Changing the game

Posted
Tuesday, October 28
PITTSFIELD — Baseball at Wahconah Park will have a new look and feel next summer: Dan Duquette, owner of the Pittsfield Dukes, has joined forces with the founder of a military baseball tour and a sporting goods company to run Pittsfield's New England Collegiate Baseball League franchise.

Boston Baseball All-Stars LLC, which includes Duquette, military tour founder Terry Allvord, and Gerry O'Connor and Buddy Lewis, two executives of the Texas-based Nokona Athletic Goods Co., are the new owners of the team, whose name has been changed from the Pittsfield Dukes to the American Defenders of Pittsfield.

Lewis, Nokona's managing partner, owns a summer home in Richmond and helped bring Red Sox ace Daisuke Matsuzaka to Pittsfield during the 2007 All-Star break.

The American Defender is a new baseball glove made by Nokona, which was founded in Texas in 1926 as a leather goods manufacturer. Nokona is the only baseball glove sold in the United States that is actually made in this country. The company currently operates facilities in Fall River and Worcester. The firm also sells bats — used by Major League Baseball stars such as David Ortiz, Vladimir Guerrero and Miguel Cabrera — and camouflage clothing.

Nokona plans to open a retail store adjacent to the team's offices, which will relocate from the Dukes' offices in the Clocktower Building on South Church Street to the former A.G. Edwards Co. office on South Street in the Berkshire Common.

The U.S. Military All-Stars are a separate entity from the NECBL team. Allvord, 45, a Navy veteran, who served as vice president, general manager and head coach of the NECBL's Newport Gulls in the early 1990s, founded the U.S. Military All-Stars' "Red, White and Blue Tour" in 1990. The U.S. Military All-Stars consists of two baseball teams, one stateside, the other overseas, that are made up of active military personnel who conduct barnstorming tours against all comers during the summer.

"The Harlem Globetrotters of baseball," said Allvord, a native of Santa Monica, Calif. "That's what it is."

Nokona has assisted Allvord with the U.S. Military All-Stars, and was one of the primary sponsors of the professional baseball league in Israel that Duquette helped to create.

"This partnership will bring baseball to another level in Pittsfield," Duquette said yesterday.

"I didn't have the resources to do that by myself and with the Sports Academy," said Duquette, referring to the sports camp he runs in HInsdale.

Duquette, a Dalton native and former Red Sox general manager, has said the Dukes, who moved from Hinsdale to Pittsfield in 2005, had the highest lease agreement in the 13-team NECBL.

Although the Dukes signed a one-year lease agreement with the city of Pittsfield in December 2007 to use Wahconah Park during the summer of 2008, Duquette failed to pay some $8,500 of the team's previous year's expenses until this past spring.

Acrimonious negotiations

This summer's lease agreement has expired, and Duquette said he plans to seek a new three-year agreement with the city's Park Commission that would keep the Defenders in Pittsfield through 2011.

Except for last year, Duquette's previous two negotiations regarding lease agreements with the Park Commission were acrimonious following the fallout regarding the previous two proposals by other groups to play at Wahconah. The majority of the current Park Commission members who presided over Duquette's first two negotiations are no longer on the board.

Park Commission Chairwoman Sheila LaBarbera could not be reached for comment yesterday, but Mayor James M. Ruberto said the new ownership group has already had informal discussions regarding the lease with Park Commission representatives.

"The representatives have already met with them on a couple of occasions," Ruberto said. " There's certainly going to be no surprise as to who they are, and what their interests are.

"I can't speak for the Park Commission," Ruberto said. "But I sense that (LaBarbera) is very, very, very interested in seeing this partnership at Wahconah Park."

Besides the NECBL team and the two touring military all-star squads, the Boston Baseball All-Stars recently purchased the Nashua (N.H.) Pride, of the independent Canadian-American League, and renamed the team the American Defenders of New Hampshire. The NECBL team's new general manager, Jon Tosches, worked for the Pride last year. The Can-Am League was formerly the Northeast League, which included the now-defunct Berkshire Black Bears who played in Pittsfield in 2002 and 2003.

The ownership group has renamed their Can-Am League team's facility in New Hampshire Nokona Park at Holman Stadium, and wants to rename Pittsfield's historic 3,100-seat baseball park Nokona Field at Wahconah Park, Allvord said. The new name is already listed on the team's Web site as Nokona Stadium at Wahconah Park.

"That's something legally that we would have to discuss," Ruberto said, believing that the Park Commission would have to approve any name changes associated with the ballpark.

Park name prominent

Ruberto said a name change like the partners suggested is a possibility, but that any name for the ballpark would have to prominently feature the words "Wahconah Park."

The mayor said he believes all of the matters involving the Park Commission can be wrapped up by the end of this year.

Allvord said the U.S. Military All-Stars and the Can-Am League team will conduct preseason training in Pittsfield in May.

"The Military All-Stars will play against the pro team every night to get ready," Allvord said. Those games will take place Tuesdays through Fridays until the NECBL season opens in June.

To reach Tony Dobrowolski: tdobrowolski@berkshireeagle.com, or (413) 496-6224.


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