Pittsfield may get pro ball in 2010

Tuesday, Dec. 15
PITTSFIELD -- When Leslie "Buddy" Lewis met with local media members last March, the owner of the Pittsfield American Defenders said his "ultimate goal is to bring pro baseball back to Pittsfield."

Lewis' wish may happen earlier than anticipated because his Boston Baseball LLC is considering bringing the American Defenders' professional team to Wahconah Park for the 2010 season.

"We're working on trying to move our professional team into Pittsfield. If we're successfully do that, that means the college team will go to another venue," said Dan Duquette, the former Boston Red Sox general manager and part of the Boston Baseball ownership group.

The team, if things go according to plan, would replace the Pittsfield American Defenders of the New England Collegiate Baseball League. That would leave the North Adams SteepleCats as the only NECBL team in Berkshire County.

The American Defenders of New Hampshire were a member of the CanAm League, a league of six independent baseball teams. An independent league means that each franchise has to sign its own players rather than be affiliated with a team in Major League Baseball.

The American Defenders of New Hampshire folded in Nashua following the 2009 season amidst problems with lease payments.

Pittsfield has been without professional baseball since the Berkshire Black Bears of the independent Northeast League left Wahconah Park following the 2003 season for a move to New Haven, Conn. The Northeast League morphed into the CanAm League.

The independent league currently has franchises in Worcester and Brockton, Quebec City, and two teams in New Jersey.

Miles Woolf has been the commissioner of the CanAm League since it was founded in 2005. He was also the commissioner of the Northeast League when the Black Bears roamed Wahconah Park.

"Application has to be made to the league, and the league's directors would have to have a meeting to approve it," he said. "Because it's getting late to make a move, to run a good operation for next season, a decision will have to be made very soon."

The Pittsfield American Defenders were in the first year of a three-year license agreement with the city for the use of Wahconah Park.

Clifford Nilan is chairman of the Park Commission, and said that while he was personally in favor of the NECBL, he wouldn't necessarily stand against the switch.

"I'm more than happy to listen to them, and see how the mayor and the Park Commission feel about it," Nilan said.

Nilan said he was uncertain if the Defenders had paid the $35,000 owed to Pittsfield for license agreement payments in 2009. Sheila LaBarbera is another member of the Park Commission and she said that she would be willing to "negotiate some of the dates and some of the debt because of the rainouts they had."

The Defenders registered 18 of 22 scheduled dates at Wahconah Park, and had a number of games delayed or halted by rain. July, when most of the Defenders games were played, was the fifth wettest month on record.

Pittsfield mayor James M. Ruberto said he could not comment on the issue.

"We certainly hope and believe it can be better" this time, Woolf said. "The stadium is adequate, the market in the past has been a good baseball market. We think if it's run correctly and if they have a good operation, it can be successful in Pittsfield."


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