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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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