Amherst’s Abis gets his shot as GM of FCBL team

It was one day when he was first starting out in the Nashua Pride offices. Joey Abis, then just 13 years old, was making some calls when then-Pride general manager Chris Hall said to him, “So, you want to be a GM some day, don’t you?”

“It was during one of my spring breaks, and I was cold calling,” Abis said. “It was one of those things that stuck with me.”

Hall’s prophecy has come true. Abis, a 22-year-old Amherst native and Souhegan High School graduate, is now in his first year as the general manager of the Torrington (Conn.) Titans of the Futures Collegiate Baseball League.

It’s an uphill battle. Hall, the FCBL commissioner, helped place Abis, one of his assistants, in Torrington.

Pride fans may remember him as “Harry Potter,” a nickname he received thanks to his resemblance to the movie character.

“He had some ability,” Hall said of Abis when he first started out doing just about everything for the Pride. “He loved being around the game, from the entertainment side, to the mascot side, to the field side. He just kind of showed up every day. On his vacations (from school), he’d come in and just work the phones selling. Kind of a no-fear mentality.”

“I’ve always had a knack for leadership,” Abis said. “But being around the game was my first goal.

“I was speaking at a high school career day and I referred to an essay I wrote, when I said I realized I didn’t have the talent to be on the field, but I wanted to be associated with the game in some way. Working with the Pride obviously kind of fulfilled that.”

Abis attended Southern New Hampshire University to earn a business administration degree and minor in sports management. After Hall became FCBL commissioner, Abis began helping him out Hall here and there. Abis’ role grew in the last year.

“Being a GM isn’t something I shot for right out of college,” he said. “But working with Chris over the years, and having been with the league since it kind of started, that really helped. There was a good opportunity here, which is why I took the job. I took a look around, got my thoughts about it, and ever since I thought baseball could work here.

“But you can’t turn down a position like that.”

Abis knows that Torrington, a city in the population range of 35-40,000, is a place where the sell must be hard and constant. It used to be a big manufacturing town and a lot of that is gone. The corporate presence isn’t there. The franchise, going into year four, finally has a beer license for games which is an improvement.

Abis has taken a planned approach to the job.

“We talk about being the local celebrity,” he said, saying he needs to be the face of the franchise in the local community. “I have a sales background. But my biggest specialty is grass roots marketing, and that’s what I did with the Pride. Getting the mascot out on the street, a street team, doing the promotions on the field, creating the experience. I do a lot of that right now.”

The response?

“It’s been good,” Abis said. “I’ve met several people. The first night I was here, I was sitting at the bar, I looked to my right, looked to my left, and said, ‘OK, I better pick up some conversations.

“At my right, I heard them talking about the Boy Scouts. My GM antenna went up and I said, ‘OK, cool.’ I found my way into the conversation, introduced myself, and one of the guys has been one of my best friends since I’ve been here.

“It’s all in meeting people, shaking hands and kissing babies.”

“This is a good opportunity for him to learn,” Hall said. “He’s a young kid, he’s got a lot of experience already. He doesn’t like hearing people say no to him, but he understands the business and is going to keep knocking on doors until he gets a ‘yes.’?”

Abis learned some things from his Pride days, especially the 2007 Can-Am League championship run. He remembers pitching coach Dan Lemon saying to him the night before Game 3 was to be played in Lynn, Mass., “You’re going to be there, right?”

“I didn’t know what to say, I didn’t even have my driver’s license yet,” Abis joked, later saying one of the Pride players, at Lemon’s request, picked him up at school and brought him down to Frasier Field.

“When I look back on it now, I really consider it the time of my life,” he said. “If I can continue to do what I did with the Pride for the rest of my life, I knew I was going to be happy. I have names on my contact list like Butch Hobson, and worked with guys like Rick Wise (former big leaguer and Pride pitching coach) and Rick Miller (former Red Sox and Pride manager). I remember picking up Brian Daubach up at the airport. There are a lot of people who still mean a lot to me. It was the time of my life.”

Abis’ youth won’t be a detriment to the job, Hall said.

“The people look at him like their son,” he said. “I think he overcomes (his youthful appearance) because of his knowledge.”

Abis was an avid actor in high school and did some outside of college with theater groups.

He can sing, and has had some overtures from some groups in Torrington, but there just isn’t enough time.

“It’s tough,” Abis said. “There’s a huge theatre right here in Torrington. They keep saying I should do a show.”

But the job makes that impossible.

“I knew I couldn’t be the white horse (riding into town),” he said. “My approach is, I will work my butt off. That’s my goal. That’s kind of where I’m going with it.”

And it will probably take more than one year. He recently held his first Hot Stove dinner with former Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine, now the Sacred Heart University athletic director, as the guest speaker.

“My contract is up in August,” Abis said. “Would I come back to Torrington? Of course, I don’t want to leave something that isn’t finished.

“I want to work in baseball. I feel I’ll be pushed in the right direction at some point. It’s kind of what Bobby Valentine was talking about the other night. It’s a lot of luck.

“Just think, I’m 22 years old and I’ve been in baseball for 10 years.”

And, as Hall predicted, he’s now a general manager.