  A little ladies man, that one.

As shocking as it was for Joey to see Holman Stadium for the first time, it was twice as insane to enter the ballpark and not hear Ken Cail’s booming voice over the PA.  As noted here some time ago, Cail, the team’s longtime PA announcer, left the position during the offseason to pursue an opportunity as a radio announcer for the Lowell Spinners, Single A affiliate of the Boston Red Sox.  Ken was on hand to receive a championship ring during a pregame ceremony to commemmorate the Pride’s 2007 Can-Am League championship, and I ran into him at one point before the game.  He sounded excited to be calling the Spinners games, acknowledging that it was a good opportunity for him, but it’s still sad to go to the ballpark and hear someone else’s voice. 

(That voice, by the way, now belongs to Woody Woodland, who I spoke with once or twice a few years ago and am probably treating unfairly by comparing him to Ken.  It’s not Woody’s fault he has to follow in the footsteps of the greatest PA announcer in minor league history.  And no, I’m not just saying that because I told Ken about this blog and he might read this.  Seriously, I’m not.)

One of the things I tried to keep an eye on through the night (well, through the six innings we stayed, anyway) was the promotional schedule, which was surprisingly light, even when you take into account that it was Opening Night.  The team only ran two on-field promos that I saw, a sponsored bicycle race and a pizza toss.  In all honesty, I didn’t see the pizza toss – I think I was in the team store at the time.  My wife actually texted me to ask if I had the camera because she knew I wanted pictures of stuff like that.  She’s a good woman, that one.  They also did another between-innings thing with the mascot dancing to a song on top of the dugout, which was sort of cliched and unimpressive.  I’ll be interested to watch throughout the season to see if the paucity of promotions was actually planned or if they plan on bumping their efforts up on nights when larger crowds are expected (about 1,500 announced last night, maybe 500 or so actually on hand).

I’ll have some pictures of the ballpark and festivities tomorrow, hopefully.  We’re going again tonight, when the Pride honor former longtime manager Butch Hobson by retiring his number 17 before the game.  Hobson left the team after last year’s championship and is back in the Atlantic League as manager of the Southern Maryland Blue Crabs.

Two Roads Diverged

On a shelf in my parents’ living room, there is a baseball signed by every attendee of the 2004 New Hampshire Baseball Dinner. Some of the names are starting to fade, but most are still clearly visible. Jim Rice. Johnny Pesky. Rick Wise. Butch Hobson. Bill Monbouquette. It’s one of those items that is pretty cool to have, even if the actual monetary value is probably nonexistent.

In addition to some of the big name stars who signed balls for fans that night, there were a couple of relative nobodies, minor leaguers who had played their high school ball in New Hampshire and were now working their butts off for the opportunity to play in the major leagues.

Manchester’s David Williamson (for some reason, all the stats sites refer to him as “Willie” Williamson) was a former seventh round pick by the Cardinals out of UMass-Lowell who was starting to run into some serious and confusing trouble. Like Steve Blass, Mark Wohlers, and others before him, Williamson was a pitcher with immense physical talent who, somewhere along the way, had forgotten how to throw strikes. In 2002, with the Low A New Jersey Cardinals, he appeared in six games, all starts, posting a 2.25 ERA, 10.13 K/9, 7.13 BB/9, and a 1.29 WHIP in 24 innings pitched. His line the following year? 17 games, four starts, 9.90 ERA, 7.20 K/9, 15.30 BB/9, 2.45 WHIP in 20 innings pitched. In 2004, he ended up at the end of the world, in Nashua, pitching for the Pride, hoping to figure out the problem and capitalize on his potential. Didn’t happen. I distinctly remember watching him in one of the three games he pitched – he got two quick strikes on one of the hitters he faced, then hit the backstop on the fly with his next pitch. He ended up appearing in a total of eight games between Nashua and Pennsylania (the league’s traveling team, which really WAS the end of the world for most guys), walking 31 batters in 7 2/3 innings. Just like that, his career was over.

The other minor leaguer at the dinner that night was Litchfield’s Kyle Jackson, a 32nd round selection by the Boston Red Sox in June 2001. Unlike Williamson, Jackson has achieved limited success at the minor league level; for awhile, he was even included on Boston’s 40-man roster. He suffered a setback in 2007, however, going 4-9 with a 5.99 ERA in 42 relief appearances at AA Portland. Now 25 and in his seventh minor league season, Jackson’s career is at a critical stage. Will he finally follow in the footsteps of Charlie Zink and Chris Smith (Portland’s “Governor” and “Mayor”, respectively, as Kevin Gray tells us at the beginning of a story on Jackson in today’s Union Leader), who left the Sea Dogs after a combined nine seasons with the team, moving down the highway to AAA Pawtucket? Or does Jackson’s story end before he walks down the tunnel, through the dugout, and out onto the impossibly green grass of Fenway Park? At this point, only time will tell.

Ken Cail Is Leaving Nashua; This Is The Saddest News Ever

Okay, so maybe it’s not the saddest news ever.  But for anyone who has ever attended a Nashua Pride game at Holman Stadium, the announcement in today’s Nashua Telegraph that Cail, the team’s play-by-play announcer since its inception in 1998, is leaving to broadcast Lowell Spinners games is upsetting.

The lede to Tom King’s story perfectly explains Cail’s importance to Nashua and its Pride:

One day, just prior to a Nashua Pride game a few years ago, then-team owner Chris English was mingling in the stands, and listened to the bellowing voice of Ken Cail over the Holman Stadium public address system.

“Listen to that voice,” English said. “Ken Cail is the Nashua Pride.”

That’s not hyperbole, folks: it’s fact.  Cail was the perfect PA announcer, with a deep, rich voice and the ability to think quickly on his feet.  I’ll never forget a night in 2004.  One of my daily tasks was to prepare the game script for that evening, detailing all the necessary promos and advertisements to be read throughout the evening.  Somehow, things got mixed up, and the copy of the script that Ken got was different from the one that the rest of us had – not the whole thing, but he had the Flying Rubber Chickens promotion scheduled for the seventh inning, we had it for the eighth, or something like that.

The inning break came, Ken announced it, and…nothing.  Nobody went on the field.  He caught it after about three seconds, made a swift acknowledgement of the mixup, and moved right into a different, unplanned promo.  He was always doing stuff like that, taking little mistakes that I might’ve made and smoothing over them until they were barely noticeable.  By the end of the season, I almost didn’t have to give him a script – he just knew what needed to be said, and when.

That story explains the real reason why Ken Cail was so phenomenal as a PA announcer: because he is so phenomenal as a person.  Most people would have been pretty upset about an incident like that because it puts them on the spot publicly.  Not Ken; he was probably the most professional person I’ve ever met, an incredibly decent person who could be forced into a situation like that, see that I was upset about it, and pick me right up with his “We’ll get ’em next time” attitude. 

After I left, Ken worked as the Media Relations Director for the Pride, and according to the Telegraph called road games on the Internet for the team.  His true love, however, is radio – he has a morning radio show in New Hampshire and does play-by-play for the Manchester Monarchs hockey team – which led to his decision to leave the team for the opportunity with the Spinners.  In all honesty, I feel sad because that job is probably beneath him.  As talented a voice as Ken Cail is, he belongs in the big leagues.

The Nashua Pride will have a new public address announcer when the 2008 season begins next month.  They will never have another Ken Cail.