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NECBL’s COVID rules have Nighthawks scrambling

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 5/17/2021 11:00:15 PM
Modified: 5/17/2021 11:00:12 PM

WHITE RIVER JUNCTION — With about two weeks until the start of the New England Collegiate Baseball League season, the Upper Valley Nighthawks need a skipper.

Bryant Bowen was announced as Nighthawks manager in March, but he has stepped down due to the NECBL’s rule that all players and coaches must get the COVID-19 vaccine to participate.

Hitting coach Tommy Goodale also stepped away, as he accepted an offer to coach elsewhere this summer. Pitching coach Chad Sturgeon remains on the staff.

Bowen alerted Nighthawks general manager Noah Crane of the decision in early May. The NECBL rule about vaccinations was put in place on April 22.

The timing has posed a challenge for Crane in filling the jobs, with most coaches tied up for the summer by now, but he’s not worried.

“It’s uncomfortable, but it’s not the end of the world,” Crane said. “Our second year, we hired (former head coach) Jason Szafarski, I think, maybe the day of the season (starting). It was the best team that we’ve had to date, and then he came back for the next year. So I think things worked out, and I’m a positive person, and I’m not all that concerned.”

Crane said he’s close to hiring a new manager and hitting coach, and he is hoping to finalize that in the next few days.

The vaccination rule has impacted the Nighthawks’ roster as well. The team lost seven players who opted to not get the vaccine or were planning to get it at a later date. But Crane was able to replace all those spots over the last week with players who became available for various reasons.

He thinks the roster turnover was for the best.

“I’ve got a big network of people who we’ve used every year, to where I just (made) a couple of phone calls and we’ve found some really quality replacements,” Crane said. “I actually think our roster got better because of this.”

The on-field team isn’t the only thing the Nighthawks are scrambling to organize heading into the season.

The network of host families, which provides housing for the players, is thinner than normal.

The issue the team has run into with hosts, Crane said, isn’t related to COVID-19 concerns over inviting strangers into homes. He said many families that have previously hosted players said they’re planning to travel over the summer or will have family visiting and staying in their extra bedrooms.

“We didn’t really anticipate (it), but thinking about it now, it makes perfect sense,” Crane said. “People have been cooped up for almost a year and a half. If they’ve got the opportunity to travel or to see friends and family, they’re going to take advantage of that. And so the opportunities for spare bedrooms have really dried up.”

Crane said the Nighthawks are still short on beds and are working to find host families. He said they’d have to resort to a backup plan relatively soon.

The Nighthawks have been talking to Kimball Union Academy about using some dorms to house players, in case they can’t find enough beds through host families.

“I think that would be a really good arrangement and situation for our guys, if that’s the route that we go,” Crane said. “It’s a different dynamic than having a host family, but it’s one that they’re used to. Living in a dorm room is nothing uncommon for them. It’s a wonderful setup, beautiful campus. The folks at KUA have been really accommodating.”

Despite the late coaching search and the scrambling so close to the season, Crane said the Nighthawks organization is ready for its June 4 opener at Keene.

“Every year there’s something that happens towards the end, and you just adjust. That’s part of running a summer ball organization. There are always going to be balls in the air and fires to put out, so this is nothing new,” Crane said. “We’re ready to go. We’re excited, as I said before, (for) the talent on this roster. I do think, on paper, it’s the best we’ve ever had. We’re just happy to see fans again be outside and provide most Nighthawk baseball for them.”

Bowen, a Southern Miss graduate who caught for Upper Valley three summers ago, could not be reached for comment.

Seth Tow can be contacted at stow@vnews.com.


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