LINK: http://www.burlingtonfreepress.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20060910/SPORTS/609100323/1002&theme=Vermont Lake Monsters: Change coming to Centennial?
By Mike Donoghue
Free Press Staff Writer
September 10, 2006
For 13 years, Burlington's entry in the New York-Penn League has been stocked with prospects from the Montreal Expos/Washington Nationals organizations.
Next summer, instead of young Nats swarming around Centennial Field, future Cardinals, Pirates, Marlins or Indians could be honing their skills as Vermont Lake Monsters in the venerable facility.
With another abysmal season in the books, owner Ray Pecor must consider whether to seek a new affiliation for his Class A short-season team or renew with the Nationals.
Vermont's player development contract with the Nationals ends this month and the affiliations of seven teams in the New York-Penn League are somewhat up for grabs.
In reality, Vermont might find only three teams have an interest: the St. Louis Cardinals, the Florida Marlins or the Nationals.
Vermont is guaranteed a minor league franchise through 2010, according to C.J. Knudsen, general manager of the Lake Monsters. Knudsen said it was premature to discuss what Vermont might do. Pecor, who brought minor league baseball back to Vermont, could not be reached for comment.
Several NYP affiliations are not likely to change. The Boston Red Sox have a solid link with the Lowell Spinners and their new stadium. The Cleveland Indians appear locked in with their home state franchise, the Mahoning Valley Scrappers.
Pennsylvania, which hosts the Williamsport Crosscutters (Pittsburgh Pirates), picked up a second team this summer when the State College Spikes (Cardinals) moved from New Jersey. The contracts with both Pennsylvania teams are among the seven expiring this month.
More minor league affiliates are relocating closer to their major league parents, which could cause shuffling with the two Pennsylvania teams. The Philadelphia Phillies could move their Single A affiliate -- the Batavia Muckdogs -- out of New York. State College might come to terms with the Pirates, leaving Williamsport to sign an agreement with the Phillies.
If State College signs with a different major league club, Vermont could court the Cardinals.
Another available franchise is the Florida Marlins, currently affiliated with the Jamestown (N.Y.) Jammers. The Marlins are owned by Jeffrey Loria, who sold the Montreal Expos to major league baseball so he could buy the Florida franchise. The Expos eventually moved to Washington D.C. and became the Nationals.
The final option is to extend the agreement with the Nationals, but patience is wearing thin with fans over the lack of quality players and success. The Vermont franchise has won one NYP title in 13 years, and has suffered losing seasons in nine of the past 10 summers.
This season began with renewed interest. Much about the Vermont team was new: a new team name; new colors (navy blue, Columbia blue and Irish green); a new logo; new food delicacies; and new players. It also marked the return of manager Jose Alguacil after a year's absence.
Once the games began, it became the same old story. The final record of 23-52 was the second worst in the team's 13-year history.
"The team's performance on the field has been mediocre. It's disappointing obviously for the front office and it's disappointing for the fans. Those are the people that come and go to Centennial Field and cheer on the Monsters on a nightly basis," Knudsen said recently.
"We just want to put a good product on the field and also a good product off the field. From an operations standpoint, we think things went really well. We'll see in the next month or so what will shake out with our process with re-affilaiting with the Washington Nationals or another major league baseball team. Baseball is guaranteed to be here in Burlington next year."
Home attendance still surpassed 100,000 this year, yet Knudsen knows the losing seasons take a toll. In 2000, when Vermont was in the hunt for the playoffs, games drew 300 to 400 more fans per night. A reduction in fans costs the local franchise money in loss of ticket sales, as well as revenue from food, clothing and souvenirs.