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FCBL will decide if less means more

NASHUA – They’ll look back at the past, and use it to seriously discuss the future.

The Nashua Silver Knights season is about six weeks in the rearview mirror, but the Futures Collegiate Baseball League this week will have its annual fall meeting to begin shaping things for the 2022 season.

With that in mind, FCBL Commissioner Joe Paolucci shared extensive thoughts on the pluses and minuses of the summer of 2021 with a peek into what 2022 will look like for Nashua the rest of the league, including a possibility of using – are you ready – instant replay.

First up: Expect a schedule reduced from what it was in 2021, which was the longest season in league history.

“We definitely bit off a little bit more than we could chew with the 68 games,” Paolucci said. “The weather definitely didn’t cooperate and that became an issue. Those are things we need to expect. But we didn’t really give ourselves a margin of error there with that (with so many games). That was a little bit of an issue there.

“Looking at the number of games we play is something we’re going to be discussing (this week) at the organizational meetings.”

Paolucci said he’s working on different plans for a 60-game schedule, 62 and 64.

“I think between 60 and 64 is the sweet spot,” he said. “I’ll present that to the owners at the meeting and we’ll make a decision based on that.

The 2021 season, Paolucci said, was a good return from the short pandemic-impacted, often empty ballparks in the 2020 campaign.

“I thought it went well, I thought having Norwich and Vermont in the league changed the whole profile of the league,” Paolucci said. “Well not changed it, but really improved it with those two ballparks.

“Especially up in Burlington, with the championship there. There must have been 4,000 people at that game. It was great.”

The playoff teams were at four for last season, going down to the final few days for the last spot to be cemented as Nashua, despite a losing season, still in the hunt.

Paolucci said the idea would be to keep things at four, but there is also the possibility of having a one-game play-in between the fourth and fifth place teams. In past years, there were one-game play-ins for teams seeded three through six, but that’s not likey to happen.

“I do like that idea (of No. 4 vs. No. 5),” Paolucci said. “It all depends on how the calendar looks, how many games we go with.”

One change that Paolucci expects is that the FCBL All-Star Game, usually held in mid-July, often during MLB’s All-Star break, will instead take place at the end of July so as not to coincide with what also takes place that week, MLB’s Amateur Draft. Remember, that used to be held in early June.

“We’ll probably push ours to that last week in July,” Paolucci said. “We had a lot of guys that were drafted, mainly because we were one of the few leagues to play in 2020. With the game going on, and trying to promote those draft picks, there was just a lot going on (this past summer). It was a little convuluted.”

Paolucci said he likes the game later for two reasons:

“Number one, you get a bigger sample size for stats,” he said. “There’ll only be two weeks left in the season so you’re kind of getting a true representation on who the real All-Stars were for the whole summer.

“And one issue we’ve always had, every summer collegiate league has, is right after the All-Star Game a lot of guys leave. That affects things for the rest of the season, and the playoffs. If we hold that All-Star Game close to the last week, we might be able to retain some of those players for the end of the year.”

Here were some other topics:

First, how did league champion Vermont make itself so successful?

The Lake Monsters won the regular season top seed and then went on to capture the title in the playoffs, the franchise formerly a member of the professional but now defunct NY-Penn League.

“Great question,” Paolucci said, then referred to the work that owner Chris English did and the great managing of former legendary Georgetown coach Pete Wilk. “That organization is just first class. Those guys, they have that professional baseball pedigree and were able to transition into the summer collegiate league mode.

“The buy-in they got from the fans was key. I had an opportunity to speak to a lot of them, and they loved it. … The biggest thing they said was the caliber of baseball, there’s not much of a drop off.”

It was a different 2020, as for the first time ever, Nashua didn’t make the playoffs, and for the first time since it joined the league in 2014, Worcester didn’t make the FCBL Finals.

What did Paolucci think of the quality of play in 2021?

In 2020, with the other leagues – including the Cape Cod League – shut down, Nashua and the other teams had several Division I players that normally wouldn’t have been in the league.

“I don’t think our league is ever going to be like it was in 2020 with the prospects that we had,” Paolucci said. “We had all the Cape guys, all the NECBL guys, I don’t think it will ever get to that quality.

“But the level of play (in 2021) was still outstanding. The radar guns weren’t exploding like they were in 2020, but the home runs were there, the pitching was great, the defense was outstanding this year.

“I’m watching a game in Vermont and there’s a lot of (Division) III guys, People often turn their noses at the D-III guys, but I think they forget, New Engand is a hotbed for Divison III and all these kids are just outstanding.”

That has often been the Nashua model, to get the hungry Division III players who are out to prove a point.

“This is just my opinion: the difference between a D-I and a D-III kid is just their body, their physique,” Paolucci said.

“The talent on the D-III kid is still there. The Division III guys can play with those guys. And can shine in this environment. … We have some outstanding Division III programs in our own backyard and the talent really shows through in this league.”

The next question is what is the future on allowing incoming freshmen – or that summer’s high school graduates – into the league.

It has evolved from what was a limit of two in the first year of the rule, 2012, to basically no limits nine years later.

This year Nashua had several, and it contributed to a slow start, but by the second half those players were major conributors (Brandon Fish, Sam McNulty, Jackson Linn, etc.)

Paolucci feels the value of having a local high school grad on a team helps, as family and friends will attend games.

“I think our general managers and managers do a good job of getting the right player, because they will be overwhelmed,”

Paolucci thinks the limit is five and said that it will be discussed at the league meetings.

Often college coaches will request a team take an incoming freshman as a favor to go along with that team wanting another player as well.

opening day

Paolucci said the season will commence on Memorial Day weekend. Eactly what day would depend on whether the length of the season is reduced.

“We want the season to have a prime time start, either on that Thursday or Friday,” he said, “It won’t go earlier.”

INSTANT REPLAY

This would be a huge step. Paolucci said instant replay will be discussed, as one of the league’s corporate partners has that experience.

Paolucci brought it up, but was skeptical due to cost, but was told that 80 percent of MLB replays were at first and second base, and then home run calls.

What Paolucci was told by an experienced replay official was “start slowly, it doesn’t have to be all encompassing. See if you can put a camera at first base and start with that, and then you can expand it.

“The biggest thing is, what’s the process going to be? If there’s a challenge, what will it be? An I-Pad in the dugout and it can be pulled up quickly? This is something that can’t be dragged out.

“It might not be practical, but it’s definitely something we’re going to look at.”

POSSIBLE EXPANSION

Paolucci said expansion is always an off-season priority, “but nothing’s really close at this point.”

Paolucci said there is one group that is interested in bringing a team in, but have been told that they need to move quickly, because the league wants a schedule out by December.

“We’re not going to hold out like we did with Norwich and Vermont,” he said, referring to Vermont’s arrival in January, Norwich in March and a schedule not coming out until April. “If we have to push that (group) to next year we will.”

Teams need to make group sales during the winter and can’t do it without a schedule.

Paolucci said he’s not adverse to having a nine-team league/unbalanced schedule. One thing that will be done this year, he said, is that schedules will be more geographic in nature where teams play teams closer to them more than teams further away.

“We might have imaginary divisions where say Westfield would play Pittsfield more than say Brockton,” he said.

Paolucci said there isn’t much interest in a divisional setup with regard to standings.

One thing Paolucci said definitively is that the league won’t lose any teams to the NECBL the way it has in the last three years with the departures of Martha’s Vineyard, Bristol (Conn.) and North Shore (Lynn, Mass.).

“I’ve spoken to everybody and nothing like that is on my road map,” he said.

NASHUA, OTHER teams

Paolucci says he has no doubt of the quality of the Silver Knights under the ownership of John Creedon Jr., and his family.

“That’s my favorite stadium in the league, I love Holman Stadium,” Paolucci said. “Cam (Knights general manager Cook) is great at what he does. And of course the Creedons.

“That franchise is going to continue to grow. You have to remember (the Creedons) bought it in 2019 right before the season started, then 2020 was what it was. It’s a restart for them. They’re essentially in year two, not year four, in building that brand back up.

“I talk to the fans there, too, they love that stadium, they love that team, and the way the Creedons continue to do what they do,they’re just going to continue to build that organization.”

Brockton, he said, will bounce back with the $8 million renovations going on right now to Campanelli Stadium. “There are cranes on the field,” he said. “There’s no doubt it will be the best stadium in the league when it’s done.”

Brockton lacked adequate lighting, had to start its games early and attendance fell way down.

In the end, Paolucci feels that with a schedule in place much earlier, if COVID restrictions are well know, etc., the league will be better off and the pandemic won’t have an impact.

With all of these plans, the FCBL will have a bigger jump on 2022 than it did in 2021, beginning with next Thursday’s meetings.

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