Lively Tales About Dead Teams

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1996-1997 Bangor Blue Ox

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Northeast League (1996-1997)

Born: December 8, 1995 – Northeast League expansion team.
Died: 1998 – The Blue Ox relocate to Quebec City, Quebec.

Stadium: Larry Mahaney Diamond

Team Colors:

Owner: Vincent Burns, Dean Gyorgy & Margot Gyorgy

 

The Bangor Blue Ox were a short-lived professional baseball team that played for two seasons in the independent Northeast League.  At the time, Bangor (pop. 33,000) had not hosted pro baseball since prior to World War I.

The team’s unique nickname derived from the legend of Paul Bunyan and his companion Babe, the Blue Ox.  Bangor is one of several communities that claims to be the birthplace of the folkloric hero and the city bosts a 31-foot tall, 3,700-pount statue of Bunyan.

The first player signed by the Blue Ox in March 1996 was 36-year old former Boston Red Sox hurler Dennis “Oil Can” Boyd.  This would be one of Boyd’s many comeback attempts in the independent leagues and he played extremely well, posting a 10-0 record and 3.22 ERA for Bangor in 1996.  The Blue Ox had one other former Major League, pitcher Mike Smith, who appeared in 33 games in the Bigs between 1984 and 1989.

Boyd and Smith did not return for Bangor’s second season in 1997.  The team added former Boston Red Sox 1st round pick Bob Zupcic and ex-California Angels pitcher Joe Grahe, who was rehabbing from injury.  Grahe would return briefly to the Majors in 1999 with the Philadelphia Phillies.  He was the only Blue Ox player to go on to play in the Majors after leaving Bangor.

During the Blue Ox’s two-year run the team played at Mahaney Diamond on the campus of the University of Maine at Orono.  The club averaged just under 1,000 fans per game in both summers.  Team and league officials hoped that Bangor would build a new ballpark for the team.  But an October 1997 Bangor city council vote to float a $2 million bond to construct a ballpark for the 1999 season failed by a single vote and signaled the death knell for the Blue Ox in Bangor.

Team owner Vincent Burns, along with his son-in-law Dean Gyorgy and daughter Margot turned their efforts towards New Bedford, Massachusetts where there was some political support to build a new ballpark.  With the Blue Ox franchise gone dark for the 1998 season, the family worked on the New Bedford angle, but ran out of time before the Northeast League’s April 1998 deadline to secure commitment for a stadium in the southeastern Massachusetts port city.

With New Bedford going nowhere, the family sold controlling interest in the Blue Ox franchise to Dean Gyorgy’s former mentor at Baseball America, Miles Wolff in mid-1998.  Wolff, the former owner of the Durham Bulls and a long-time independent baseball enthusiast, moved the team to Quebec City where it began play as the Quebec Capitales in the summer of 1999.

Independent baseball returned to Bangor in 2003 with the Bangor Lumberjacks, who were once again members of the Northeast League.  But like the Blue Ox, the Lumberjacks only lasted two seasons before folding.

 

==Links==

Northeast League Media Guides

Northeast League Programs

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Written by andycrossley

March 5th, 2014 at 4:27 pm

2010-2011 Pittsfield Colonials

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Can-Am League (2010-2011)

Born: 2010 – The American Defenders of New Hampshire relocate to Pittsfield, MA.
Died: October 4, 2011 – The Can-Am League terminates the Colonials franchise.

Stadium: Wahconah Park (3,500)

Team Colors:

Owner: Buddy Lewis

 

The Pittsfield Colonials were an independent pro baseball franchise that toiled for two summers at historic Wahconah Park.  The Colonials failed to find an audience in Western Massachusetts’ Berkshires region, but they did make a fashion statement with their collared, old-timey uniforms.

Colonials owner Buddy Lewis was an executive at Nocona Athletic Goods, a domestic manufacturer of baseball gloves.  In 2009, Lewis was part of the investor group responsible for the American Defenders of New Hampshire and the Pittsfield American Defenders, a disastrous duo of military-themed ball clubs.  The Pittsfield American Defenders were an amateur team, competing in the New England Collegiate Baseball League.  Their season was a washout thanks to poor weather and general lack of interest.

Up in New Hampshire, where Lewis’ group operated a professional team in the independent Can-Am League, things got real weird, real quick.  The Nashua Pride (1998-2008) played independent ball at Holman Stadium for over a decade, but in 2008 Pride owner John Stabile, exhausted by years of heavy financial losses, sold the club to Buddy Lewis’ group.  Lewis’ partners included Terry Allvord, a naval veteran and promoter of barnstorming U.S. Military All-Star baseball teams.  Allvord’s group re-branded the Pride as the “American Defenders of New Hampshire”, cloaking the team in desert-style camouflage uniforms.

The Defenders’ patriotic/military theme quickly crossed into morbid tastelessness.  The team’s mascot, a plush figure in fatigues and war paint, was named “Ground Zero” and wore the jersey number 9-11, for instance.  The Defenders were an epic flop, evicted from Holman Stadium before their only season ended for failing to pay their bills.  Among the unpaid invoices at issue were the overtime details for local police and fire personnel who provided game day security at Holman Stadium.  It was the ultimate irony for an organization that built its brand around reverence for military personnel and public safety officers.

Allvord quickly vanished and took the military concept with him.  The Pittsfield-based collegiate team was sold off and packed off to Bristol, Connecticut.  Buddy Lewis still owned the carcass of the New Hampshire ball club, as well as the lease at Pittsfield.  In December 2009, he decided to give the Can-Am League a second try and moved the former American Defenders of New Hampshire 150 miles west to Pittsfield.   The re-branded Pittsfield Colonials would be the city’s first professional baseball team since the departure of the Berkshire Black Bears after the summer of 2003.

Former Boston Red Sox slugger Brian Daubach (above left), who endured the 2009 debacle in Nashua as the Defenders’ camo-clad field manager, relocated with the team to Pittsfield.  Daubach took the Colonials to a third place finish at 48-45 and then onto the Can-Am League championship series, in 2010 where they lost to the Quebec Capitales.

At the box office, however, the Colonials were a flop, finishing last in the league with 29,485 fans for 42 home dates.  By comparison, the six other Can-Am League clubs drew between 70,000 and 150,000 fans each.

Nevertheless, the Colonials returned for a second season in 2011.  Daubach departed, but the team didn’t miss a beat under new skipper Jamie Keefe, improving to 53-39.  The Colonials made the playoffs again, but lost in the semi-finals.  Attendance ticked up marginally to 37,154 for 44 dates, but was still worst in the league.  At league meetings in October 2011, the Colonials ownership either wouldn’t or couldn’t replenish the team’s $200,000 line of credit and the Can-Am League voted to terminate Pittsfield’s membership.

The Colonials were replaced at Wahconah Park for the amateur Pittsfield Suns of the Futures Collegiate Baseball League in 2012.

Berkshires resident and Rock n’ Roll Hall of Famer James Taylor performed the National Anthem at the Colonials’ first home game in 2010.

 

==Links==

Can-Am League Media Guides

Can-An League Programs

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Written by andycrossley

December 8th, 2013 at 2:19 am

1996-1999 Massachusetts Mad Dogs

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North Atlantic League (1996)
Northeast League (1997-1998)
Northern League (1999)

Born: 1996
Died: October 1999 – The Mad Dogs leave Lynn and go on a two-year hiatus.

Stadium: Fraser Field

Team Colors:

Owner: Jonathan Fleisig

 

The Massachusetts Mad Dogs were a low-level independent baseball club based out of Fraser Field in Lynn, Massachusetts from 1996 to 1999. Popular former Boston Red Sox star George “Boomer” Scott was the team’s field manager and the team attracted further attention from Red Sox Nation in 1997 by signing the 37-year old former Red Sox pitcher and noted eccentric Dennis “Oil Can” Boyd.

The Mad Dogs were the first pro sports investment for Jonathan Fleisig, a Wall Street commodities trader and long-time minor league baseball and hockey investor.  He bought the franchise for a reported $150,000 in 1995

The Mad Dogs played their first season in the North Atlantic League (1995-1996), a wobbly independent circuit with teams in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania.  The Mad Dogs’ posted a 56-21 record – far and away the best in the league – but were upset in the championship series by the Catskill (NY) Cougars.  Reported attendance was 52,384, or slightly over 1,000 fans per game.  Following the 1996 season, the North Atlantic League disbanded and the Mad Dogs jumped to the more stable Northeast League.

Attendance plummeted in 1998 as the perilous condition of Fraser Field continued to deteriorate.  The clam shell roof of the park was condemned prior to the Mad Dogs third season and propped up by makeshift beams and there were no permanent concessions facilities.  In late 1998, Jonathan Fleisig hinted at leaving Lynn due to low season ticket sales and the decrepit state of the ballpark, but elected to return for a fourth and final season in the summer of 1999.

The Mad Dogs attracted some publicity during their finals season by signing 25-year old Tammy Holmes, thought to be the first female position player to play professional baseball for a men’s team.  Holmes was a former member of the barnstorming female team the Silver Bullets, which attracted considerable national attention before folding in 1997.  Holmes appeared in two games, going hitless in nine at-bats with five strikeouts.

In October 1999, league official approved a move of the Mad Dogs to Hartford, Connecticut where a planned $10 – $15 million renovation of Dillon Stadium would create a new home for the team.   The Hartford deal later fell apart and the ball club was mothballed for two full seasons.

In 2002, Fleisig reactivated the franchise at Wahconah Park in Pittsfield, Massachusetts.  Boomer Scott returned as manager of the renamed Berkshire Black Bears.   The story – well, one side of the story – of Fleisig’s rivalry with former New York Yankee and Ball Four author Jim Bouton to get the lease at Wahconah Park is captured in Bouton’s 2003 book Foul Ball.  The Black Bears lasted only two seasons in Pittsfield, then moved again the New Haven’s Yale Field and became the New Haven County Cutters, still under Fleisig’s ownership.

The Cutters folded after the 2007 season, finally closing the book on the original franchise started three cities and three leagues earlier in 1996.

Following the demise of the Mad Dogs, a former fan purchased the team’s Spike The Bulldog mascot costume at a storage unit sale. He periodically dressed up in the costume to attend minor league games around New England.  For several years in the early 2000′s, it was not unusual to see Spike quietly sitting alongside human fans in various ballpark grandstands around the region quietly keeping score in his game program.

 

==Key Players==

  • Dennis “Oil Can” Boyd

 

==Downloads==

1999 Massachusetts Mad Dogs Scorecard

 

 

June 6, 2005 – Surprise Fightin’ Falcons vs. Fullerton Flyers

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Surprise Fightin’ Falcons vs. Fullerton Flyers
Surprise Stadium
June 6, 2005
Golden League Programs
8 pages

The Surprise Fightin’ Falcons were a One-Year Wonder that played during the inaugural season of the Golden Baseball League (2005-2010).  The Golden League was an independent loop that started as a class project at the Stanford Graduate School of Business that grew into a full-fledged business with $5 million in start-up funding and a $1 million presenting sponsorship from the Safeway supermarket chain in its first year.

Baseball America still has a nice write-up from 2005 on the start-up of the Golden League on its website here.

The 2005 inaugural season featured four franchises in California (Chico, Fullerton, Long Beach, San Diego) and three in Arizona (Mesa, Surprise and Yuma).  An eighth team intended for Tijuana, Mexico ran into problems and was hastily replaced by a travel team composed of Japanese players known as the Japan Samurai Bears.  This creative solution to a potentially embarrassing setback earned the Golden League considerably national press attention.

The Mesa and Surprise teams in Arizona both played in state-of-the-art Major League spring training facilities.  In the case of the Fightin’ Falcons, the team played at Surprise Stadium, a 10,000-seat facility constructed by HOK Sport in 2002 as the spring training home of the Kansas City Royals and the Texas Rangers.  On the down side, the large capacity created a poor atmosphere for independent baseball – the Fightin’ Falcons announced attendance of 49,057 scaled to just over 1,000 per game.  The Golden League, which managed all of the teams under single-entity ownership in 2005, also reportedly had less- than-favorable concessions revenue splits with the Major League facilities in both Mesa and Surprise.

The Fightin’ Falcons played their first home game on May 26, 2005.  Local baseball fans entering the gates were greeted with a complimentary bobble head doll of Wheel of Fortune host Pat Sajak, one of the Golden League’s original investors.   Under the direction of field manager Ozzie Virgil Jr. Surprise finished the season at 45-45, 6th best in the 8-team circuit.

The Fightin’ Falcons oldest player, 37-year old outfielder Desi Wilson, was also their best.  Wilson, who had a cup of coffee in the Majors with the San Francisco Giants in 1996, led the Golden League with a .411 batting average and took home league MVP honors.

Following the 2005 season the Golden League contracted two of its three Arizona franchises, eliminating Surprise and Mesa.  The Fightin’ Falcons shut down on November 22, 2005.

Downloads:

2005 Surprise Fightin’ Falcons Season Ticket Brochure

June 6th 2005 Surprise Fightin’ Falcons vs. Fullerton Flyers Game Notes

July 16, 2005 – New Haven County Cutters vs. New Jersey Jackals

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New Haven County Cutters vs. New Jersey Jackals
July 16, 2005
Yale Field
Can-Am League Programs
14 pages

The New Haven County Cutters were an independent baseball team in the Northeast League (2004) and Can-Am League (2005-2007).  The ball club, which played at Yale Field, struggled badly at the box office throughout its existence, but managed to hang around for four seasons before succumbing to the inevitable and folding on October 30, 2007.

The Cutters were a roadworn franchise, with roots dating back to 1996, when Wall Street commodity trader Jonathan Fleisig purchased an expansion franchise in the North Atlantic League, a low-level indy circuit.  Fleisig’s Massachusetts Mad Dogs played four seasons (1996-1999) at Fraser Field in Lynn, Massachusetts, but the dilapidated ballpark was in such bad shape that portions of the structure were condemned and unusable during Fleisig’s tenancy.

Fleisig pulled out of Lynn in frustration after the 1999 season and put his franchise on ice for two seasons before resuscitating the ball club in Pittsfield, Massachusetts as the Berkshire Black Bears in 2002.  Like Lynn, Pittsfield had a rundown ballpark (Wahconah Park) and a depressed local economy.  The Black Bears muddled along for two summers in Pittsfield but failed to draw much support.  The Black Bears didn’t leave much of a mark in Pittsfield, but Fleisig did make an impression – a bad one – on Ball Four author Jim Bouton, whose own effort to obtain the lease at Wahconah in 2002 lost out to Fleisig’s proposal.  Bouton retaliated with a vengeful and entertaining memoir titled Foul Ball about his rivalry with Fleisig and his bureaucratic brawls with City of Pittsfield officials and journalists.  The Black Bears gave up on Pittsfield after two seasons in December 2003 and signed a new lease deal at Yale Field in New Haven.

In New Haven, the team adopted the Cutters identity, along with a pastel palette of powder blue and yellow.  Former NHL All-Star and longtime New York Rangers captain Brian Leetch was introduced as one of several minority partners in the club to lend some celebrity appeal.  Management made some modest upgrades to ancient Yale Field, including the installation of no frills, air-conditioned luxury suites adjacent to the press box.  Fleisig and his partners also hired The Goldklang Group in an advisory role, long-time minor league baseball investors and management consultants who operated a half dozen ball clubs around the country, including one of the most successful independent teams, the St. Paul Saints, and the Cutters’ own Northeast League rivals, the Brockton Rox.

The cover illustration on this 2005 Cutters program (above) is by the late Goldklang in-house artist Andy Nelson and uses the Group’s “Fun Is Good” brand mark.  In the photo at right, you can see that the Cutters’ Northeast League rivals the Brockton Rox used the same branding that summer.  In this and other years, Nelson’s artwork ignored conventional imagery of ballplayers and baseball “action” in favor of mascots, fans and other imagery that reinforced the Goldklang Group’s “Fun Is Good” brand and affordable family entertainment emphasis.

Fleisig’s previous stops in Lynn and Pittsfield were marred by dilapidated ballparks.  In Yale Field he had another old and outmoded ballpark (1927) and he faced a new problem as well.  The Cutters were coming into Yale Field on the heels of the New Haven Ravens (1994-2003), a double-A farm club of the Toronto Blue Jays.  The Ravens were the worst box office draw in the Eastern League from 2001 to 2003, with their final lame duck summer of 2003 especially poor, as it was announced prior to the season that the club was moving to Manchester, New Hampshire in 2004.  There are places in America where independent baseball thrives – Long Island, St. Paul, Somerset County in New Jersey to name a few – but the common thread is communities that have been starved for baseball for decades.  In cities and towns where independent clubs come right in on the heels of departing affiliated teams, the track record is one of almost 100% failure.  The indy ball concept tends to suffer by comparison when local fans have grown accustomed to watching “the stars of the future” for a Major League organization.  New Haven was no different.

Photo courtesy of James Siscel, www.baseballroadtrip.net

Circumstance also dealt the Cutters a blow just before their New Haven debut in 2004.  The club was scheduled to start on the road with a short three-game road trip in Allentown, Pennsylvania starting on May 31, 2004.  The home opener was scheduled for Thursday, June 3rd against Brockton at Yale Field.  But just three weeks prior to the season, the Allentown Ambassadors abruptly shut down, forcing the remaining Northeast League owners to replace them on the schedule with a collectively-financed road team called The Aces.  All road dates at Allentown now became additional home dates against the Aces.  For strong draws like Brockton and Quebec, the additional home dates were a boon to the bottom line.  For New Haven, though, it was a disaster.  With a winter’s worth of promotion and festivities targeted towards the Thursday, June 3rd home opener, the team suddenly had to open at home with on a Monday night during the school year.  The Aces series drew only a few hundred fans, deflating the Cutters best laid plans for a grand opening.  The instability on display with last minute schedule changes and teams folding also did little to promote the quality of independent baseball to an already dubious New Haven marketplace.

For the 2004 season, the Cutters drew a meager 56,982 for 52 home dates, a drop of nearly 85,000 fans from the Ravens 140,922 for 71 dates in 2003.  Field Manager Jarvis Brown was let go after the club failed to make the Northeast League playoffs in 2004.

After the 2004 season, the Northeast League re-organized itself as the Can-Am League (short for Canadian-American Association of Professional Baseball) as a legal maneuver in ongoing litigation with the former owner of the Allentown Ambassadors.  The Cutters replaced Jarvis Brown with new Manager Mike Church and the team’s performance picked up.  The Cutters made the Can-Am League playoffs in both 2005 and 2006. The club’s best season was in 2006 when the club finished 58-38 overall and lost to Brockton in the opening round of the playoffs.

Attendance ticked up slightly to 67,607 in 2005 and 62,356 in 2006, but the Cutters still languished near the bottom of the league at barely 1,000 fans per game. During the club’s fourth and final season in 2007, announced attendance improved to 1,653 per game (82,651), which ranked 8th among the Can-Am League’s 9th clubs, ahead of only the Nashua Pride.  Ownership folded the club on October 30th, 2007.

2007 was a dark time for New Haven professional sports.  The New Haven Coliseum – home to minor league hockey for the better part of four decades – was imploded in January.  The October demise of the Cutters left New Haven without a professional sports team for the first time in 109 years in 2008.

Jonathan Fleisig finally gave up on his Lynn/Pittsfield/New Haven independent club after a decade of wandering through New England.  He continues to be active in minor league hockey , where he has owned the Bakersfield (CA) Condors of the ECHL for more than 15 years, among other investments in the sport.

Downloads:

7-16-2005 Cutters Game Notes vs. New Jersey Jackals

Links:

New Haven County Cutters photos at BaseballRoadTrip.net

Photo courtesy of James Siscel, BaseballRoadTrip.net