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NECBL Notebook: Plymouth Pilgrims Sail Into the Sunset

  • Plymouth Pilgrims infielder Ismanuel Rodriguez is late to tag Valley Blue Sox's Jake Lumley out during their game in Holyoke, Mass., on June 24, 2015. At the end of October 2018, the Pilgrims ceased operations after its ownership decided to step away. (The Recorder - Matt Burkhartt)



Valley News Staff Writer
Thursday, November 08, 2018

White River Junction — The New England Collegiate Baseball League will have one less team when it begins the 2019 season next summer.

The Plymouth Pilgrims, which joined the NECBL as part of a two-team expansion in 2013, officially ceased operations during a league-wide meeting of general managers and officials over the weekend. The team’s logo, as well as most references to the organization, were removed from the league website as late as last week; its own website appears to have not been updated since this past summer.

The league, which did not announce the closure, will once again continue with a 12-team format next summer, the fourth time in eight seasons the NECBL has reverted to a dozen organizations.

“It’s a decision that did not come easy at all,” Kevin Plant told Wicked Local–Plymouth last week. “I’ve loved being a part of this team, as well as sharing it with the community of Plymouth, but there comes a point where you can only throw so much money into a bucket.”

It also is the second time in two seasons the Pilgrims have been rumored to be in financial strains. The league came close to losing the team in 2016 before Kevin Plant, a former Pilgrim, and his father, Peter, came to the team’s rescue, taking over as the team’s general manager and team president, respectively. The Plants did not respond to requests for comment.

Two years later, those financial strains seem to have remained. The Plants informed other general managers and league officials of their intent to step away from the team over the summer. With no other group stepping forward to take over, the Pilgrims officially became a thing of the past during Sunday’s league meeting in Springfield, Mass.

“In some ways, I’m a little disappointed, because anytime you lose a team it looks bad for our league,” Upper Valley Nighthawks general manager Noah Crane said. “But at the same time, it was a bad market that struggled to draw. Their field was terrible. From a team standpoint, I don’t know if we truly lost anything.”

Plymouth’s home turf, Forges Field, was an unpopular place among Nighthawks players and staff over the years — located in a community park far away from Plymouth’s robust downtown that was always filled with tourists during the summer months. The Pilgrims put together a 139-127 overall record in its six seasons, making it as far as the Southern Division semifinals during the 2014 season.

Divisional realignments will be required before the start of the 2019 season; Plymouth’s departure leaves the Southern Division with five teams and the Northern Division with seven teams. Crane said there was some discussion for the Valley Blue Sox, the two-time NECBL defending champions, would move to the South to even things out.

The Blue Sox have knocked Upper Valley out of the Northern Division playoffs twice in the last two seasons.

“(Valley is) really the only team that could go to the South, no one else could from a cost perspective. They’d be better off, travel-wise,” Crane said. “They’ve been the best team in our division for a number of years. ... Personally, I love the idea of only having to face them once, when we got to the championship.”

Szafarski Gets New Staff: Crane confirmed on Wednesday that Nighthawks head coach Jason Szafarski will return to the Upper Valley for his third season next summer. Szafarski is 51-38 overall in his first two seasons with the club, leading the Nighthawks to an Northern Division best 29-15 record in his first season in 2017. Upper Valley missed the playoffs this past summer.

Szafarski’s assistants — Mat Pause, a Hartford High graduate and Saint Michael’s College hitting coach, and Tom Hudon, pitching coach at Merrimack College –— will not return, however. Mike Coss, two-time Nighthawks pitcher and former Marist College athlete, will replace Hudon as the team’s pitching coach. Crane said he and Szafarski still are finalizing the hitting coach position.

Coss, a Pompton Lakes, N.J., native, spent the 2016-17 seasons with Upper Valley, posting a 3-0 record with a 2.73 ERA in 11 games and three starts in the summer before his senior season at Marist in 2017. He will lead a bullpen that is slated to return Troy University relievers Will Carnley and Cory Gill, as well as Hartford graduate and Woodstock native Jordy Allard, now at Babson College after spending his freshman season at Southern New Hampshire University.

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Maxfield Makeover: Crane added he’s in the process of planning improvements to the Maxfield Sports Complex for next summer.

“We’re working on ways we can expand our fan experience,” Crane said.

That expansion includes improvements to its beer garden, a field amenity added last summer next to the opponents’ dugout, and more seating. The Nighthawks drew 490 fans per game in 20 home games last summer, an improvement of 158 per game from the 332 they drew in 22 home games in 2017. An increase in attendance has forced Crane and the Nighthawks to increase Maxfield’s capacity.

“We definitely need more seats,” he said. “We had the fifth highest increase of per-game attendance (of summer college leagues) in the country — 34 percent. We’re really encouraged by that ... but there are problems that come with it. We had to add more seating.”

Crane also said construction on the press box and concession stand facility “should be imminent,” with a construction crew ready to go and a plan in place for a quick build. Crane said he expects the new building to be operational for Hartford High’s baseball season this spring.

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