By Jon Couture
New Bedford Standard-Times
On May 31, 1997, the Torrington Twisters played their first-ever game before a crowd of 3,320 at Fussenich Park, a former minor-league park on a site that has today hosted baseball for a century.
Twelve years (and a roughly three-hour drive to the east) later, the franchise has a second chance at a first impression. While plenty of factors will determine whether the New England Collegiate Baseball League’s New Bedford Bay Sox are a success, the 22 sponsor signs already packing the fence at New Bedford High’s Paul Walsh Field aren’t a bad start.
“The incredible embracing that we have felt from the community at large,” Bay Sox president Rita Hubner said on Sunday, “I think that’s just indicative that people are ready.”
While Paul Walsh has hosted summer collegiate baseball the last three years via visits from the Cape Cod Baseball League’s Wareham Gatemen, Thursday’s 6:30 p.m. Bay Sox opener against the Holyoke Blue Sox will be the first game including a New Bedford-based team in almost seven decades.
Excitement is understandably high. Hubner says her season-ticket sales (which include some corporate sponsorships) are more than double the team’s sales last season in Torrington, and six to seven of the team’s 22 home dates already have roughly 3,500 tickets accounted for.
“I’ve gotten a tremendous amount of interest,” said Hubner, a vice president at State Street Corp. whose childhood vacations in Wareham played a role in the team relocating here. “We’ve been selling opening day tickets on the Web a while. We’ve been selling season passes for quite a while, and that whole structure has been working quite well.”
And those who attend a game — Hubner noted she hopes to always hold back a small block of tickets, making “sell-out” a bit of a misnomer — won’t simply get baseball. In line with the minor-league image the NECBL tries to cultivate, the Bay Sox will have a giveaway almost every night.
“We did that in Torrington. It was wildly successful,” Wadsworth said. “You go to a ballgame and you see people throwing T-shirts into the crowd? That’s going to happen. Some games, it’ll be the first 500 people through the gate, they’re going to get something.”
The team’s Web site — nbbaysox.com — already lists some 20 special nights, ranging from straight corporate sponsorships to a literacy night on June 9 where free tickets are tied to students reading a certain number of books.
“I keep hearing in the background, all the folks are saying, ‘Gee, my son and daughter, they’re reading. They’re reading. They want to go to the game,'” Hubner said. “All of those are the things, the community-based support that we can lend and have them have a good time.”
The Bay Sox are also offering support via work at Paul Walsh Field. Though Wadsworth calls the facility “one of the nicest high school facilities that I’ve ever come across,” upgrades have been made in preparation for Thursday and beyond. The infield and warning track have both been reworked for cosmetic and quality-of-play reasons, and Hubner said they’re in the process of turning the area beneath the press box into a concession stand.
Temporary seating will be available down the foul lines, with a corporate pavilion likely taking up space on the third-base side. Of the more permanent variety, team sponsors Fairhaven Lumber and New England Fencewrights have donated a pair of wooden structures — already painted Whaler red — that the Bay Sox, in turn, have donated to the city for permanent use.
The team will use them for both concessions and merchandise sales, as well as on-site office space.
“We’re really excited that the ballpark is starting to take shape as a minor-league park,” Hubner said, praising the help of New Directions SouthCoast in the process. “Everyone was down there and they were just incredibly excited, jazzed, helpful. We got a tremendous amount of work done.”
Merchandise has been limited to hats and tickets to this point, but Hubner said a full complement of souvenirs — from T-shirts and sweatshirts to foam fingers and megaphones — will be available starting Tuesday at the team’s “First Pitch Night” party at Cafe Funchal. She’s also been working on an online store, and debating the idea of selling gear out of the team’s Purchase Street office, which will be staffed by interns this summer.
Of course, the economy will play a part in how willing people are to spend for summer baseball. The Bay Sox hope the public gives them a chance to show there’s a worthy place to spend their entertainment dollars right in their backyard.
“We’re going to have to show them on Opening Day just how much fun the Bay Sox are going to be,” Hubner said. “We’re all about having families, children, some corporate people, people who are passionate about baseball … we’re all about them having fun at a game. That’s what we’re there for, because that’s what we want to have.
“All the hours that we put in, we want to make it a really fun thing. I think we’re going to be able to do that.”
With one season in Torrington to draw on, the Bay Sox owners say they’ve the most critical piece of their jobs is the community one. For all the connections they’ve made since the mid-December day the Bay Sox were officially born, both remain pleasantly surprised at how much more they’ve gotten back.
“It’s all about relationships. It’s all about having people want to do things for you because they want you to be successful, whatever it is your cause is,” Hubner said. “I really genuinely believe that all of these people that have come out full force to support us, they really want us to be successful.”
Contact Jon Couture at email@example.com.
June 01, 2009
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