Lively Tales About Dead Teams

Archive for the ‘Can-Am League 2005’ Category

1998-2008 Atlantic City Surf

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Atlantic City Surf Atlantic League (1998-2006)
Can-Am League (2007-2008)

Born: 1998 – Atlantic League founding franchise
Folded: March 30, 2009

Stadium: The Sandcastle

Major League Affiliation: Independent

Owners:

Atlantic League Champions: 1998
Can-Am League Championships: None

 

The Atlantic City Surf were one of the six original franchises in the Atlantic League of Professional Baseball. The Atlantic League was (and remains) the most ambitious league to arise out of the independent baseball boom of the 1990’s. While most independent leagues set up shop in antiquated ballparks that no longer met the facility standards of affiliated Minor League Baseball, most Atlantic League franchises played in sparkling new taxpayer-financed stadiums.

The Surf played at the Sandcastle, a 5,900-seat ballpark built on the grounds of Atlantic City’s municipal airport, Bader Field. The stadium was built with $11.5 million in Casino Reinvestment Development Authority funds and $3 million in taxpayer bonds. During the Atlantic League’s first summer in 1998,

The Surf won the first Atlantic League championship in September 1998, beating the Bridgeport Bluefish in a best-of-five series. The season’s breakout star and fan favorite was Juan “The Large Human” Thomas. The 26-year old former Chicago White Sox prospect stood 6′ 4″ and weighed 250 pounds (some said closer to 300) and specialized in tape measure home runs. Thomas crushed 33 dingers in 1998 with 103 RBIs in 1998.

A succession of ex-Major Leaguer stars came through Atlantic City over the years to play for the Surf. Ruben Sierra played a full season in 1999. A number of players from the Philadelphia Phillies 1993 World Series team finished out their careers in Atlantic City, included Kim Batiste (1999), Pete Incaviglia (2002) and Mitch “Wild Thing” Williams (2001-2002). Williams also managed the Surf in 2002 and 2003.

Atlantic City SurfSurf owner Frank Boulton was the driving force behind the creation of the Atlantic League. A bond trader from Long Island, Boulton also owned the league’s wildly lucrative Long Island Ducks franchise. The Ducks, who opened for business in 2000, generated profits of several million dollars a year. Atlantic City never came close to matching the Ducks’ financial success and reportedly lost money in every year of operation. The resort’s demographics were a challenge. The city lacked a broad corporate base to fund sponsorships and season ticket sales. Much of the population worked in the casino service industry and worked at night when the Surf played. The casinos themselves spent relatively little on sponsorship support of the team. Attendance peaked at 2,718 fans per game in 1999. By 2006, the Surf’s attendance dipped below 2,000 a night.

Prior to the 2006 season, Boulton leased the Surf to Ventura Sports Group, led by veteran minor league executive Mark Schuster. Schuster sold a three-year naming rights agreement for the ballpark to Bernie Robbins Fine Jewelry for $100,000 per year. The Sandcastle became Bernie Robbins Stadium. The team played its final season in the Atlantic League in 2006. In November 2006, Schuster’s group formally purchased the Surf from Boulton. Schuster then moved the Surf into the shorter-season Can-Am League in a move to improve the team’s economic viability.

The Surf played their final season in 2008. The condition of the ballpark deteriorated rapidly in the late 2000’s. Team and city officials argued over who was responsible for the damage. Schuster’s group attempted to sell the Surf during the winter of 2008-09. After the deal fell through, the club folded in March 2009.

 

Atlantic City Surf Memorabilia

 

Surf Video

1999 Atlantic City Surf season highlights compliation.

 

In Memoriam

Surf President and General Manager Ken Shepard (Surf ’98 – ’00) died of kidney cancer on September 5, 2014. Shepard was 49.

 

Links

Atlantic League Media Guides 

Atlantic League Programs

Can-Am League Media Guides

Can-Am League Programs

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Written by Drew Crossley

December 31st, 2017 at 9:15 pm

2006-2010 Sussex Skyhawks

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Sussex SkyhawksCan-Am League (2006-2010)

Born: January 2006 – Can-Am League expansion franchise
Folded: January 10, 2011

Stadium: Skylands Park

Team Colors:

Owner: Floyd Hall

Can-Am League Champions: 2008

 

The Sussex Skyhawks were an independent professional baseball team based out of Augusta, New Jersey.  Founded in early 2006, the Skyhawks followed on the heels of the New Jersey Cardinals (1994-2005), a short season Class A farm club of the St. Louis Cardinals that left town following the 2005 season.

The Skyhawks were owned and managed by Floyd Hall, the former CEO of Kmart (1995-2001) and his son Larry Hall.  The Halls were experienced minor league operators who built an ice rink and a 4,000-seat baseball stadium in Montclair, New Jersey and owned the New Jersey Jackals of the Can-Am League.  The Jackals (1998-present) are a rock of stability in the Can-Am League, but the Halls wouldn’t have quite the same good fortune in Augusta.

Sussex SkyhawksThe Skyhawks were the worst team in the Can-Am League during their first two seasons in 2006 and 2007 under field manager Brian Drahman.  Things turned around in 2008 after the Skyhawks replaced Drahman with Hal Lanier, the former manager of the Houston Astros who was the National League’s Manager-of-the-Year in 1986.  The Skyhawks made the playoffs with a 52-42 record and defeated the Worcester Tornadoes in the first round.  In the championship series, Sussex swept the perennial league power Quebec Capitales 3 games to zero to capture the 2008 Can-Am League title.  Despite the improvements on the field, Skyhawks attendance was only 1,713 per game which was second worst in the eight-team loop.

In 2009 the Skyhawks returned to their losing ways, finishing 38-56 under Lanier.  Former Major League catcher Ed Ott replaced Lanier as field manager in 2010.  The Skyhawks finished dead last at 35-56.  After five seasons of play the Skyhawks had three last places finishes and one league championship.  Attendance dropped year-over-year for all five seasons of the team’s existence, bottoming out at 1,670 per game in 2010.

The Halls threw in the towel and folded the team in January 2011.  Skylands Park in Augusta sat empty for three summers.  The Can-Am League returned to Skylands Park with the formation of the Sussex County Miners in 2015.

 

Links

Can-Am League Media Guides

Can-Am League Programs

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Written by AC

February 2nd, 2014 at 10:55 pm

2010-2011 Pittsfield Colonials

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Can-Am League (2010-2011)

Born: 2010 – The American Defenders of New Hampshire relocate to Pittsfield, MA.
Folded: October 4, 2011.

Stadium: Wahconah Park (3,500)

Team Colors:

Owner: Buddy Lewis

Can-Am League Championships: None

 

The Pittsfield Colonials were an independent pro baseball franchise that toiled for two summers at historic Wahconah Park.  The Colonials failed to find an audience in Western Massachusetts’ Berkshires region, but they did make a fashion statement with their collared, old-timey uniforms.

Colonials owner Buddy Lewis was an executive at Nocona Athletic Goods, a domestic manufacturer of baseball gloves.  In 2009, Lewis was part of the investor group responsible for the American Defenders of New Hampshire and the Pittsfield American Defenders, a disastrous duo of military-themed ball clubs.  The Pittsfield American Defenders were an amateur team, competing in the New England Collegiate Baseball League.  Their season was a washout thanks to poor weather and general lack of interest.

Up in New Hampshire, where Lewis’ group operated a professional team in the independent Can-Am League, things got real weird, real quick.  The Nashua Pride (1998-2008) played independent ball at Holman Stadium for over a decade, but in 2008 Pride owner John Stabile, exhausted by years of heavy financial losses, sold the club to Buddy Lewis’ group.  Lewis’ partners included Terry Allvord, a naval veteran and promoter of barnstorming U.S. Military All-Star baseball teams.  Allvord’s group re-branded the Pride as the “American Defenders of New Hampshire”, cloaking the team in desert-style camouflage uniforms.

The Defenders’ patriotic/military theme quickly crossed into morbid tastelessness.  The team’s mascot, a plush figure in fatigues and war paint, was named “Ground Zero” and wore the jersey number 9-11, for instance.  The Defenders were an epic flop, evicted from Holman Stadium before their only season ended for failing to pay their bills.  Among the unpaid invoices at issue were the overtime details for local police and fire personnel who provided game day security at Holman Stadium.  It was the ultimate irony for an organization that built its brand around reverence for military personnel and public safety officers.

Allvord quickly vanished and took the military concept with him.  The Pittsfield-based collegiate team was sold off and packed off to Bristol, Connecticut.  Buddy Lewis still owned the carcass of the New Hampshire ball club, as well as the lease at Pittsfield.  In December 2009, he decided to give the Can-Am League a second try and moved the former American Defenders of New Hampshire 150 miles west to Pittsfield.   The re-branded Pittsfield Colonials would be the city’s first professional baseball team since the departure of the Berkshire Black Bears after the summer of 2003.

Former Boston Red Sox slugger Brian Daubach (above left), who endured the 2009 debacle in Nashua as the Defenders’ camo-clad field manager, relocated with the team to Pittsfield.  Daubach took the Colonials to a third place finish at 48-45 and then onto the Can-Am League championship series, in 2010 where they lost to the Quebec Capitales.

At the box office, however, the Colonials were a flop, finishing last in the league with 29,485 fans for 42 home dates.  By comparison, the six other Can-Am League clubs drew between 70,000 and 150,000 fans each.

Nevertheless, the Colonials returned for a second season in 2011.  Daubach departed, but the team didn’t miss a beat under new skipper Jamie Keefe, improving to 53-39.  The Colonials made the playoffs again, but lost in the semi-finals.  Attendance ticked up marginally to 37,154 for 44 dates, but was still worst in the league.  At league meetings in October 2011, the Colonials ownership either wouldn’t or couldn’t replenish the team’s $200,000 line of credit and the Can-Am League voted to terminate Pittsfield’s membership.

The Colonials were replaced at Wahconah Park for the amateur Pittsfield Suns of the Futures Collegiate Baseball League in 2012.

Berkshires resident and Rock n’ Roll Hall of Famer James Taylor performed the National Anthem at the Colonials’ first home game in 2010.

 

Links

Can-Am League Media Guides

Can-An League Programs

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Written by AC

December 8th, 2013 at 2:19 am

2005-2012 Worcester Tornadoes

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Worcester TornadoesCan-Am League (2005-2012)

Born: 2004 – Can-Am League expansion franchise
Folded: August 31, 2012

Stadium: Hanover Insurance Park at Fitton Field (3,000)

Major League Affiliation: Independent

Owners:

Can-Am League Champions: 2005

 

The Worcester Tornadoes were a professional baseball club that played in Worcester, Massachusetts for eight seasons from 2005 to 2012.  The Tornadoes were part of the independent Can-Am League, whose clubs have no affiliation with Major League Baseball.  The arrival of the Tornadoes in the spring of 2005 marked the return of pro baseball to Worcester after a 71-year absence.

The team’s original ownership group, headed by Newton, Massachusetts developer Ted Tye, built a modest 3,000-seat baseball stadium on the campus of Holy Cross University over the span of just 10 weeks in the spring of 2005.  Just prior to opening day, Hanover Insurance agreed to pay a reported $100,000 per year for stadium naming right from 2005 to 2007, which was one of the largest corporate sponsorship deals in the Can-Am League.

The Tornadoes’ first season in 2005 was a charmed one.  The face of the ball club was field manager Rich Gedman, a Worcester native who played eleven seasons for the Boston Red Sox.  The Tornadoes got hot at the end of the season and swept the Quebec Capitales 3 games to zero in the Can-Am League Championship Series that September.  124,745 fans came out to watch, giving the Tornadoes an average of 2,599 per game.

Local interest in the Tornadoes peaked at 2,779 per game in 2006 after the club hired veteran independent baseball exec Todd Marlin to run the front office operations.  But Marlin’s efforts to reign in the club’s operational budget rankled Gedman. Ownership sided with the field manager and dismissed Marlin at the end of the season.  Attendance began to drop and an ill-conceived attempt to get into the concert promotion business crunched the team’s finances.  By 2009, attendance dipped to 1,818 per game and the original Tornadoes ownership group ran out of money.  Maryland-based investor and former minor league exec Todd Breighner assumed the team’s debt and took over ownership in the fall of 2009.  Gedman departed in 2010 after six seasons at the helm.

The Worcester Tornadoes’ great success story was the ball club’s discovery of Chris Colabello.   The strapping 6′ 4″ 220-pound 1B/3B was an undrafted rookie free agent out of Worcester’s Assumption College during the Tornadoes’ first season in 2005.  Colabello played all or parts of seven seasons with the Tornadoes from 2005 to 2011.  Overall, Colabello labored in the minors for nine long seasons before making his Major League debut as a 29-year old rookie with the Minnesota Twins in May 2013.

Less inspiring was the Tornadoes’ pursuit of 47-year old steroid casualty Jose Canseco during the team’s final grim season in the summer of 2012.  Owner Todd Breighner agreed to pay the former American League MVP $14,000 per month in a personal services contract later published by The Worcester Telegram & Gazette.  But fans had little interest and Canseco was washed up. He hit .194 with just one home run in 20 games.  Canseco later claimed he was never paid and filed suit against Breighner, issuing personal attacks against the team owner in the Worcester media.

Canseco wasn’t Breighner’s only problem during the summer of 2012.  A trio of local creditors, including the hotel that was to provide Canseco’s accommodations, filed suit for unpaid debts during the 2012 season.  They quickly attached the team’s few assets and the team was locked out of its Main Street office in August 2012.  In the final indignity, the Tornadoes’ uniforms were repossessed during the season’s final week and the team was forced to play in generic loaner uniforms from the league office.  By the end of August, the Can-Am League had seen enough. The league revoked the franchise on August 31, 2012.

Worcester was without baseball in 2013.  Groups from several independent pro leagues and collegiate wooden bat leagues have expressed interest in bringing baseball back to Fitton Field in the summer of 2014.

 

Downloads

Jose Canseco personal services contract with Streamlined Solutions, Inc. 

 

Links

Can-Am League Media Guides

Can-Am League Programs

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Written by AC

June 19th, 2013 at 3:10 am

2004-2007 New Haven County Cutters

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New Haven County CuttersNortheast League (2004)
Can-Am League (2005-2007)

Born: December 2003 – The Berkshire Black Bears relocate to New Haven, CT
Folded: October 30, 2007

Stadium: Yale Field

Major League Affiliation: None

Owners: Jonathan Fleisig, David Boyle, Rick Handelman, Brian Leetch, et al.

Northeast League Championships: None
Can-Am League Championships: None

 

The New Haven County Cutters were an independent baseball team in the Northeast League (2004) and Can-Am League (2005-2007).  The Cutters were a roadworn franchise, with roots dating back to 1996. That year, Wall Street commodity trader Jonathan Fleisig purchased an expansion franchise in the North Atlantic League, a low-level indy circuit.  Fleisig’s Massachusetts Mad Dogs played four seasons (1996-1999) at Fraser Field in Lynn, Massachusetts. But the neglected ballpark was in such crummy shape that portions of the structure were condemned and unusable during Fleisig’s tenancy.

Fleisig pulled out of Lynn after the 1999 season and put his franchise on ice for two summers. He resuscitated the team in Pittsfield, Massachusetts as the Berkshire Black Bears in 2002.  Like Lynn, Pittsfield had a rundown ballpark, Wahconah Park, and a depressed local economy.  The Black Bears scuffled along for two summers in Pittsfield but failed to generate much enthusiasm. But Fleisig did make an impression on Ball Four author Jim Bouton, whose own effort to obtain the lease at Wahconah in 2002 lost out to Fleisig’s proposal.  Bouton retaliated with Foul Ball, a vengeful and entertaining memoir titled about his rivalry with Fleisig and his bureaucratic brawls with Pittsfield officials and journalists. The Black Bears left Pittsfield in December 2003 and signed a new lease deal at Yale Field in New Haven.

In New Haven, the team adopted the Cutters identity, along with a pastel palette of powder blue and yellow.  The team introduced long-time New York Rangers captain Brian Leetch as one of several minority partners in the club to lend some celebrity appeal.  Management made some modest upgrades to ancient Yale Field, including the installation of no frills, air-conditioned luxury suites adjacent to the press box.

Fleisig’s previous stops in Lynn and Pittsfield were marred by dilapidated ballparks.  In Yale Field he had another old and outmoded ballpark (1927) and he faced a new problem as well.  The Cutters were coming into Yale Field in the wake of the departing New Haven Ravens (1994-2003), a double-A farm club of the Toronto Blue Jays.  The Ravens were the worst box office draw in the Eastern League from 2001 to 2003. Their final lame duck summer of 2003 especially poor, as it was announced prior to the season that the club was moving to Manchester, New Hampshire in 2004.

There are places in America where independent baseball thrives – Long Island, St. Paul, Somerset County in New Jersey to name a few – but the common thread is communities that have been starved for baseball for decades.  In cities and towns where independent clubs come right in on the heels of departing affiliated teams, the track record is one of almost 100% failure.  The indy ball concept tends to suffer by comparison when local fans have grown accustomed to watching “the stars of the future” for a Major League organization.  New Haven was no different.

New Haven County Cutters

Photo courtesy of James Siscel, www.baseballroadtrip.net

Circumstance dealt the Cutters a blow right before their New Haven debut in 2004.  The club would open 2004 with a three-game road trip against the Allentown Ambassadors beginning on May 31.  The home opener would follow on Thursday, June 3rd against Brockton at Yale Field.  But three weeks prior to the season, Ambassadors owner Peter Karoly abruptly folded his team. The remaining Northeast League owners scrambled to replace Allentown on the schedule with a collectively-financed travel team called The Aces. All road dates at Allentown now became additional home dates against the Aces.

For strong draws like Brockton and Quebec, the additional home dates were a boon to the bottom line. But for New Haven it was a disaster.  A winter’s worth of promotion and festivities targeted the June 3rd home opener. Suddenly the Cutters had to debut on a Monday night during the school year.  The Aces home stand drew only a few hundred fans and deflated the Cutters launch strategy.

For the 2004 season, the Cutters drew a meager 56,982 for 52 home dates, a drop of nearly 85,000 fans from the Ravens 140,922 for 71 dates in 2003.  Field Manager Jarvis Brown was let go after the club failed to make the Northeast League playoffs in 2004.

After the 2004 season, the Northeast League re-organized itself as the Can-Am League (short for Canadian-American Association of Professional Baseball). The re-brand was a legal maneuver in ongoing litigation with Peter Karoly, the former owner of the Allentown Ambassadors.  The Cutters replaced Jarvis Brown with new Manager Mike Church and the team’s performance picked up.  The Cutters made the Can-Am League playoffs in both 2005 and 2006. The club’s best season was in 2006 when the club finished 58-38 overall and lost to Brockton in the opening round of the playoffs.

New Haven County CuttersAttendance ticked up slightly to 67,607 in 2005 and 62,356 in 2006. But the Cutters still languished near the bottom of the league at barely 1,000 fans per game. During the club’s fourth and final season in 2007, announced attendance improved to 1,653 per game (82,651). The figure ranked 8th among the Can-Am League’s 9th clubs, ahead of only the Nashua Pride.  Ownership folded the club on October 30th, 2007.

2007 was a dark time for New Haven professional sports.  The city imploded the New Haven Coliseum – home to minor league hockey for the better part of four decades –  in January.  The October demise of the Cutters mean that New Haven would be without a professional sports team for the first time in 109 years in 2008.

 

New Haven County Cutters Memorabilia

 

Downloads

7-16-2005 New Haven County Cutters vs. New Jersey Jackals Game Notes

 

Links

New Haven County Cutters photos at BaseballRoadTrip.net

Northeast League Media Guides

Northeast League Programs

Can-Am League Media Guides

Can-Am League Programs

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