Upper Valley Nighthawks’ Name Game Winner

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    Photographed at the Nighthawks' home field in Hartford, Vt., on May 13, 2016, Jason Nickerson, of Bethel, Vt., won the "Name Your Team" contest and is a former high school baseball player at Whitcomb High. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News photographs — Geoff Hansen

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    Jason Nickerson, of Bethel, Vt., won the "Name Your Team" contest with the name Nighthawks for Noah Crane's team and is a former high school baseball player at Whitcomb High. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 5/16/2016 12:18:04 AM
Modified: 5/16/2016 12:36:54 AM


White River Junction — Jason Nickerson has definite plans for June 11, the Upper Valley Nighthawks’ home opener against the Vermont Mountaineers. He likely would have had the same itinerary had he not, in some admittedly small way, been part of the process.

But given his contribution, it’d be hard to pass up a chance to watch the team identity he created take the field for the first time.

Nickerson, 29, won the Name Your Team contest for the region’s new New England Collegiate Baseball League franchise this past fall, handpicked by general manager Noah Crane out of nearly 200 submissions. Crane said at the time that he wanted a name that was both intimidating and represented what he had in mind for region’s newest athletic venture, and when the name Nighthawks reached his desk, it was almost too good to pass up.

It was one of several nicknames Nickerson submitted early last year, all based on animals.

“I guess the idea was to have something with an aesthetic sound to it,” Nickerson said, sitting in the visiting dugout at Maxfield Sports Complex last week. “You know, nothing wimpy. … One of the other names I remember sending was ‘Whitetails’ based on deer, or something like that. Stags, you could run with it.”

During the nickname unveiling in November, Crane revealed other names that had been submitted by residents of the Upper Valley: Vampires, S’Mores, Fireflies and Triplets, representing the Upper Valley’s three intersecting rivers.

“You can sort of name a team anything, and you can fudge it a little bit,” Nickerson added. “Like, what is a Denver Nugget? You can sort of play around with it. The idea (was) that they play all their games at night. And with an animal … there’s an adjective to go along with it. (Nighthawks) was the one that sort of fit.”

Nighthawks seemed to have an early impression on Crane, unbeknownst to Nickerson. Months went by without hearing anything. Nickerson had almost forgotten about his submissions when he received a phone call.

“Keep an eye on the (newspaper),” Crane told him.

Nickerson caught a glimpse of Crane’s news conference on television that night. By the time his paper arrived the next day, the news had started to sink in.

“I pick up the paper and it’s got all this crazy stuff,” he said. “I just thought I was naming a team. To get the name that I picked, picked, let alone all that other stuff, it’s cool.”

Nickerson received season tickets for life, a game jersey and a hat for coming up with Upper Valley’s nickname. That means, of course, that he’ll have to change his NECBL allegiances. Nickerson has been to several Mountaineers games in Montpelier and has rooted for the Mountaineers ever since their inception. Switching sides at this point, however, is almost a given.

“I’ve been a fan of the NECBL because of the Montpelier team we’ve had,” he said. “They’ve been pretty successful. … Baseball has sort of taken a hit in recent years, popularity-wise, with the younger generations. It’s cool to see it get a second life. … This, to me, has always felt closer than going north.

“It’s cool that baseball is back, in a way. When I first heard about it, I think that was the coolest part.”

Nickerson has played baseball since he can remember, committing to it once he realized he could play. He was a four-year pitcher for Whitcomb High, helping the Hornets win a state championship in 2002. He attended Norwich University in 2004 and tried out for the baseball team as a walk-on, though his team didn’t nearly achieve the same level of success in college.

Baseball has always held a special place in Nickerson’s heart. Since stepping away from the mound, the NECBL and its collegiate athletes have helped him stay connected to the game he loves.

“For someone who played baseball, I think in some ways there’s something attainable about the NECBL,” Nickerson said.

“They’re kids, after all. And the other part that I always thought was cool was that these are kids from all across the country, these kids from these powerhouse baseball places like Omaha and Texas.”

Nickerson plans on taking his three kids, Amara, 9, Izzy, 4, and Nolan, 2, to the Nighthawks’ opening game, which he admitted will be surreal with the name he came up with plastered on jerseys, hats and T-shirts. For Nickerson, the Nighthawks represent a chance to pass down the game he loves to his family, a chance to share in a collective passion for baseball.

“As much as I was always a fan of the Mountaineers, it’s the same drive either way but there’s something about the geographical difference that has always made this feel closer,” he said. “I was instantly more attracted to this direction. I was always happy to see the Mountaineers winning, but I never really felt super part of it.”

“Something never quite felt like home in Montpelier. This already does.”

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

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