PITTSFIELD - Not long after the Pittsfield Suns' 2014 season came to an end Monday night, Eric Brassard shot me a short message via Facebook.
"303 days until opening day," it read.
And so, for the guys who make the Wahconah Park beer garden their second home every summer, the countdown to the 2015 baseball season began.
They call themselves the "Fab Five." Pittsfield residents Brassard, Josh Cutler, Mark McKeever, Peter Neifert and John Boyd are a mainstay of the right-field fan area and beer garden during Suns games, and have been since the Futures League franchise started in Pittsfield. If the Suns are at home, they're there with cheers, beers and cowbells.
It all started when the group - most of them regulars in the Wahconah Park stands since they were children - began a "We want the Funk" chant for one-time Sun and Futures League All-Star Chad Funkhouser in 2012.
The cheers grew from there, and now you can't attend a Suns home game without hearing the group in the beer garden.
Despite Brassard's job keeping him busy many nights, the core group is always well-represented. Cutler thinks he may have missed three or four home games this season, Neifert guessed three, and McKeever said he missed two.
Brassard is the "ringleader" and often the noisemaker with the cowbells - though they'll admit they all use the bells from time to time. McKeever is the heckler.
He's even known to keep a Facebook countdown to opening day in the offseason, so Brassard isn't alone there.
"Then we talk about it and other people make fun of us for it. But this is what we do," McKeever said. "We love it."
It's a family affair, too. Brassard brought his children to the Sunday game, and they ran the bases long after the crowd had filed out of the park. Cutler and McKeever are cousins, and often bring their own family members to games. Cutler mentioned that, a month before his 92-year-old grandfather passed away, the family brought him to the beer garden for a game on Father's Day.
"I spoke about it in my eulogy for him," Cutler said. "I said 'If his last trip out is to the Wahconah Park beer garden, what a way to go out!' "
McKeever's wife, Bridget, tries to come to as many games as she can, but it's tougher to keep their children there for an entire game. Like the "Fab Five," she, too, loves to watch the games and be around the group. She can even vouch for their dedication to the Suns.
"They go on the [league] websites when they're away and check the scores," Bridget said.
Every member of the group has different loyalties when it comes to pro sports. With baseball, for example, Cutler is a Red Sox fan. McKeever likes the Yankees. Brassard may be the biggest Oakland Athletics fan in Pittsfield. Neifert roots for the Phillies. When it comes to Boyd, who is nicknamed "The Wuzzer," pro fandom does not apply.
"Wuzzer does not care," Cutler said.
There is seating along the right-field line in the beer garden, but this group doesn't sit. It's not allowed. There's too much noise to be made.
They'll use the cowbells to make themselves heard, and they have other ways of trying to get in players' heads.
"Last week, a player for Worcester looks a lot like Ron Bass from the movie 'Remember the Titans,' " Cutler, decked out in a black Suns jersey and hat, said. "Every time he came up to the plate, we'd just go, 'Sunshine!' He'd have fun with it. A lot of the guys have fun with it."
They have ingratiated themselves with the Suns so much that Brassard hosts a cookout for the players every year. The christening of McKeever's daughter, Kennedy, was Suns-themed two years ago. The scoreboard from the team's Fourth of July parade float was put up along his fence, and various other Suns signs were posted at the house.
"We love Wahconah Park. We've been coming here since we were kids," McKeever said.
"And the kids that play here," Neifert added. "Win or lose, they're playing with heart every time."
"All they get is fed barbecue by Brassard!" McKeever joked.
As long as the Suns keep taking the field in the summer, the "Fab Five" will be there. The "Iron Horse," a toy horse handed out as part of a give-away this season, will "sip the beer" during games. The cowbells will ring out. Brassard might even dance on a table - it has happened before.
"It didn't happen this year," he said. "The commissioner was around. I didn't want to show off in front of the commissioner."
And you can bet this group will know when Opening Day is coming.
"We'll be the first ones through the gate in June 2015," Cutler said.