Root, Root, Root for the (New) Home Team
By Joe Cohen Standard-Times Staff Writer
December 18, 2008
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NEW BEDFORD — If summer league baseball is the stuff dreams are made of, then in this city dreams really do come true.
On Wednesday, the New Bedford Bay Sox of the New England Collegiate Baseball League formally announced they will make Paul Walsh Athletic Field off Hathaway Boulevard their home ballpark.
Starting June 4 at 6:30 p.m., the local season-opener will feature the Bay Sox against the Holyoke Blue Sox. With nearly 150 years of baseball history in the city, according to local officials, New Bedford will have a home team for affordable and accessible college league baseball for the first time.
The Bay Sox have been the Torrington Twisters for the past 12 years.
At a press conference at the End Zone restaurant in the North End, municipal leaders trumpeted their success in getting the Bay Sox to relocate from Connecticut. Team officials praised New Bedford and pledged their support for a city they say is a natural fit with their plans for a successful franchise.
Mayor Scott W. Lang said the Bay Sox will be “great family entertainment,” add to the city’s “quality of life,” “put the city on the map” and serve as an economic stimulus.
Ward 3 City Councilor Kathy M. Dehner, in whose district the team will play, called the team’s move a “grand slam” and credited Mayor Lang with bringing home the win.
Robin Wadsworth, co-owner of the Bay Sox and an executive with Fair Issac Corp., praised the mayor for his “passion” and “candor” about baseball and the city, and said her organization and the city had been talking about getting together since last summer. Ms. Wadsworth said the mayor and Matthew A. Morrissey, executive director of the New Bedford Economic Development Council, “opened our eyes to expose us to the future of New Bedford. … (It is) poised to take the future by storm.”
Ms. Wadsworth said her partner, Rita M. Hubner, an executive with State Street Corp., had vacationed in Wareham for 45 years and “pushed for New Bedford” as the women wrestled with three municipalities trying to woo the team.
“We’re just big kids,” Ms. Wadsworth said in one of the many light, sports-oriented moments during the press conference.
But when it came to making a business decision, Ms. Wadsworth ticked off four reasons for the team owners choosing New Bedford:
* The overall community has a sense of pride and a sense of “who they are.”
* The business community understands the pride and where the community is going. “New Bedford shines above others.”
* Baseball is important in the city. “If it is not in the fabric and makeup, then it is all for naught.”
* The community cares about its youths. “It’s obvious when you talk to people … (they) go right to the kids.”
Speaking of children and the role of baseball, Ms. Wadsworth said collegiate league baseball can make a “smile (that) goes from ear to ear. That’s why I do this.”
She noted her own family history of parents and siblings engaged in sports. Her sister and brother operate the Holyoke Blue Sox franchise.
For children, she said, “Athletics make it easier to stay on the right path.”
The team signed a three-year lease agreement with the School Committee Monday. The committee controls the field across Parker Street from New Bedford High School. Mayor Lang noted that all current use of the field during the baseball season will continue, with scheduling done to accommodate the Bay Sox’s 24 home games. The team also will play 24 away games.
Mayor Lang said the team’s move is an economic win for the city, bringing a budget of more than $100,000 a year, much of which will find its way to local businesses. Mayor Lang has tried for a few years to get a Cape Cod League baseball team for the city, but the league had refused to expand off Cape Cod. The league did play two games this past season at Paul Walsh Field.
Ms. Wadsworth and Ms. Hubner have owned the team for a year. Ms. Wadsworth said she bought it from Kirk Fredriksson, who lives in Litchfield County, Conn., and who has served as the team’s general manager for 12 years. He will continue in that role. Ms. Wadsworth said the team had run into financial difficulty in Torrington, Conn., before she and her partner bought it. She said they were “moderately well financed” and believed they could operate it profitably.
In Torrington, more than $1 million in state and city funds had been used over more than a decade to make improvements for the Twisters’ ball field. A number of city officials expressed disappointment at losing the team.
The New England Collegiate Baseball League, founded in 1993, is known as a “pro-prospect league” affiliated with and funded in part by Major League Baseball. Players can move up from the league after college to play professional baseball. Former Red Sox General Manager Dan Duquette is an owner in the league and was in New Bedford for the press conference.
There are 12 league teams with a presence in all six New England states, including now six in Massachusetts, two in Connecticut and one each in the other states.
Ms. Wadsworth said team owners believe they need attendance of 1,500 average per game to break even financially. Ms. Wadsworth said tickets will be $6, with a lower price for children and senior citizens.
Her brother, Barry Wadsworth, who is chief operations officer for the Holyoke Blue Sox, said when he and another sibling took over in that city, attendance averaged in the low hundreds of people per game. Mr. Wadsworth said that through successful marketing and hard work, they were able to bring the average up to 1,500 per game and as much as 4,000 people on some occasions.
To bring the team to New Bedford, Mayor Lang said the city and School Committee agreed to increase the seats of the baseball field at Paul Walsh field to 3,500, make certain lights are working properly, provide a tarp for rain days along with a new rolling backstop and other relatively minor improvements.
The team will keep 100 percent of the gate receipts and money from concessions, but should attendance exceed 5,000, it will pay $2,000 a game.
According to the lease terms, the team will pay the city about $560 a game to cover actual costs incurred in operating the field.
In addition, Mayor Lang said he will use existing funds received by the city in the form of a grant from the Massachusetts Sports Partnership to help market the Bay Sox. The grant will provide about $20,000 for the next three years.
Contact Joe Cohen at email@example.com
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Root, Root, Root for the (New) Home Team