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White River Junction - The cost of renovating Lebanon High School's baseball facility has led the owner of a proposed New England Collegiate Baseball League franchise to shift his plans for a team in 2015 to Hartford's Maxfield recreation fields on U.S. Route 5.
Noah Crane, of Lebanon, said on Tuesday that he is working with Hartford Town Manager Hunter Rieseberg and Parks and Recreation Department Director Tad Nunez on the upgrades Maxfield would need to host a team in the NECBL, a summer college league with franchises throughout New England.
Initial estimates for making Lebanon High suitable for a team came in at $1.2 million, "and I don't have that kind of money," Crane said. "I don't think it would make sense to invest that much into it."
Instead, prepping Maxfield should cost in the $300,000 to $350,000 range that Crane first had in mind when he proposed a franchise in Lebanon last year. A baseball field at Maxfield has been seeded and is being given all of 2014 to take root; that works well for Crane, who decided in December to put off establishing an Upper Valley NECBL team until the 2015 season.
"At theof the day, the Hartford facility is brand new," Crane said. "They have actively recruited us from the beginning. We have minimal upgrades to do to get their facility up to the standards of the league. It's a win-win in terms of timing, in terms of what we're walking into. It's a beautiful partnership."
The NECBL, a 20-year-old league that fielded 13 teams last summer, has yet to officially approve an Upper Valley franchise. Once done, it would be co-owned by Crane and his father, Jonathan, who have also owned the league's Laconia Muskrats for five years.
While nothing is official, Nunez confirmed on Tuesday that he and Rieseberg have been talking with Crane about making Maxfield the unnamed team's home.
"This would be a really cool thing to have in Hartford, to have wooden bats and summer baseball for a very inexpensive outing, for people to have another family activity to do," Nunez said.
"Also, we like what we saw in the business plan concept that Crane put forward, knowing that we had put out substantial money to date building the complex. We've done quite a bit of work and we're delighted that Noah has shown, as we have, a willingness to move forward and explore if this is mutually beneficial to both the town and his proposed franchise."
NECBL teams field rosters of current college athletes playing a 42-game schedule from early June to early August. Franchises customarily use existing facilities, paying for necessary upgrades in exchange for being able to play games there.
The Lebanon School Board gave the Cranes the OK to investigate upgrading the high school field last August. It was going to be a challenge from the start because of its compact layout and relative lack of amenities.
Crane - a Woodstock High graduate, former high school and collegiate pitcher and one-time Mascoma High baseball coach - said the back-breaker for the Lebanon site proved to be building a new concessions building and new bathrooms. Even if he could whittle down the estimate to something more palatable, it still wouldn't get his cost close to what he'd spend to make Maxfield ready for NECBL play.
"There are bathrooms on site at Maxfield; they have two pavilions with bathrooms, and that takes a huge expense out," Crane said. "With Lebanon, we would have had to build bathrooms, a concession building, seating, batting cages, bullpens, all-new fencing and do field work as well, and lights. The overall number was very, very high. It wasn't feasible for us."
Meanwhile, Nunez tapped recreation contacts in other towns that host NECBL teams, receiving good feedback on how the league operates.
"We enjoy bringing ... the types of activities that have indirect economic growth," he added. "People going there may stay overnight, use restaurants, buy gas. At the same time, we have a venue that will be another means to a revenue stream that has yet to be determined."
Crane's plan for Maxfield would include a 700-person bleacher section behind home plate topped by a press box and additional bleachers down each line that would accommodate another 500 to 800 spectators.
One unplanned benefit for Maxfield, if Crane and the town can reach a formal agreement, would be the installation of lights. Nunez said lights were in the Maxfield plan and supports have been constructed, but the town had expected to undergo a fundraising campaign before they could be built.
"He's demonstrated to us the infrastructure that may not have gotten completed as quickly as we'd have liked to," Nunez added.
For now, Crane is busy creating the Upper Valley Baseball Foundation, a 501c3 nonprofit that would oversee the NECBL team. The town and Crane are discussing terms for use of Maxfield; Crane would also like league authorities to visit and assess Maxfield before making the agreement with Hartford official, something he'd like to complete within the next 60 days.
"I'm excited for the project, and the town of Hartford has put a lot into it," Crane said. "I saw what (Maxfield) looked like before the snow hit. It'll be a special place. I'm excited to be part of the project, and I'm looking forward to 2015."
The 2014 NECBL season will feature 12 New England-based teams beginning play on June 5. The league lost the Saratoga Brigade, its first upstate New York franchise, which folded after one year.
Greg Fennell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 603-727- 3226.