A Summer Catch for Lebanon?

Team Owner Makes Pitch For NECBL Team in City

Lebanon — Driving from his Lebanon domicile to his baseball general manager’s job in Laconia can be a drag. It’d be so much easier for Noah Crane if he could bring the baseball team closer to home.

He might.

Crane, a former Upper Valley high school and American Legion pitcher and ex-Mascoma High baseball coach, will go before the Lebanon School Board tonight to pitch the notion of bringing a summer college baseball franchise to the city. The most likely alternative would be joining the 20-year-old New England Collegiate Baseball League, in which Crane and his father, Jonathan, have owned and operated the Laconia (N.H.) Muskrats for four years.

In a phone interview on Tuesday morning, Crane said he’s had preliminary meetings with several city and school district officials about using Lebanon High School as the team’s home. A number of improvements would be required, not the least of which are lights, but they are all things the Cranes would pay to construct with the aid of donations and sponsorships.

“I’ve always had this in mind, given that I live in Lebanon, and driving over to Laconia every day is a pain in the neck,” Crane confessed. “Having a team in my back yard has always been something on our radar. After four years in Laconia, I feel I have a good handle on how to run a team and the difference between the Laconia market and the Lebanon market. I feel we’d have significantly more support from the Upper Valley market than we get in Laconia.”

The NECBL item is on an agenda that’s expected to include a vote on Lebanon High’s new athletic director. The meeting begins at 6:30 p.m. at SAU 88’s Seminary Hill School office.

Founded in 1993, the wooden-bat NECBL supported 13 teams this summer in a season that began June 7 and should close tonight with the final meeting of a three-game championship series between the Keene (N.H.) Swamp Bats and Newport (R.I.) Gulls. (Game three was rained out Tuesday night.) Each team played 42 contests with rosters culled from the nation’s college baseball programs.

Crane, a 1997 Woodstock High and 2001 UMass-Amherst graduate, has had a positive reception to his concepts thus far. A recent meeting with the SAU 88 finance and facilities committee drew a unanimous recommendation that will be passed on to the school board tonight.

“It’s something that the kids really get something out of,” said Lebanon School Board Chairman Jeff Peavey, a member of the finance committee. “Younger children coming through, they plan on having camps for them. I just think it’s something inexpensive that a family could do in Lebanon. We just thought it was a win-win for people.”

Lebanon High School offers an ideal location given its proximity to Interstate 89 and inside a significantly larger population center than Laconia, Crane said. But it also comes with a number of projects, ones that Crane hopes to start soon.

Peavey said the proposed team would not pay rent to use LHS in exchange for covering the field’s upgrades, which would include lights, bleachers, rest rooms and new fencing, at a minimum. Adjacent Henry Emerton Memorial Field, where Lebanon High plays its football games, has a concession stand but, if inadequate in size, another could be constructed, Peavey noted.

Employing Lebanon High for an NECBL team would be in line with facilities some of the league’s other clubs use. The Swamp Bats play at Keene High’s Alumni Field, while the Montpelier-based Vermont Mountaineers call a city recreation park that has staged Vermont Principals Association championships home.

“The league has a specific set of standards in its ballparks; we have a lot of construction to do to get the field to meet league standards,” Crane pointed out. “And with New England weather, the sooner we start, the better. As soon as we have permission to utilize that field, we will go down and learn what we need to put in and who will do it and when construction will start.”

Ownership of all improvements would go to the school district, Peavey said. SAU 88 has a ban on advertising at its schools, but the chairman indicated it could waive that requirement for Crane for temporary signage.

League approval for a Lebanon team would make the Cranes the only ownership group with a pair of NECBL franchises. The three-year-old, nine-team Futures Collegiate Baseball League, is an alternative possibility.

“I feel it’s a stronger organization that has a different philosophy on summer league baseball,” Crane said. “The NECBL teams are all nonprofits; they have fewer games and focus on community involvement and high-caliber baseball. The Futures plays more games; they’re trying to maximize a profit. The caliber is not as strong; it’s still good, but not as strong as the NECBL.

“I like the NECBL model; that’s who we are. We’re bringing in the best players from across the country and focusing on community.”

A Lebanon NECBL team wouldn’t force Guyer-Carignan Post 22’s burgeoning American Legion baseball program to find a new home, Crane said.

“The Legion plays its games in daytime; all of ours are nights,” he added. “We want to be inclusive and want to work around (conflicts). … It’s easy for us to accommodate other schedules and other uses of the facility. Both the high school and the Legion programs get a benefit of an upgraded facility to play on.”

And the new team’s general manager would have a much easier commute.

Greg Fennell can be reached at gfennell@vnews.com or 603-727-3226.