City gets second shot at baseball success
Chip Malafronte , Register Staff 01/16/2004
NEW HAVEN — Single-digit temperatures and four inches of freshly fallen snow on Thursday made it tough to imagine baseball at Yale Field.
Yet the sub-Arctic weather hardly soured Rick Handelman’s vision of warm summer nights, big crowds and the crack of the bat.
Handelman, an investment adviser from Scarsdale, N.Y., officially announced the return of professional baseball to the city at a press conference at Yale’s Smilow Center.
Yale Field will play host to a Northeast League franchise starting this spring.
"We couldn’t be happier with the way this deal has come together," said Handelman, who helped organize investors and will serve as president of the new club.
New Haven lost its Double-A Eastern League franchise, the Ravens, after it was sold last year.
The Ravens relocated to Manchester, N.H., at the conclusion of the 2003 season in September.
The as-of-yet unnamed team is relocating from Pittsfield, Mass., where it played in the independent Northeast League as the Berkshire Black Bears.
Jonathan Fleisig, who owned the Berkshire franchise, remains as principal owner of the New Haven team.
Among the group of investors is Allen Hadelman, a developer with ties to Greater New Haven, and longtime New York Ranger defenseman and future hockey hall of famer Brian Leetch, who grew up in Cheshire.
More professional hockey players could get involved according to Handelman, who has connections with the Rangers.
Handelman said the new ownership group is committed to making minor league baseball succeed in New Haven, something the Ravens failed to do in 10 seasons.
The new ownership group plans on using "several hundred thousand dollars" of their own money to make renovations to 77-year-old Yale Field.
"We’re not coming in with our own money, making capital improvements then leaving," Handelman said. "We expect to be here for the long haul."
Among the changes at the ballpark will be construction of as many as six luxury suites that will flank the current press box.
The left-field bleachers will also be removed and replaced with a play area for children.
Handelman said the concession area would be re-outfitted with new equipment.
The stadium facilities, including team offices, public restrooms and both clubhouses, will be spruced up.
The group is optimistic about the large New Haven market as well as Yale Field.
Operating costs for the Northeast League are lower than the Eastern League mainly because of a shorter season. The new team will play 46 games at Yale Field starting on May 31 as opposed to the Ravens’ 71 home dates.
"The short-season element makes a dramatic difference," said Bob Wirz, a senior consultant for the New Haven team. "It’s the reason why most of the independent leagues are going with a shorter season."
After renovations, seating capacity at the stadium will drop by nearly 2,000 from the current 6,200. The Ravens averaged between 2,750 and 3,000 fans over their final five seasons in New Haven.
"We don’t need to sell 6,500 seats every game," Handelman said. "We’re structured to be successful with lower attendance numbers. We always want the stands to be packed, but we can succeed with under 3,000 per game."
Handelman estimated the team’s working budget for the season at more than $500,000.
That includes player salaries.
The Northeast League invokes a salary cap of just less than $100,000 for the 22-man rosters, and players can earn anywhere from $750 per month to $7,000.
Ticket prices have yet to be set, but Handelman promised they would not increase from last year’s Ravens’ prices.
The next steps for the franchise include determining a nickname. Fans can suggest nicknames via the Internet (www.newhavenbaseball.com) or by mail (252 Derby Ave., West Haven, 06516).
The team is also hiring a front-office staff. Handelman hopes to have a general manager in place soon. Currently, Assistant General Manager Marie Heikkinen Webb is the lone employee.
Jarvis Brown was named the field manager on Dec. 31. He is responsible for signing the majority of players.
Wirz said the team will hold an open tryout and two-week training camp, most likely at Yale Field, prior to the season opener at Elmira (N.Y.) on May 27. The home opener is May 31 against Allentown (Pa.).
WHAT TO EXPECT
ABOUT THE NORTHEAST LEAGUE
The Northeast League is one of five independent professional baseball leagues in the country. Eight teams play a 92-game schedule from late May to Labor Day. In addition to New Haven, teams are located in Brockton and Lynn (North Shore), Mass.; Montclair, N.J.; Bangor, Maine; Elmira, N.Y.; Allentown, Pa.; and Quebec City, Canada.
ABOUT NEW HAVEN’S TEAM
Investment adviser Rick Handelman leads an ownership group that includes Brian Leetch of the New York Rangers and New York businessman Jonathan Fleisig. The New Haven franchise was formerly known as the Berkshire Bears and played in Pittsfield, Mass. Jarvis Brown is the field manager. Marie Heikkinen-Webb is the team’s assistant general manager.
WHAT ABOUT A NAME?
Nothing’s been decided yet, and the team is seeking suggestions for a name. Go to www.newhavenbaseball.com to participate. Deadline is Jan. 23.
May 31, June 1-2: Allentown; June 3-6: Brockton; June 14-17: New Jersey; June 21-23: Quebec; June 25-27: North Shore; July 5-7: Bangor; July 8-11: Elmira; July 16-18: Bangor; July 29-31, Aug. 1: Quebec; Aug. 2-4: Allentown; Aug. 9-11: Brockton; Aug. 20-22: North Shore; Aug. 23-25: New Jersey; Sept. 4-6: Elmira
New Haven has the rights to the following players, who played for Berkshire last season. Some may be on New Haven’s roster.
• Eddie Aucoin, RHP; Orlando Encarnacion, RHP; Courtney Hall, RHP; Tony Harden, RHP; Dan Henderson, RHP; Scott Meyer, LHP; Shane Waroff, RHP; Christopher Biones, C; Manny Crespo, C; Mark Burnett, INF; Shane Hopper, INF; Ryan Jones, INF; Jose Mateo, INF; Pete Paciorek, INF; Kevin Forbes, OF; P.J. Johnston, OF.