BY DAN VALENTI
Let us venture away from Teapots, Tempests, and “Tamings of the Shrew” to venture into a little Hot Stove League baseball, Pittsfield style. THE PLANET throws out the first pitch.
Last year was a year of firsts for the Pittsfield Colonials. It was a year of experimentation and enterprise, of trial and error, or efforts expended and lessons learned. Today , Nov. 18, 2010, we are well into the ball club’s first “off season.” One of the things that MUST be done this year that wasn’t done last year (because it couldn’t, and more on that below) is to market the ball club the way Coca-Cola hawks soda, that is, relentlessly to the point of shamelessly.
This column is not meant to tell them how to do this. There are many ideas, including contacting every — and we mean literally every — business, organization, summer camp, church group, and every other homogeneous or diverse group of people. The Colonials must generate season-ticket sales, advertising revenue, and group deals.
One positive sign: a billboard. When the THE PLANET cruises in the PLANETMOBILE to Pittsfield via Route 7, we see a big, fat billboard with a huge Colonials’ logo, selling season tickets. Good start. It must keep up the marketing pace. It must also address other issues evident from last year. Some may seem small, but “seems” is the operative word. There’s no such thing as a small item when it comes to selling baseball to Pittsfield at beloved Wahconah Park. Here are only a few issues:
* The Mascot — Captain Colonial was a disaster. The costume looked like it was hand made. The kid IN the costume had as much energy as superglue poured on the sidewalk in a January blizzard. He had no enthusiasm, no charisma, and no gymnastic or pantomine skills. His idea of “entertainment” was to walk slowly through the park, as if he had just seen his run over, and give people high fives with soiled gloves. Captain Colonial was, in a word, creepy, with that big baseball head, cheesy Johnny Tremain overcoat, polyethylene knickers, and filthy sneakers. When a REAL mascot came into town with the visiting ball club (the Worcester Tornados, for example) they put Capt. Colonial to shame. Solution: Invest in a new mascot, spend some money for a professional costume, and hire an actor who knows how to put on a show. We thought we might bust the Captain to Corporal, but now, we realize he has to be given his dishonorable discharge then shot at the firing squad.
* The Music — In a word, awful. Blaring bad songs though cheap, K-Mart speakers drives your best demographic away. Baby Boomers and parents, who buy most of the tickets, concessions, and beer, don’t want to hear hip-hop/rap/dubstep junk. We want baseball music at reasonable volume. Greg Martin, former GM, knew the music was bad but he didn’t tell the kids playing it to stop being DJs and start following orders: Beatles, Sinatra, oldies, organ, Banjo Joe. Well, okay, they did have the sense to let Banjo Joe do the 7th inning stretch.
* Consistency — The music issue points out a philosophic mistake the organization made. It said it would play off of the old-timey charm of Wahconah Park by adopting a “yesteryear updated to today” ambience, everything from the uniforms to sign lettering to music. They sent mixed signals, however. Uniforms were throwbacks, the signage wasn’t and neither was the music. The club needs consistency: do they want to the “old timey” thing again or not? Point is, pick one and follow through down the line. We would vote for chucking the uniforms (the players hated them) and have a new look. Keep the logo, though. That’s first rate.
There’s so much more to be said, but we shall top off the tank with this excerpt, adapted from an article THE PLANET wrote and published following the reception the city had for the team on city hall steps after the season had ended (TAKEN FROM “PLANET VALENTI” IN THE PITTSFIELD GAZETTE, SEPT. 23):
In Praise of Colonialism
On Monday, the city honored the Pittsfield Colonials for making it to within two games of winning the Can Am League Championship. Mayor Ruberto recognized the organization’s professionalism, stellar representation of the city, and flat-out good baseball presented all season at Wahconah Park.
Former Red Sox slugger Brian Daubach won the Can-Am’s Manager of the Year Award. The team fielded three All-Stars — League batting king Dan Carte, shortstop Matt Nandin, and second baseman Danny Bomback — and everyone on the team carried themselves well on and off the field.
Team owner Buddy Lewis made good on his pre-season pledge to “have a good team and make the fan experience a pleasant one.” Lewis gave Daubach control of the roster, and only losing three starters during the playoffs prevented the Colonials from taking the league crown. As for pleasantries, Wahconah Park featured great food, clean restrooms, reasonable prices, the wildly successful beer tent, and fun for the kids.
Attendance never caught up with the Colonials’ on-field success. The team averaged just over 700 fans a game (29,000), a figure distorted by the 9,000 attending Opening Day and Fourth of July sellouts. The team needs more weekend dates in July and August, it has to learn from its mistakes, and it has to market like a demon this off-season.
Their playoff run left a piquant taste in the mouths of baseball fans. The Colonials, with a year under their belts, will return stronger than ever … but only if they learn from their mistakes.
Across the Cultural Divide
Can baseball be a catalyst in lessening the socioeconomic split in the city, a morphed remainder of the seismic explosion in the “Haves vs. Have Nots” Civic Authority debate? The phrase “Civic Authority” describes the cynical attempt in 2001 to hijack local government using baseball as a pawn.
The Planet asked councilor-at-large Kevin Sherman:
“I absolutely believe it can,” Sherman answered. “You look at the councilors who were the largest proponents of this year’s squad — [Peter] White, [John] Krol, [Mike] Ward — and myself to a lesser extent, and you have non-biased and optimistic sorts. I was a proponent of the new ballpark back in the day and the other guys may have been as well. I can’t speak for them. But we’re all young and naive enough to be over it. We understand that it’s our responsibility to move the city forward in all areas.
“Aside from the division of a decade ago, there are also hard feelings from a group of individuals toward the current administration based on the improvements of the park and the processes that have or haven’t been taking place. Unfortunately, bitter personal battles have overflowed to the grand ol’ park, which is patently unfair.
“That gem has a lot of shine left. Bottom line is I received more positive vibes EVERYWHERE this summer about a night at the ballpark than I have in many years. The attendance may not have shown it, but the pride is back and we need to capitalize on it. Baseball CAN be [the] galvanizing force to reduce the cavernous social divide.”
Does The Planet hear a second for that motion? Councilors, squeak up. The hometown team needs you.
Oh yeah, since then, Brian Daubach has found his way back to affiliated baseball, signing to manage one of the Single A farm clubs of the Washington Nationals. This leave a huge hole in the organization. The choice of manager will be crucial in determining the fate of the franchise in 2011.