OLD ORCHARD BEACH – Doug Ayotte looked down at the baseball field at The Ballpark on Tuesday night, his Old Orchard Beach Raging Tide taking on the Laconia Muskrats, and was a very happy man.

A satisfied smile creased his face as he spoke about the first few weeks of the first Raging Tide team to compete in the New England Collegiate Baseball League. Success has been hard to come by on the field, where the Tide have lost eight straight to fall to 1-8. And there are other issues to be solved, such as host family housing.

But Ayotte, the team’s owner and general manager, saw only the silver lining.

“Overall this is my dream come true,” said Ayotte. “It’s what I wanted to do my entire life. Lowell wasn’t the place, but who wouldn’t want to do something like this?

“Somebody asked me the other day, ‘Are you enjoying yourself?’ I said, ‘I’m having so much fun I want to be me when I grow up.’ “

Ayotte, who with his father, Harry (who died in April after a long battle with cancer) moved their NECBL franchise from Lowell, Mass., here after years of poor attendance, knew it wouldn’t be easy this first year. He knew, with the substantial start-up costs, that there would be no profit.


But here, in this renovated baseball diamond in a summer tourist destination, he said the team’s success is only a matter of time. At Lowell, where the All-Americans averaged 186 fans last year, Ayotte went head-to-head with the Lowell Spinners — the Red Sox’s Class A affiliate.

Not only was it difficult to draw fans but, he said, “We had businesses right next to us that didn’t even know who we were.”

Here, businesses quickly are finding out who the Raging Tide are, evidenced by ads appearing on the outfield wall or the various sponsorships announced during down time of games.

Fans also are finding out. Through three home games, the team is averaging 317 fans. Ayotte thinks it can pull in 1,000 or more once tourists arrive.

For now, he and everyone with the team are happy with the foundation that has been set.

“The team is working hard in every area,” said Paul Crossman, the chairman of the Ballpark Commission that oversees much of the work at the stadium and one of the volunteers who spent countless hours bringing the baseball diamond back to life. “And we’re learning every day.”


Crossman and Dana Furtado, another member of the Ballpark Commission, spent much of the time Tuesday night walking through the stands selling hot dogs, hamburgers and drinks. Crossman spoke to every person who bought something.

“I’ll talk to everyone,” he said. “That’s very important because we’re trying to make this team part of the community. We need this team to be adopted by the community. That’s the only way this will work.”

Just ask the Sanford Mainers. Now in their 10th summer of playing at Sanford’s little gem, Goodall Park, the Mainers are entrenched in the community.

Host families are plentiful. Volunteers do everything from selling programs and souvenirs, to ushering fans to their seats to cooking ballpark food.

Just 39 miles to the west along Route 111, the Mainers are everything the Raging Tide want to be. They are averaging 515 fans per game — an uptick of about 20 from last year — and playing very well.

“I think Sanford truly is one of the strongest franchises in the league,” said John Webb, in his second year as general manager of the Mainers after the previous five as assistant GM.


He praised the volunteer base and the host family program, which takes in players for the summer. And he notes that 10 years ago the Mainers were experiencing the same growing pains that the Raging Tide are going through now.

“It’s so much easier now because we have the strength of the organization,” he said. “We have two championships (2004, 2008) under our belt. You make a pitch to a family now and you’ve got something to show.”

It helps that some of the Mainers have gone on to play in the majors: pitchers Jason Motte (St. Louis), Kevin Slowey (Minnesota) and Andy Sonnanstine (Tampa Bay). They are just some of a large group of NECBL alumni who have gone on to the majors, including Andre Ethier (Los Angeles), Chris Ianetta (Colorado), the bearded one, Brian Wilson (San Francisco), Oakland’s Andrew Bailey, Tampa Bay’s Matt Joyce and Minnesota’s Joe Nathan.

Ninety-four current or former NECBL players were picked in the big-league draft this month.

More recently, said Sanford’s Webb, Mainers fans got to see South Carolina’s Michael Roth and Vanderbilt’s Anthony Gomez — who both played in Sanford last year — play in the College World Series.

And next Monday, an NECBL all-star team will play Team USA in an exhibition game at Fenway Park. Sanford has three players on the all-star roster (pitcher A.J. Bazdanes, and outfielders Paul Kronenfeld and Mike Montville) while OOB has one (infielder Mike Fransoso).


“I think people, particularly the Division I colleges, are really starting to have a lot of faith in the product of the NECBL and are starting to put some really good players with us,” said Wells. “Everyone likes to talk about the rivalry with the Cape League and I don’t think we should talk about that. They are two distinct leagues and both do a good job at what they do.”

Some Sanford followers were concerned with the arrival of the Raging Tide in OOB, wondering how that would affect the Mainers.

Webb said their arrival benefits everyone.

“I think it absolutely helps us, not only on a local level but on a league level,” he said. “It distributes the balance of power throughout New England. We’ve already seen fans from Old Orchard come to Sanford to see the teams play. And I know we have plenty of fans waiting to go to Old Orchard.”

Besides, added Wells, “Anyone who knows York County knows that Old Orchard Beach and Sanford are worlds apart. I couldn’t be any happier, just looking for that natural rivalry.”

The franchises have talked extensively, both before Ayotte moved his team to OOB and since. The Raging Tide know they have much to learn from the Mainers’ success, especially when it comes to host families. Many of the Tide 28 players are staying in hotels, which is costly and — with the heavy tourist season approaching — cannot continue.


Plus, said Ayotte, “it’s still not the environment we want to create. We’re trying to make the team part of the community.”

Staying with host families, the players become more than just names in a lineup. Families get to know them personally. And the players benefit by interacting with the community.

It’s also important to the players. Baseball is a game of routine. You don’t get into one staying in a hotel.

“We haven’t figured out (living arrangements) yet,” said Francis Whitten, a catcher from the University of Maine. “It’s kind of a pain to pay for your food and figure it all out instead of having a host family.

“It’s kind of hard to get into a routine when everything’s just up in the air at this point. But hopefully we can find host families in the next few days and make more of a routine of it.”

Matt Marquis, an outfielder from the University of Maryland, is one of the lucky ones. He has a home — courtesy of his family, which has a summer cottage in Kennebunk.


His father, Alfred, was a high school star at Edward Little High in Auburn and played football at Maine. His family moved to New Jersey later but kept the place in Kennebunk.

“I was fortunate enough to have a beach house 30 minutes away,” said Marquis. “I’ve been taking some guys in while I’ve been here. It’s a great spot to stay at in the summer.”

Ayotte knows the issue needs to be taken care of soon. Anyone interested in becoming a host family — and receiving season tickets to any NECBL game in any stadium — should contact him at [email protected]

Whitten is one of the three Black Bears on the Raging Tide’s roster, joined by Fransoso (the shortstop with a .412 batting average in nine games) and outfielder Pat Thibodeau. Also, Bowdoin pitcher Oliver Van Zant plays for the Tide.

The Mainers also have three Black Bears on their roster: catcher Matt Verrier (from Norway, the 2010 winner of Maine’s Mr. Baseball), and pitchers Jonathan Balentina and Bazdanes.

Their presence on the rosters, and those of nearby New Hampshire players, is all part of the team’s desire, said Ayotte, to be “the hometown team.”


Now if the Raging Tide can duplicate Maine’s success. The Black Bears won 17 of 18 games to earn a spot in the NCAA regionals for the first time in five years.

Ayotte would like to see that happen. His players think it can, even with the slow start.

“The team is getting along great, there’s a good chemistry,” said Fransoso, a Portsmouth, N.H., native. “It’s not showing on the baseball field yet, but once that comes along we should be a very good team.”

Staff Writer Mike Lowe can be contacted at 791-6422 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: MikeLowePPH


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