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A LOOK BACK AT 2020 FUTURES COLLEGIATE BASEBALL LEAGUE

The Futures Collegiate Baseball League’s 10th season was unlike any other, but it will certainly be an incredibly memorable one.

While many other summer collegiate leagues throughout the country were unable to hold their seasons as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, the Futures League held out hope to play ball -- and delivered on the promise of bringing its competitive brand of baseball to six New England communities in a safe and responsible manner -- during the months of July and August.

In the end, the Futures League was the only summer collegiate circuit based in the New England region to host its regular 2020 season. And what a season it was!

FANS IN THE STANDS

Amid the pandemic, Futures League games were played with fans in attendance.

State guidelines prevented spectators from attending games held in Massachusetts ballparks, but the New Britain (Conn.) Bees and Nashua (N.H.) Silver Knights hosted fans while following strict COVID-19 protocols at their respective ballparks throughout the summer. Both New Britain Stadium and Holman Stadium operated with 25 percent of typical capacity, following social distancing protocols in the crowd.

New Britain welcomed over 15,000 fans to the stadium over the course of the Bees’ first summer of Futures League action, while Nashua hosted over 9,000. Following each team’s 39-game regular-season schedule, the Silver Knights also hosted all three games of their exciting championship series victory against the Worcester Bravehearts to cap off the season, welcoming more than 2,000 total spectators into Holman Stadium.

STAYING THE COURSE ...

This Futures League season was a unique one on the field as well, coming after all levels of college baseball had their schedules halted in mid-March. A few New England schools had not yet played a single game.

Many baseball opportunities were taken away from players over the several months prior to the start of the summer, so the Futures League's main goal was to provide its players the chance to get back out on the field and compete.

Thus, having a Futures League season in 2020 was as important as ever.

"It was important for the FCBL and 3Step Sports to talk amateur baseball," said Dave Geaslen, the founder of 3Step Sports, the nation's largest youth sport event and club operator, based in Wilmington, Mass. Geaslen advised the FCBL as a member of the Outdoor Recreation Advisory Task Force in Massachusetts.

"There are tens of thousands of youth and amateur baseball players in Massachusetts that need to have guidelines to play all summer and this fall. Sharing information on how to play baseball safely in this very restrictive environment in Massachusetts requires as much cooperation between groups as possible."

It took months of hard work and cooperation from every team's ownership groups and front offices, adhering to various state and local guidelines, and several drafts of a schedule -- after the appropriate phase of reopening plans in Massachusetts was delayed by a week -- to make it happen, but it was time to play ball on July 2.

"We felt confident that we'd be able to pull this off, and each team did a great job whether they had fans in the stands or not," Futures League Commissioner Joe Paolucci said. "We knew it wasn't going to be easy, but our approach all along was to do whatever we could to play. Everything aligned perfectly for us."

Following strict health and safety protocols, the Futures League completed its entire season without any negative impacts from COVID-19.

"This was the improbable season," said John Creedon, Jr., the owner of the Worcester Bravehearts and Nashua Silver Knights. "In many ways, this improbable season has been bigger than baseball. My motto this season has been, 'Every game is a victory, regardless of the score.' This has been delicate and this has been very special."

Hearing the crack of the bat on a summer night never felt better.

... AND STAYING SAFE

In advance of the 2020 season, all six teams put together extensive COVID-19 readiness plans that covered all aspects of safely hosting games in their respective communities.

These plans included everything from distanced seating arrangements in the stands and markings in common spaces like concession stands and bathrooms to required temperature checks for players, coaches and staff entering the ballpark and added measures for serving food safely and operating the clubhouses.

The months of advanced planning helped to ensure that players, staff and all visitors to the ballpark felt safe throughout the summer.

"We were very impressed with the plans that the (Silver Knights) put in place themselves," said Director Bobbie Bagley of the Department of Public Health & Community Services in the City of Nashua, N.H. "It was a very smooth process working with them and then going on a site visit to see how it would all be executed. The keys were good communication and transparency, and it was great to see them have a safe, successful season bringing a fun sporting event back to our community."

Bagley gave a training to Silver Knights players and coaches at Holman Stadium before the start of the season in July, discussing COVID-19 guidelines and how they could best aid in the efforts to stop the spread.

Health departments and other officials in all six cities and towns were instrumental in making the league's season a success.

GREATER EXPOSURE

Even with restrictions on live fan attendance, Futures League action was delivered to the public in more ways than ever before!

For starters, every game of this summer’s season was streamed live on the FCBL Network as the league introduced its first-ever partnership with BlueFrame Technology back in June. FCBL teams used BlueFrame’s industry-leading Production Truck software and digital broadcast distribution to stream all games, offering single-game access for $8 and an All-Access Pass for $99.

WE'RE ON TV!

In addition to the upgraded league-wide streaming platform powered by BlueFrame, three Futures League games were televised regionally on New England Sports Network (NESN) during the month of August.

The three broadcasts were professionally produced by Pack Network in conjunction with NESN, featuring the same graphics used on a Boston Red Sox or Bruins telecast.

NESN's broadcasts allowed the Futures League to showcase its competitive brand of baseball, as well as highlight business partners of the league and its individual teams, to viewers throughout New England and beyond.

Check out the highlights from all three games:

FCBL ONLINE

The debut of the league’s first-ever “Back to the Futures” Podcast was highly successful, bringing interviews with Futures League players, coaches, staff and others to the fans. The show, which was made available across major podcasting platforms like Apple Podcasts, SoundCloud and Spotify, is expected to continue throughout the offseason in anticipation of summer baseball’s return in 2021.

All 27 episodes from Season 1 of BTTF can be seen here or downloaded on the three aforementioned platforms.

The league also increased its presence across a variety of social media platforms throughout the season, reaching more than 6,800 followers on Twitter and eclipsing 1,000 on Instagram.

ON THE FIELD

The Futures League turned into the top summer landing spot for some top talent from New England and beyond, hosting numerous premier prospects for upcoming MLB drafts. Nearly every Division 1 school in New England was represented across the six rosters, as were national brands like Vanderbilt, Maryland and Virginia.

"We have a lot of local guys on our roster, so I think it's a natural fit for us to have a lot of guys in this league," said Mike Glavine, the head coach at Northeastern University. "We only played 15 games in a very shortened season, so we want our players playing every day and our pitchers throwing as much as possible. We were ecstatic about the league being able to play this summer and having so many of our guys."

In terms of year-end awards, power-hitting catcher Ben Rice (Dartmouth, pictured) was named Most Valuable Player following his second straight season with the Worcester Bravehearts. Rice led the league with 11 home runs while totaling 27 RBI, 84 bases and a .683 slugging percentage. The Cohasset, Mass., native finished second in the circuit with a team-leading .350 average.

Nick Sinacola (Maine) became the first member of the Brockton Rox since 2015 to be named the FCBL’s Pitcher of the Year after turning in a second consecutive dominant season from the top of the team’s rotation, finishing the year with the league’s second-ranked ERA (1.62). He set the pace in the strikeout department, recording 55 across 39 innings of work.

Rice, Sinacola, Worcester pitcher Angelo Baez (St. Thomas Aquinas) and Nashua outfielder Jared Dupere (Northeastern) were all named to the All-FCBL First Team for the second straight summer.

TOP PROSPECTS

Perhaps the most coveted MLB prospect in the league was North Shore Navigators outfielder Sal Frelick, the Boston College junior who is ranked 18th among potential 2021 draftees by MLB.com. The Lexington, Mass., native is the first player in Futures League history to be named Top Pro Prospect twice. When the Cape Cod League season was cancelled, Frelick returned to the team for which he played as a rising BC freshman in 2018.

Frelick saw time in both the infield and outfield over his 24 games this summer, posting a league-leading .398 average with 26 runs scored, a .473 on-base percentage and .592 slugging percentage. He started the season on a 17-game hit streak and reached base in all but two contests.

Frelick’s BC classmate, infielder Cody Morissette, is another highly touted prospect entering the 2021 college season. The duo helped the Navigators earn a nod from Baseball America as the sixth-best roster in all of summer collegiate baseball.

On the mound, a pair of hard-throwing University of Connecticut teammates shared the league’s Top Pro Pitching Prospect honors this summer.

Ben Casparius became the first-ever New Britain Bee to earn a Futures League award. The righty from Westport, Conn., and the state's former Gatorade Player of the Year impressed over his three starts for the first-year franchise, striking out 18 while allowing just one earned run on five hits in 12 innings.

The left-handed Reggie Crawford made five relief appearances for the Westfield Starfires, earning three saves while allowing just one run on five hits and striking out 10 over 6.1 innings. Crawford struck out the side in his NESN-televised outing on Aug. 3 against New Britain.

The Frackville, Pa., native was a Freshman All-American in 2019 and had been drafted by the Kansas City Royals before entering UConn.

North Shore Navigators outfielder Ben Malgeri (Northeastern) took home FCBL Defensive Player of the Year honors. The rising junior from Stratham, N.H., played in all of the Navs’ 38 games, recording 67 putouts over a league-high 74 total chances on the grass, five outfield assists and factored into a pair of double plays.

Malgeri also ranked among the league leaders in numerous offensive categories, hitting .333 with 27 RBI and a league-leading 49 hits, 46 runs, franchise record-tying seven triples, and 18 stolen bases.

Joey Walsh (Boston College) was dominant out of the bullpen for the Brockton Rox and earned FCBL Relief Pitcher of the Year honors. Hailing from nearby Plymouth, Mass., Walsh allowed just five hits over his 17 innings of scoreless ball. He struck out 24 against eight walks and held opponents to a miniscule .096 average in that time.

Worcester Bravehearts infielder Mariano Ricciardi (Dayton) received the Commissioner's Award based on his commitment to his team and the Worcester community over the last four years.

Described by Paolucci as a "great representative of the FCBL on and off the field," the Worcester Academy product helped spark the Bravehearts to back-to-back championships in 2018 and 2019. Ricciardi was a 2019 FCBL All-Star while ranking 10th in the league in average (.311) and first in doubles (17), and he played in four games this season before being sidelined due to injury.

THE WAY IT ALL ENDED

Before a capacity crowd (socially distanced, of course) at Holman Stadium, the Nashua Silver Knights won their record fifth Futures League championship in a 2-1 series against the Worcester Bravehearts.

In a testament to the high quality of play all summer, the series marked just the second in the league's 10-year history that needed the full three games to complete. Nashua won the final two games of the series, finishing it off with a 5-3 win on Aug. 22.

The Silver Knights were named FCBL Organization of the Year for their on- and off-field efforts during the unprecedented 2020 season, while General Manager Cam Cook was the recipient of the William J. Terlecky Executive of the Year Award.

A former pitcher in the Red Sox organization, the Silver Knights' Kyle Jackson was named the FCBL's Manager of the Year. It was his first year as the team's skipper after spending six as the pitching coach.

Jackson guided Nashua out of a 0-3 hole on the way to a second-place finish in the league standings and the championship.

First baseman Kyle Bouchard (Nichols) was named the Championship Series MVP after joining Nashua during the final stretch of the season. He went 5-for-11 with three runs scored and five RBI, hitting a game-tying home run in the first championship game.

HONORING THE PAST, LOOKING TO THE FUTURE

The 2020 season marked the 10th in Futures League history, a milestone that was celebrated during an inaugural Golf Tournament and Hall of Fame Induction on October 9 at Cyprian Keyes Golf Club in Boylston, Mass.

More than 100 golfers participated in the event. All proceeds went towards the Adam Keenan Foundation, which presented the Adam Keenan Sportsmanship and Scholarship Award to one member of each Futures League team in 2020.

The first class of Hall of Famers included 13 individuals who have, in a variety of ways, contributed to the league’s creation and continued success. Several attended the event, including Nashua Silver Knights alum and current San Francisco Giants outfielder Chris Shaw (pictured second from right).

The Futures League is excited to continue its momentum into a new year in 2021, continuing to bring high-quality baseball and affordable family entertainment to its communities throughout New England.

Only as time has passed has the accomplishment of pulling off the 2020 season truly set in for those involved.

"The farther away we get from our summer season, we’re now seeing more clearly how impressive of a feat it actually was to pull off the Futures League’s 2020 season," Creedon said. "We’re watching pro teams and leagues struggling to keep players and staff healthy and safe, while universities, entire school systems, and businesses – both large and small – wrestle and scramble to operate. The Futures League teams know the pain and degree of difficulty involved to operate in this pandemic.

"The fact that the Futures League franchises safely navigated the 2020 season is nothing short of extraordinary."

Credits:

Anthony Mancuso, John Corneau, Cody Charneski, Alexis Thompson, Kyle Prudhomme, Emma Carman, Joshua Kummins and David Hosmer