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Wait ’Til Next Year: No Lebanon Team For NECBL in ’14

Lebanon — Postponed.

Lebanon resident Noah Crane’s plan to bring a New England Collegiate Baseball League franchise to the city has been stalled for a year. Having made progress — but still facing much work to guarantee a team for next summer — Crane has opted instead to target 2015 for the as-yet-to-be-confirmed squad.

“We’re not quite ready to pull this off yet,” Crane said in a phone interview on Monday. “In terms of getting the cost number to where we need it to be, we’re not there. We have construction in the winter to deal with, a team to build, far too much to do to go as smoothly and professionally as we want.”

Crane’s Upper Valley baseball ties include playing at Woodstock High and Hartford American Legion Post 26 and coaching at Mascoma High. He and his co-owner father, Jonathan, remain committed to putting the unnamed team at Lebanon High School. The decision to push back its arrival, however, means the owners would be open to other possibilities should Lebanon not work out.

The NECBL is modeled after the Cape Cod League, with rosters stocked with undergraduate college talent playing a mid-June-to-mid-August schedule. Last year’s 12-team alignment included teams in Montpelier and Keene.

The Cranes have owned and operated the NECBL’s Laconia Muskrats since 2009. They made their decision to delay Lebanon’s entry last week.

NECBL teams use existing facilities — such as high school fields — for their seasons. Crane received an OK from the Lebanon School Board in August and set Nov. 1 as a deadline to commit to 2014. The league later extended that deadline to Sunday to give Crane more time to put everything in order.

“I’ve let all the people know, (superintendent) Gail Paludi, (business manager) Jim Fenn and the people at the SAU,” Crane said. “I’ve talked to the construction crew, the designer, the league. … We never said 100 percent that we’d be a go for ’14. That was the plan, but we all knew there were a lot of obstacles, big obstacles, and a short time to begin with.”

The would-be franchise has faced both cost and space challenges from the start.

All field possibilities considered to date have concerns. Lebanon’s has been space, with no room for seats down the first-base line and little behind home plate. A Hartford architect, David Laurin, is busy crafting a design that would place most seats down third base, with a seating capacity of between 1,200 and 1,500.

Crane did get approval to put a permanent fence in right field, where temporary fencing has served Lebanon High and Lebanon American Legion Post 22 in the past. While field dimensions aren’t finalized, Crane said Laurin’s plan includes Green Monster-style fences in left and right.

“We came to an agreement with the coaches and the athletic department (on the field),” Crane added. “Everything’s a go on that end.”

The cost, however, isn’t where he’d like it yet.

“We want to spend as little as possible to get what we want,” Crane admitted. “We went in knowing we weren’t going to be putting in a couple of thousand dollars. (We want the cost) somewhere in the $500,000-$700,000 range, and right now we’re over that. We want to find ways to dial that back.”

He’s optimistic that delaying until 2015 will do that. The extra year gives Crane more time to work with potential sponsors and donors whose commitments would help make Lebanon summer league ball a reality.

“The idea is to have the bulk of (costs) covered by sponsors and donations,” he said. “This gives us more time to fulfill that. In a lot of ways, this is good.”

The delay may also bring other field sites back into the picture. Crane had previously discussed with Hartford authorities the use of the Maxfield property, upon which various playing fields are currently under construction. Maxfield won’t be available for use until 2015 at the earliest.

“We have our sights set on Lebanon High School,” Crane said. “We’ve expended a lot of time and energy, and we do love that location. (But) it would be foolish of us to discount other fields and opportunities that want us there.

“If they have better opportunities for us, a cheaper way to get this done, we would weigh those things. (But) we’re moving forward to play at Lebanon High School in ’15.”

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