PITTSFIELD - When the Pittsfield Suns take the field in June, much will be the same. There will, however, be two major differences.
The Futures League will, for the first time in its four-year existence, have divisions. The Suns will move into a newly constituted Western Division in a 10-team league.
"Ten teams certainly helps from a scheduling standpoint," Suns general manager Kevin McGuire said. "We'll have a winner come out of each division and aesthetically, it makes it look much more pleasing to have divisions."
The Worcester Bravehearts are the 10th team in the Futures League, and will join Pittsfield, Torrington, Nashua and Wachusett in the five-team Western Division. Seacoast, Old Orchard Beach, Martha's Vineyard, Brockton and North Shore will make up the Eastern Division.
Worcester becomes the fifth former Can-Am League team to join the Futures League. Pittsfield, North Shore, Nashua and Brockton all moved from the independent pro league to the college wood bat league.
The Suns will open their season on Wednesday, June 4 at Wachusett. The home opener is scheduled against Torrington on Friday, June 6, at 7 p.m.
"We looked at the travel time from each team to each team. You look at a Worcester, who is about as centrally located as you can be with respect to the other teams," said McGuire during an interview at the Suns winter offices at 100 North St. "It was tough to decide who should be in the East and the West with those teams in the middle of the state.
"It certainly helps for us and Torrington especially. On the other side, it helps a lot for Old Orchard Beach and Seacoast."
The Suns will play six Friday night game this year, including the home opener, July 4 and the regular-season finale on Aug. 8. All three of those dates will have post-game fireworks displays. The Suns have two, 3-day home stands, June 10-12 and Aug. 6-8. They will play two school-day games, June 10 and 11, with 10:30 a.m. starts.
One other notable change in the schedule is that teams will have Mondays off. The Suns will play a Monday road game at Old Orchard Beach because McGuire said the Suns will be off for June's Third Thursday festival in downtown Pittsfield.
The playoff system for second-year manager Tom Conley and his team will be basically the same as last year, with the top two teams earning first-round byes. This year, those teams will be division champions. The second and third-place teams will play a one-game, winner-take-all playoff contest and the winner will play the division champion in a best-of-3 series. The teams that come out of the division playoffs will then a best-of-3 series for the league title.
The playoffs will begin on Sunday, Aug. 10.
The Futures League will play a 56-game schedule this year, adding two games because of the 10th team. The league will have an unbalanced schedule with the Suns playing Torrington 14 times and every other team in the league six times. Seacoast and Old Orchard Beach will also play each other 14 times.
"Because we're very close [to Torrington] but very far from everyone else, those two parings will play a total of 14 times," said McGuire, who helps commissioner Chris Hall set the schedule. "It is an unbalanced schedule, and we did that to try to save on travel, to try to mitigate the need for overnight stays and to try and save some teams on gas."
Conley is set to return as manager, and he will be bringing another former UMass teammate with him. Cameron McMullen, who is director of operations for the baseball team at the University of Nevada-Reno, will be a coach. McMullen earned his bachelors degree from UMass in 2010. He played baseball for the North Adams SteepleCats and was a volunteer assistant in North Adams in 2011.
"He was able to help us build relationships with colleges on the West Coast," said McGuire. "Cam has been very helpful in getting us in contact with coaches on the West Coast, which I think will prove to be very helpful."
McMullen's hiring means that Suns closer Adam Whitt will not be able to return to Pittsfield for the summer. NCAA regulations prohibit college coaching staff members from working with their players in the summer. Whitt, Nevada's closer, will seek summer baseball employment elsewhere.