When the Pittsfield Suns take the field in 2021, the Futures League team will have a new rival. It is, however, a rival that is familiar to Berkshire County baseball fans.
The Vermont Lake Monsters, a long-time New York-Penn League team but one that was not included in the Minor League Baseball shuffle, will become the newest team in the now seven-team Futures League.
"It's such a great brand up there. It's such a great team and such a great facility," Futures League commissioner Joe Paolucci said in a mid-afternoon interview with The Eagle on Thursday. "We're excited to have them. Geographically, it's perfect for us.
"We're excited to have them as part of the Futures League."
The team will be owned by a group led by Brockton Rox owner Chris English, who will continue to own and run the Futures League team in Massachusetts.
According to a release from the Lock Monsters, who are based in Burlington, Vt., Vermont Expos, Inc., has sold the team to investment group Nos Amours Baseball Club. The deal is in principle, but is contingent on a few items including a new lease agreement at historic Centennial Field. Centennial will trump Wahconah Park as the oldest baseball park in the Futures League. Wahconah was built in 1919, while Centennial was first used in 1906, and the current grandstand was constructed in 1922. The move to the Futures League ends 27 years of baseball in the New York-Penn League.
"The landscape has changed," Kyle Bostwick, the executive vice president of the professional Lake Monsters said in a statement announcing the proposed sale, "and this transition will allow the Lake Monsters to create amazing summertime memories for years to come.”
The Lake Monsters replace the North Shore Navigators in the Futures League lineup, and join the Suns, the Rox, the Westfield Starfires, New Britain Bees, Worcester Bravehearts and Nashua Silver Knights.
Teams in Pittsfield and Burlington have had an extensive history.
The Pittsfield Cubs spent four seasons in the Class AA Eastern League, while Vermont had Cincinnati Reds and Seattle Mariners teams in the same time period. Pittsfield and Vermont both left the Eastern League after the 1988 season.
But while the Mets moved from Little Falls, N.Y., to Pittsfield for the 1989 season, the New York-Penn League did not return to Vermont until 1994, as the Montreal Expos moved their New York-Penn League affiliate from Jamestown, N.Y.
The Expos played the Mets in the 1994 opener, a game won by Pittsfield 6-5. Two years later, the Expos beat the Mets 2 games to none in the first round of the New York-Penn League playoffs.
When the Expos moved from Montreal to Washington, the team changed its nickname to Lake Monsters from Expos.
The Lake Monsters become the third former NY-Penn League team to join a collegiate wood bat league. Teams in Batavia and Auburn have joined the New York-based Perfect Game Collegiate Baseball League.
Rick Murphy's Tri-City ValleyCats chose to go to the pro route, joining the independent Frontier League.
Paolucci said that the sale and move to the Futures League had been in the works for a few months, but he said the transaction came together pretty quickly.
"It's been on our radar for a few months. Ultimately, Chris was able to pull it through," he said. "I played there when I was in college 100 years ago, and I remember how great it was to play there. I know the ballpark has improved drastically since then.
"I know it's going to be a great place for our fans to watch games, and a great place for our players to showcase their skills."
Opening day is, as of now, still scheduled for May 26. The league had approved a 68-game regular-season schedule at its Winter Meeting back in January. Paolucci said while that is still the goal, the number of games could be adjusted downward if an eighth team is not in place for the 2021 season.
Paolucci said that he is optimistic that a schedule could be released by mid-March.
“We are very fortunate that Ray Pecor Jr., Kyle Bostwick and their amazing staff have given us the opportunity to carry on the great tradition of affordable, fun entertainment that the Lake Monsters have provided for years,” English said, in a release from the Futures League. “We also want to thank our new partners at the University of Vermont. We pledge to continue the stewardship of historic Centennial Field with the same care Mr. Pecor did. Our family has roots in Montreal and Vermont so this feels like coming home again. The Futures League, which features great minor league stadiums and some of the country’s top college prospects, is a perfect fit for the Lake Monsters.
"I can’t wait for opening day!”