Owner John Creedon Jr. sees bright future for Silver Knights
NASHUA – The NESN cameras were positioned off the first- and third-base sides of Holman Stadium.
The sun was out, a good crowd was on hand, and the Nashua Silver Knights and Futures Collegiate Baseball League were basking in all of it.
That’s when the question had to be asked of Silver Knights owner John Creedon Jr.: Despite the pandemic and other factors preventing him and his family from instituting all their plans for the Knights, is he glad he purchased the team in March 2019?
“Ecstatic,” Creedon said in a wide-ranging interview discussing the Nashua franchise, the league and his other team, Nashua’s rival in Worcester. “The stadium is a gem, the community of Nashua is wonderful, the leadership of the city of Nashua is hugely supportive of what we’re doing, what we’re trying to do, future plans here. The fans have embraced what we’re doing and what we’re trying to (do) here.
“Everyone’s had our back and been very supportive. So, we’re pleased.”
Creedon couldn’t be more thrilled, he said, with the job his Nashua general manager, former Silver Knight standout Cam Cook, as well as Knights assistant GM Katie Arend, are doing in terms of getting people into the ballpark and creating the atmosphere necessary to keep them coming back.
“Cam and Katie are doing a wonderful job,” Creedon said. “They’re inviting groups and various nonprofit organizations out to the ballpark to get their employees and families and members out to the ballpark. I think word is getting out there it’s good food, good baseball and a wonderful night out.”
The team is averaging, as of early this past week, just under 1,000 fans (937), third in the league, just behind Creedon’s other team, Worcester. And that’s after a 2020 season in which Nashua was only one of two teams, New Britain (Conn.) being the other, allowed to have a limited number of fans in the ballpark due to COVID. And consider also that the weather in July, it’s usual best time, has been abysmal.
“People ask how is it going, how are the crowds,” Creedon said. “And I tell them, ‘Great when it’s not raining.’ It seems like even when it’s not in the forecast, we still have the raindrops. It’s something I’ve never seen before.”
“It’s one thing when it kind of rains on a game, but there’s a whole lot more that goes into it before the game, for our staff, for the city staff, prepping the field, even after the game pulling tarp if there’s a game the next day and rain (is in the forecast) overnight. So, there’s a lot that happens that rain impacts before a game, after a game. Our staff is really so solid,” Creedon added.
The team lost a huge night back on July 9, when the remnants of a tropical storm left so much water at Holman it was unable to play that Friday night, ruining a fireworks night and what was an expected crowd of 2,000.
“That was going to be a big night,” Creedon said. “There’s been a lot of that over the last two or three years, what could have been. But we’re sticking with it, and we’re taking the long view here.
“Things will turn, and we’ll get some favorable breaks here and there. We’ll just keep doing what we’re doing.”
The league increased the number of games, as going into this weekend, the Knights have six home dates left, all except one on a Thursday or weekend.
“The hope is that the attendance will continue to snowball,” Creedon said. “And if the team continues to play well, as it has shown (recently), that can help, too.”
But the Knights are having a sub-par season on the field, entrenched as of this writing in last place after winning the FCBL title a year ago. Nashua is on course to miss the FCBL playoffs for the first time in the league’s 11 seasons, if things don’t drastically turn around.
Still, it hasn’t really impacted the crowds too much, as there have been some signature walk-off wins in front of good crowds, enough to bring fans back.
And Creedon knows he has a championship-winning manager in Kyle Jackson.
“We’re seeing some sparks, some fight,” Creedon said. “I think it’s going to be an exciting second half of the season.”
What the owner also is seeing in the stands, not just here but league-wide, is some hesitancy still due to the pandemic.
“We respect everybody where they’re at, where their comfort level is,” he said. “We’re just trying to be here when people are ready for us. In the meantime, we’re being proactive to be welcoming to groups and companies and charitable groups and all that, as well as small families, young families, whoever’s comfortable coming out.”
Creedon is in an interesting situation, one of two owners in the FCBL who own two teams. The other is former Nashua Pride owner Chris English, whose new FCBL expansion entry, the Vermont Lake Monsters, lead the league in attendance, while his Brockton Rox are at the bottom, but understandably so with stadium issues.
Worcester had traditionally averaged more than 2,000 a game, but was earlier this past week still averaging just below 1,000 fans. The prevailing thought is that the new Red Sox affiliated Triple A team, the WooSox, and their new ballpark in Worcester, Polar Park, are the main cause. But Creedon, whose Bravehearts were able to return to Holy Cross’ Hanover Insurance Park at Fitton Field this season, says that is simply not the case. It’s because the Bravehearts have had to use a different, albeit temporary, approach to ticket sales due to the pandemic.
“There’s probably a bit of a false narrative out there that the Triple A team is having a huge impact on our attendance,” Creedon said. “That’s not the case. There’s been three or four nights where there’s an overlap as far as both teams hosting on the same night. And they’d be pulling maybe 40, 50 people from a Bravehearts game.”
The reason, then? Manpower in sales. Remember, financially the Massachusetts FCBL teams had no ticket income whatsoever a year ago. And for this season, Creedon had to work out things with Holy Cross just before the season began to be able to return. Worcester usually pre-sells its games through groups, etc., but that was impossible as it wasn’t known when or where the Bravehearts would play until very late in the game.
“The bigger impact is that we’re still re-emerging from the pandemic,” Creedon said. “We had to lay off our entire sales staff in 2020, and we didn’t hire any of them back, so we’ve had our general manager (Dave Peterson) and our director of ticket sales in the office.”
The Worcester method was simple, in the state’s second-largest city – most of the team’s tickets were always pre-sold before the season even began, with limited walk-up. Now, it’s totally the opposite.
“From Jan. 1 to Opening Day in May, we would have sales staff making 80 outbound calls a day, every single day,” Creedon said, “to the point that by Opening Day first pitch, we’d have pre-sold most of the tickets for the summer. But we couldn’t have those conversations. No. 1, we didn’t have a staff, and nobody knew what the summer was going to look like. We couldn’t have those conversations.”
Why is that important for the Silver Knights? Because that’s a hint of what the plan will be for Nashua as well, Creedon said, once things return to normal.
Remember, he took over the franchise just two months before it was to open the 2019 season, not nearly enough time to implement much, and immediately overhauled the front office. And then the pandemic hit for 2020, and that spilled over into 2021. The Creedons have yet to even be able to put what they hope will be their noticeable stamp on things.
“We’re going to fill Holman Stadium with groups of 30, 40 at a whack, and on a big night, groups of 200, and we’re going to get handfuls of those groups each night,” Creedon said. “So, that’s how we’re going to fill this ballpark.
“I’m hugely excited for the rest of this summer as well as building for 2022. … This year is a step in the right direction. Not everybody’s entirely comfortable yet. We’re doing the best we can. … We’re here when people are ready.”
They were ready on a recent Friday, when the weather cooperated and the team announced a crowd of just over 1,800, its largest of the season.
One of the advantages Nashua has are the luxury suites, which have been consistently booked, even on early to mid-week nights that dominated the schedule in June.
And what does it look like league-wide now? Consider the All-Star Week the Futures League had recently. Not only did it draw more than 3,000 in New Britain, Conn., or its annual All-Star Game – back after a year’s absence due to a pandemic-shortened 2020 season – but 27 players either currently or formerly from the league were taken in the Major League Amateur Draft. And that included one current and five former Silver Knights.
Four were taken over the first two rounds, starting with former Knights opponent Sal Frelick (the since-exited North Shore Navigators), who became the highest pick ever for the league at No. 15 by the Milwaukee Brewers.
Next was Fordham lefty Matt Milkulski, who played for another former FCBL team, Martha’s Vineyard, and was the first pick in the second round, taken 50th overall by San Francisco. Two picks later, former Silver Knights and Navs infielder Cody Morissette was taken by the Miami Marlins. Morissette, out of Boston College and from Exeter, played for Nashua in 2018, and is the son of former longtime Rivier University men’s basketball coach Dave Morissette. The third and final FCBL pick of the second round was former Brockton player Zack Gelof, taken by Oakland.
Morissette was the first former Nashua player taken, but there were four others, three from last year’s team: first baseman-catcher Dom Keegan of Vanderbilt, taken in the 19th round (573 overall) by the Yankees; outfielder Jared Dupere (Northeastern), taken in the 13th round, 386th overall by the San Francisco Giants; reliever Brandon Dufault, also of Northeastern, tabbed by the Los Angeles Angels in the 16th round (471st overall), formerly the league’s Pitcher of the Year in his first stint with Nashua in 2018. The other former Knight was Maryland’s Ben Cowles, taken in the 10th round by the Yankees (303rd overall). Cowles played for Nashua in 2018.
The current Silver Knight drafted is outfielder Jackson Linn, who just graduated from Cambridge Rindge & Latin and was taken in the 20th round by the Houston Astros. Linn, who went 5 for 5 in his second game with the Knights just over a week ago, will likely not sign and head to Tulane Universtiy in the fall. Keegan also has said he won’t sign, returning to Vanderbilt and hoping for a higher pick next year. Linn has been projected by some as high as a third-rounder if he progresses by his junior year, the next time he’ll be eligible.
“The league really showed pretty well with our current and alumni players in the draft, and we were thrilled,” Creedon said. “And that sort of dovetailed into the All-Star Game, and the Silver Knights showed well in the game (Nashua outfielder Logan Ott was the game MVP).”
But the draft was special, as it further legitimized the league.
“We’ve always believed the Futures League has tremendous talent, to hang with any other leagues in New England and around the country,” Creedon said. “And I think this draft was sort of proof positive of that.”
The key for Creedon was the credit the players gave to the FCBL for taking the huge leap of faith by playing last year, one of the few summer collegiate leagues in the country – and the only one in New England – to operate last season.
“When I was following the draft, and some of the player responses to being drafted, I think every single one was talking about playing in the Futures League in 2020 and how important last season was for them to be drafted and signed this year.
“Kudos to Joe Paolucci, the commissioner, to all the Futures League owners and executives who really pulled off ‘Mission Impossible’ last summer and really created a special opportunity for a bunch of our guys to get drafted. They might not have been playing last year, they might not have been seen, so who knows what that could have looked like.”
You see, the college players in 2020 had their school seasons cut short by the pandemic, and the FCBL was heavily scouted last year, laying the groundwork for this year’s draft.
“Going into last summer, as a leadership group of the Futures League, what we said was when the going gets tough, you have to focus on the mission of the Futures League,” Creedon said. “What are we doing? Why are we doing this? No. 1, for the communities that we serve, but also for the players that play in this league.
“We had to take a pause last summer, for the most part, in welcoming communities (as Massachusetts teams weren’t allowed fans), but we were able to focus on the opportunity for these players, and really boost (their value).”
Creedon says the FCBL still holds sacred the fact it wants local players, or at least players from New England schools.
“For the Futures League to land and welcome into our league the only two former Single A teams in our geographic footprint was a huge off-season win for us,” Creedon said. “I think it goes to the strength of this league, and what we’re doing, and what you see what Major League Baseball did by moving some leagues wholesale into the summer collegiate model in the country. The Futures League has a 10-year head start on that. We’ve got the greatest ballparks in New England, superb talent, great operators and the best days for the Futures League definitely lie ahead.”
And Creedon says that includes the Nashua Silver Knights as well – on the field as well as off.