Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Should Westbrook Jump Into the NECBL?

Adam Howard's article about Anthony D'Alfonso playing for the Sanford Mainers (see below) jogged my brain about a curiousity I've entertained for a couple years: Should Westbrook try to garner a New England Collegiate Baseball League (NECBL) team? Below are the possible positives and negatives associated with the idea:


Westbrook's social fabric would be strengthened and its civic pride boosted.
The most memorable aspect of my experience as a volunteer for the Mainers was the enthusiasm Sanford residents had for their team. Moreover, between the volunteers, the host families, and the fans in the stands, the Mainers provide ample opportunity for Sanford folk to build social capital (fancy-speak for building trust and relationships based on reciprocity) that have undoubtedly enriched Sanford's civic life.

Westbrook's range of entertainment would be broadened.
The entertainment options Westbrook offers throughout June and July can always be improved. And I personally think wooden-bat baseball played by earnest college kids potentially bound for the Major Leagues is a decent attraction for the city to offer.

Local players would be given a greater opportunity to play against good competition.
Although a majority of the Mainers' roster is made up of collegiate players from other parts of the country, they do seem to make an effort to include a couple Maine kids each year. Tip Fairchild of Lewiston, for example, toiled with the Mainers for a summer before being drafted by the Houston Astros in the twelfth round of the 2005 draft. And Portland's Ryan Reid pitched for the Mainers before the Tampa Bay Devil Rays drafted him in the seventh round of the 2006 draft. Considering Westbrook High School has a talented crop of players rising through its ranks--not to mention the solid ballplayers annually stocked at the University of Southern Maine and St. Joseph's College--another Maine-based NECBL would probably mean a couple more slots for Maine players.

Westbrook's economy may be given a boost.
It's too difficult to know if a team would yield a net a profit for city businesses, but a team would presumably draw out-of-towners to Westbrook, as well as locals. And said out-of-towners are probably not currently frequenting Westbrook businesses on a summer evening to the degree they might if such an attraction existed.


Too much competition for the small-baseball dollar.
Sure, a Westbrook-based NECBL team would have to fight the Mainers for a few fans (not to mention the Sanford team's broad nickname). But the greater competition would be that posed by the neighboring Portland Sea Dogs. Besides boasting actual professional ballplayers, the Sea Dogs pretty much target the same pool of fans by using the same sales pitch a NECBL team uses: Come out for a relatively cheap night out with the family and maybe you'll even be able to catch a glimpse of a future major-leaguer. To be sure, the Mainers have to compete with the Sea Dogs, but geography allows a greater cushion between Sanford and Portland than Westbrook's proximity to the Forest City does. Nevertheless, a bright side is that NECBL clubs are surviving by drawing anywhere from a couple hundred to a couple thousand fans each night. Sanford, for example, has attracted between 300 and 700 fans per home game. So would a Westbrook club be able to attract that much support? And if so, would that be enough?

Westbrook's current baseball facilities may not be adequate.
Westbrook has three baseball diamonds outfitted with lights. Unfortunately, none of the three--two Westbrook Little League baseball and softball fields and Fraser Field--are suitable for NECBL play. Moreover, the two fields--Westbrook High School and Warren Field--(sans lights, of course) lack even a rudimentary grandstand and boast only skeleton bleachers. To be fair, Sanford's Goodall Park is the only NECBL ballpark I've been to, but I'm afraid Westbrook's current facilities would prove to be inadequate for the demands of an NECBL club.

- John C.L. Morgan

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