Upper Valley Nighthawks to Take Flight

Saturday, November 21, 2015
West Lebanon — Noah Crane’s New England Collegiate Baseball League franchise had a fill-in-the-blank identity for nearly a month after word came down that the Upper Valley would adopt a franchise. Among the challenges a nameless team presented, the Upper Valley’s to-be-announced moniker made it difficult for Crane to spread the word about a 3-year-old dream that slowly is starting to emerge into reality.

The sell just got a whole lot easier after Friday night.

In front of media, fans and fellow general managers of New England Collegiate Baseball League franchises in the Kilton Public Library, Crane unveiled the name of his new NECBL summer baseball franchise: the Upper Valley Nighthawks, which will play at White River Junction’s Maxfield Sports Complex starting next summer.

“We want to unite this community,” Crane said. “Baseball is a great way to do that.”

The team announced the name, the franchise’s primary and secondary logos as well as the color scheme for the franchise during Friday’s news conference — a combination of navy blue, white and neon green that NECBL commissioner Sean McGrath, who attended the press conference, equated to colors worn by the University of Oregon.

“That’s going to be a home run for jersey sales,” McGrath said.

The name was chosen from nearly 200 entries submitted over the past month . Crane, who operated the league’s Laconia Muskrats since their inception in 2009, said he received entries from the region and out-of-state, all ranging from tempting to silly. Other suggestions included Vampires, Barn Owls, S’mores, Fireflies and Triplets — referring to the Upper Valley’s three intersecting rivers. But Nighthawks, submitted by Bethel native Jason Nickerson, stood out to Crane when it first crossed his desk.

“For myself and some other people who were involved in the process, we really felt that this fit the area well,” Crane said. “Our games are played at night. The hawk is a bird of great majesty. There’s also some fearsomeness to it. We didn’t want to be the Upper Valley Puppy Dogs.”

After seeking the advice of friends and family, it became clear that Nighthawks represented what Crane had in mind for a team exclusive to the Upper Valley.

“We got a lot of good ones, and that was the tricky part,” Crane said. “When Nighthawks came through, I sort of said, ‘That really fits, I really like it.’ I had a color scheme in mind for whatever it may be, and this fit really well.”

Nickerson will be granted season tickets for life, a game jersey and a hat for his submission.

Crane said merchandise for the franchise will begin to roll out shortly, as the team jersey design still is in the works. But he hopes to have an online store as well as sporting goods stores in the region that will carry Nighthawks merchandise. A mascot design for home games also is in the works.

The NECBL, which finished its 22nd season this past August, draws its athletes from collegiate baseball programs from all over the country. Over the past few years, the NECBL has built a reputation as one of the premier summer baseball leagues in the nation, boasting more than 100 former players who have gone on to be drafted by Major League Baseball.

The Nighthawks will be the 13th team in the NECBL next summer, creating an odd number of teams that will force the league to expand the number of games played by each team from 42 to 44 . But McGrath noted that having a second team in Vermont benefits the league as a whole, making the Montpelier-based Vermont Mountaineers much less isolated.

“(The Mountaineers) have always had the most expensive bus bill in the league,” he said.

“We don’t stay over in hotels much. They’re playing a game in Danbury (Conn.) and driving back that night, not getting back until 1 o’clock in the morning. … There are going to be three nights where they come down here and they get home before midnight. That’s going to be like a home game for them.”

Adding another franchise also speaks to the health and stability of the NECBL.

“This league has grown from a five team league in 1994 to a 13-team league in all six New England states,” McGrath said. “The number of scouts in attendance grows each and every season. Draft picks continue to grow. I think that truly is a testament to the general managers and the communities that operate in the NECBL.”

Crane hopes to bring a competitive team to Maxfield Sports Complex next summer for the Nighthawks’ inaugural season. He says he has a roster in mind of 25-30 collegiate athletes, but with injuries and other circumstances it’s impossible to predict exactly who will take the field on opening day.

Until then, Crane’s work isn’t over. Jersey and mascot designs will be announced, and upgrades to Maxfield — including lights, grandstands, a concession booth, an overflow parking plan, a left turn lane off of U.S. Route 5 — still need to be completed before the season begins.

But now his team has a name, an identity. And it’s one step closer to reality.

“This feels like relief,” Crane said. “It’s exciting because it’s official.”

The Nighthawks will open their season June 9 and will conclude on July 31. Upper Valley’s first home game will be with Vermont on June 11.

Josh Weinreb can be reached at jweinreb@vnews.com or 603-727-3306.

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