Tuesday October 4, 2011

The Pittsfield Colonials are no more.

Team owner Buddy Lewis said the Can-Am League's owners voted to rescind the team's membership in the league.

"We've been trying to get investors. We were unsuccessful in doing that," Lewis said in a phone interview following the league meetings in Newark, N.J. "We were trying to keep [the team] here."

Lewis said the team's inability to refresh a $200,000 line of credit helped lead to the demise of the franchise.

It marks the second consecutive season that a Can-Am League team will not return for the next season. The Sussex Skyhawks did not return to the league after the 2010 season.

Can-Am League commissioner Miles Wolff could not be reached for comment Monday.

And like the Skyhawks players, the 17 members of the Colonials who had their contract options picked up will be available in a dispersal draft. No date for that draft has been set.

"That's the sad part," Colonials manager Jamie Keefe said in a phone interview Monday night. "It kills you. All 23-24 of us, these guys played their hearts out for me, the City of Pittsfield and most importantly, for themselves.

"It was a great group of guys. It's kind of like breaking up a family."

According to Lewis, the "family" almost didn't break up.

The former Colonials owner said that league officials had been speaking with a group based in Quebec about purchasing the franchise. There had been talk during the summer that Trois Rivieres, Que., a site that played host to a regular-season league series, was going to be added to the Can-Am League.

Lewis said the owners were told at the meeting that the potential sale had fallen through.

"We thought up to the last minute that we would have been able to sell the team and recoup something out of it," Lewis said. "We all thought they were ready to go. A deal is not a deal until the check clears."

The Colonials brought up the rear in Can-Am League attendance for the second consecutive season, but their season average of 844 fans in 44 dates was an improvement over 2010's average of 717 in 42 dates. The Colonials were only 153 fans per game behind Newark, as the Bears averaged 997 in 52 openings.

"I'm very sorry to see that [baseball is not] going to continue in Pittsfield," Colonials season ticket holder Joseph Ryan of Pittsfield said. "I thnk we had excellent baseball that was not supported."

Ryan has held season tickets for professional and collegiate league baseball every year since the Pittsfield Cubs of the Eastern League arrived in the city for the 1985 season. He was not only a season ticket holder, but frequently played "Take Me Out To The Ballgame" on his banjo during the seventh-innng stretch.

"I really enjoyed the level of ball that was played at Wahconah Park," Ryan said.

The struggles of 2011 were not lost on Keefe and the players, as the team and league did what it could to make certain the Colonials would not give up the ghost during the season.

"We did everything within our power to make sure that didn't happen," said Keefe. "These guys had to bite the bullet this time and do their jobs."

While the team struggled businesswise, it did anything but on the field.

The team did not win a league title in its two seasons, but the Colonials did claim the second-half championship in 2010. Pittsfield earned a pair of playoff berths in two years. The Colonials reached the league championship series last year, losing to Quebec. This past summer, the Colonials reached the playoffs once again but lost to New Jersey in a best-of-five series.

Lewis said that now with the team's fate determined, the staff can begin to collect outstanding debts and pay off outstanding debts.

The Colonials owner saw the writing on the wall during the meeting, but that didn't keep the outcome of the meeting concerning the team from hurting.

"It was difficult because it was the end of a dream for me, to keep pro baseball in the Berkshires," said Lewis. "We could not get the support we needed. It's been a tough couple of years financially. We tried our best."

As to the future, there has been word that the New England Collegiate Baseball League and perhaps the New England-based Futures Collegiate Baseball League are interested in placing a team in Pittsfield.

While Ryan is disappointed that the Colonials won't be back, he looks forward to another summer of baseball at the old park on Wahconah Street.

"As long as you have cold beer and wood bats," he said with a chuckle, "I'll be there."




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