“PLAY BALL!” If that phrase is music to your ears, chances are pretty strong that you are an avid baseball fan. But if you don’t enjoy long, hot drives on busy highways to professional venues or if you find that ticket prices are a bit out of reach for affordable family entertainment, college-level baseball offers a great alternative.
Some of the most competitive and exciting games are played at the college level, where Major League scouts like to look for future pro talent, but where in the Lakes Region can you and your family find college-level baseball during the summer months? Look no further than the Robbie Mills Memorial Sports Complex, the home venue of the Laconia Muskrats Baseball team.
Now in its second season, Laconia Muskrats, a member of the competitive , will play an intense schedule of 42 games from June 10th through July 31st against other college level teams throughout New England. The League, which was created in 1993 and which is sanctioned by the NCAA and Major League Baseball, consists of 12 teams located throughout the six New England states, and the League is considered to be one of the key stepping stones for players to move on to professional-level teams.
“The NECBL is a heavily scouted league,” says Muskrats Owner/General Manager Noah Crane. “Performance in the NECBL is a more accurate barometer of a player’s skills because they are competing against the best players in the country and using wooden bats, not the metal they use in college.
“Over 70% of players from the NECBL go on to play professional baseball,” Crane adds. “Playing with the Muskrats gives our players a foretaste of professional baseball. We play nearly six games a week, with large crowds, wooden bats, top quality talent, and lots of time spent travelling on a bus. Playing for the Muskrats lets them show their abilities to the professional scouting community to see if they are skilled enough to play professionally.”
Crane notes that another advantage for players of playing in Laconia during the summer months is the Big Lake. “We are searching for the best college baseball players and they come from all over the country,” Crane says. “The draw of Laconia is the Lake. The summer is a fantastic time to live in the Lakes Region and on our off days, the players take full advantage of all the Lake has to offer.”
Games typically start at a family-friendly time of 6:00 p.m. Sunday – Thursday, and at 7:00 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays. Fans can choose to sit on the bleachers, which have a seating capacity of about 1200, or they can bring a lawn chair or blanket to sit on. A concession stand offers typical ballpark food, such as hot dogs, sausages, hamburgers, candy, and ice cream, and you can also enjoy pizza, tacos, and kettle corn.
Ticket prices are also family-friendly. General admission for adults is $5.00; for seniors over age 64 and students from ages 11 – 17, the cost is $3.00; and children and active military personnel are admitted for free. You can opt to buy season tickets at a discounted rate as well.
Crane explains why the field in Laconia was chosen to be the venue of the team and how it all came about after his family purchased a NECBL team originally based in Manchester, Connecticut.
“We were looking for a location that was far enough away from professional baseball, had a lighted baseball field, and had an ample business and population base,” Crane says. “Laconia had all of these elements, but what it also has is a supportive city government and a robust summer tourist economy.”
Noah Crane and his father Jonathan approached Laconia City officials about the possibility of using the field at the Robbie Mills Sports Complex, located on the corner of Meredith Center Road and Eastman Road. The sports complex had been created in 2005 in memory of Robbie Mills, a local teenager who had been murdered a few years previously, and it was used heavily by local high school athletic teams. Extensive renovations would have to be made to the field in order for the still-to-be named NECBL team to be able to utilize it to meet NECBL criteria.
City officials were enthusiastic about the idea, and working together with the Cranes and a major sponsor, Laconia Savings Bank, renovations began. These included new bleachers, a press box, a public address system with multiple speakers, a full field tarp, a batting cage, and enlarged dugouts. The existing fencing also had to be pushed back in order to lengthen the outfield dimensions, and improvements were made to the playing surface. By late spring 2010, the field was ready for the newly named Laconia Muskrats to play ball.
According to Noah Crane, the Muskrats’ inaugural season in 2010 drew nearly 12,000 people to Robbie Mills Field during the 23 home games, and although the team ended up in 4th place in the League with a 20-22 record, enthusiasm remains high for the upcoming 2011 season.
“As we grow as an organization, we will continue to find new ways to entertain our fans,” Noah Crane says. “Each season will feature new contests, new promotions, and new players.”
According to The Muskrats website, for the 2011 season the team hopes to sell 200 season tickets by June 1st, and if they reach that goal, $2,000 will be donated to the Laconia Boys and Girls Club. Other community-related promotions planned for this summer include Community Partnership Nights.
“We are holding six Community Partnership Nights this summer where we will partner with six local charities to raise money and awareness for their organizations,” Crane states. “We have partnered with the Humane Society, the Laconia Historical Society, the Salvation Army, the Boys and Girls Club, the United Way, and St. Vincent’s Food Pantry.”
For more information about the Laconia Muskrats, including ticket prices, the schedule, and directions, log on to www.laconiamuskrats.com.
Photos courtesy of the Laconia Muskrats.