With New Ownership And A New League, The Lake Monsters Return This Weekend
Baseball is coming back to Burlington this weekend. For the first time since 2019, the Vermont Lake Monsters will take the field. And since then, much has changed for the organization off the field.Earlier this year, Major League Baseball cut 40 low-level minor league teams from its affiliation, including the Lake Monsters, then a new ownership group took over the team and moved it to the Futures Collegiate Baseball League. That means the players on the field are in college, not the pros. So how might things look different to fans who come to Centennial Field this summer?
VPR’s Henry Epp spoke with the Vermont Lake Monsters’ new president and COO Chris English. Their interview is below and has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Henry Epp: The players on the Lake Monsters are no longer in the minor leagues. So will the play on the field be of a lesser quality than what fans have seen in the past?
Chris English: I'll leave it to our fans and observers who come watch, but the answer is the quality of play is extremely high. Last year, the Futures League was the only league in the country that played, and as a result — which was quite a Herculean effort on our part, but — all these kids had not played and we gave them opportunity to.
You know, one of the players in that league is probably going to go in the top five picks in the MLB draft this year. You'll still see, you know, pitchers throwing 90-93 [miles per hour], and hitters hitting the ball 400 feet.
This isn't your first foray into collegiate baseball, you actually own the Brockton Rox, which is another team in the Futures League. Given that Major League Baseball cut its affiliation, why in your view are the Lake Monsters a good investment right now?
Well, it's an amazing market, it's an amazing brand. And you know, you asked what will fans see on the field, in addition to the on-the-field stuff being pretty much the same, the off-the-field stuff is exactly the same. There's Champ, of course, our mascot and all the antics, but also other things that you can do in the Futures League that we can do because we're independent, and we don't have to report up to the big club. So for example, if we're tied after 10 innings, we go to home run derby. So there's all sorts of interesting things we can do.
But the Burlington market, rabid fans, they love their baseball, they love being out. Centennial Field is a jewel, and we're doing a lot of renovations to the park to make it even better than it was before.
As we're recording this, large gatherings are still limited in Vermont. There's limits on the number of unvaccinated people that can be together in one place. So what will the experience be like for fans in terms of COVID restrictions, particularly in the next few weeks while these restrictions are in place?
We are in touch with the governor and the mayor and everybody on a daily basis. We're hoping to get some pretty good news soon from the governor's office. Until then, we have a ticketing system that essentially allows for socially-distanced seating. You have to check and certify if you've been vaccinated or not. If you've been vaccinated, then we have an unlimited number of seats we can sell, subject to social distancing.
And we expect over the course of the next week or two that it'll open up dramatically. And you know, we have an occupancy of 4,700 people. So there's plenty of room for social distancing, in addition to sort of sideline seating that we've added.
"We're committed to a five-year lease, with four five-year renewal options, and we're not going anywhere." — Chris English, Vermont Lake Monsters president
The team missed the season last year, of course, as did all of Minor League Baseball. Some fans may be hesitant to attend the large gatherings right now. So how have ticket sales done so far? Have they rebounded?
I'm not going to jinx it, but we have a lot of tickets sold for Saturday and Sunday, pre-sales. The phones are ringing off the hook. Later in the summer, our group sales are really picking up, but those are for dates in July when everybody knows for sure the restrictions will be relaxed.
In terms of fans who've gone through the last year or two with a lot of uncertainty around the future of the Lake Monsters, first the cut from affiliation with the minor leagues, to a new ownership group, what's your message to fans who may wonder what the long-term future of the Lake Monsters might be?
Well, we're committed to a five-year lease, with four five-year renewal options, and we’re not going anywhere. I have family here. My mother-in-law lives at Wake Robin, my brother-in-law lives in Shelburne. We have a lot of roots here. We have a house in Woodstock. We're very, very wedded to this community. I'm originally from Montreal. So we have a big tie to this area, and we're not going anywhere.
Have questions, comments or tips? Send us a message or get in touch with reporter Henry Epp @TheHenryEpp.
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