By Matt Noonan
The Pittsfield Suns, a member of the Futures Collegiate Baseball League, will begin its 2013 campaign this evening as they host the Torrington Titans at historic Wahconah Park.
The Suns, who exceeded great expectations last season, finished second in the league in attendance, as well as revived the Berkshire County baseball community, too.
Pittsfield finished fifth last season with a 27-25 mark, but will attempt to earn a spot in this year’s postseason and bring the city a championship, something a former squad (Pittsfield Colonials) almost did in 2010.
Noontime Sports caught up with first-year general manager, Kevin McGuire, earlier this week to discuss the team’s first season, along with their goals and objectives for their second year.
Last year was a great season, but what was the secret to the organization’s success?
“We made promises and we kept promises. We told people that it would be a different brand of baseball and that it would be fun and entertaining and it would be a lot more than just a baseball game. Everything from our promotions to our giveaways to our firework nights to our in between inning contests, I think we certainly delivered on that and we’ll look to expand on that this year.”
What sort of promotions has helped attract fans to the ballpark? What are some new events or promotions or themes we can expect for this season?
“We have a few different nights that are really focused on community outreach and helping those in the community that need the help. One promotion that I am very proud of is called, ‘shirt of your back night,’ which will be on July 22. We did that last year and we raised $1,722 for an organization called Soldier On, and if you’re not familiar with Soldier On, they help homeless veterans that come back from Iraq and Afghanistan that are battling posttraumatic stress or they’re homeless, and the organization helps get them back on their feet by getting them jobs and getting them homes. It’s an organization that I have a tremendous amount of respect for especially because both my grandparents served in the armed forces, so I am tremendously happy to be able to do that again this year.
“On July 23, we’ll have a Hometown Heroes Night, on June 26 we have a Torch Run Night, which is a night that will be a fundraiser for all of the Berkshire County Special Olympians, so we’re doing things to show that we’re more than just a baseball team. We’re here and we want to be the best possible community partner that we can be and if we don’t support the community that supports us, then we won’t be here, so we understand and know the importance of helping those that make us successful.”
What did you learn as the organization’s assistant general manager? Also, do you have a special memory from last season?
“As far as what I learned last year as the assistant general manager, our general manager last year was Jamie Keefe, who was also our on field manager, so once the season rolled around he was pretty focused on the team and the on field product, so for all intensive purposes I handled the majority of the responsibilities as well as overseeing the entire staff, so it was really good experience for me because I got the opportunity to be a general manager on training wheels. I had Jamie to fall back on when I had questions, so it was a great learning experience for me last summer to be able to basically run the show, but know Jamie was there to lend a guiding hand when needed.
“As far as being able to interact with fans during the game, I do double duty as the PA Announcer, so I interact with all of them throughout the game over the microphone, but probably one of the most important things about my job is talking with the fans and finding out what it is that’s going to make them comeback or what it is that they’re unhappy about. I look at customer complaints as a way to improve because no one likes to get complaints, but we kind of do. If we don’t know what we’re doing wrong then we won’t be able to rectify the issue and make it right.
“On the flipside, it’s great when fans come up to me and say, ‘thank you so much for bringing this team to Pittsfield, we’ve missed seeing a team like this.’ Finally, every night after every game I stand right at the front gate and thank every fan as they walk out.”
Wahconah Park will host the FCBL All-Star Game this season. Can you talk about the process of bringing that game to Pittsfield and what fans can expect?
“I tried very hard and luckily we were successful in bringing the All-Star Game to the city. Pittsfield is a tremendous baseball city and has wealth of knowledge about the game and the fans here are so passionate that I knew the All-Star Game would be a game that they would really love and they would really dive into one hundred percent. I knew they’d come to the pre-game ceremonies and they’d stay right until the end, no matter what the score would be because you’re going to see future major leaguers on the field for the All-Star Game this year.
“The level of talent in the league has gone up tremendously and we’ve had 20 guys drafted so far in just two seasons, so I fought hard for it because I knew it would be a game that the community would love and so far the reaction has been nothing, but overwhelmingly positive and we can’t wait to get that going.
“As far as what the pregame activities or ceremonies will be, we’re still going to keep the lid on that for a little while longer, but we’ve got some things worked up in typical Goldklang Group fashion. It will be a little different, so I think I’ll leave it at that, but we will certainly let the fans know when the time gets closer, but we’re going to hold back on that for a little while longer.”
The Suns will feature members from last season, as well as some local players, too. Can you talk about that?
“It’s a great feeling and consistency is a big thing. If I was going to handpick four kids to come back this year, I wouldn’t have been able to pick a better four. As far as leaders, both on the field, in the clubhouse, you couldn’t ask for better guys. They’re all Division I players that all had great seasons this year, and like I said, you couldn’t have handpicked four better guys to come back and represent the Pittsfield Suns in our second season. I know they’ll do a great job and in the days that they’ve been here they’ve already taken the new guys under their wing and telling them about all the things we do in the community and how they’re kind of rock stars in Pittsfield.”
Is there a certain team that attracts more fans than usual?
“We played all the teams pretty well last year, so to say there was a team they favored to see I didn’t notice. This year we’ll play Torrington seven times at home versus playing Old Orchard Beach twice, but projecting in the future I see the rivalry building between us and Torrington and Wachusett. Those two teams are geographically kind of close to us, so that’s what I see is developing that friendly rivalry and fans get really rowdy and excited when they come to town.”
From a personal perspective, what’s one of the most gratifying things about being the PA Announcer at Wahconah Park?
“It’s very special and very humbling. I get to stand and overlook the field that Lou Gehrig played his first professional game on. I get to stand and look at one of the oldest parks in the country. I get to look out and see upwards to 4,000 fans on a big night smiling and knowing that we’re making them happy. Baseball kind of got beaten up in the last 10-12 years in Pittsfield, so to be kind of one heading this renaissance baseball and giving the Berkshires back their baseball is a very special feeling to me. It’s not something that I take lightly. The fact that I come to work every day, even in the middle of the winter to Wahconah Park is a very special humbling feeling to me.”
Finally, what’re you most excited for this season? Are you ready for some baseball?
“The first thing I am looking forward to is seeing all of our fans that I have gotten to see in 10 months, except for the ones that you see out in the community. I am excited to see the same old faces and I am hoping and excited to see a lot of new faces, too. I am excited personally to read the starting lineups on Opening Night because that kind of marks for me that we made it through the offseason, so let’s get it going. Finally, I am looking forward to those big special nights, which include Opening Night, Fourth of July, the All-Star Game, the closing nights, some of our fun promotional and giveaway nights. Those nights to me are where we’re going to put 4,000 people in the park and those are the nights that are exciting and make the 18-20 hour days that we do this time of year all worth it.”