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Mountaineers to Celebrate 20th Anniversary

Former Mountaineer AJ Pollock of the Chicago White Sox greets Vermont General Manager Brian Gallagher at a game this season at Fenway Park in Boston. Photo courtesy of Brian Gallagher.
The Vermont Mountaineers are poised to open their 20th season of New England Collegiate Baseball League play in less than two weeks with a new manager, a new logo, and a new divisional alignment.

The Mountaineers throw out the first pitch on June 7 at home against the Newport Gulls and play host to the Martha’s Vineyard Sharks the next evening at Montpelier’s Recreation Field.

New manager Mitchell Holmes will replace Charlie Barbieri, who led the Mountaineers for the past three seasons. Holmes, director of Player Development at Wofford College in South Carolina, served as Vermont’s batting coach last season.

“I understand the opportunity and responsibility that the Vermont Mountaineers have in this community and am looking forward to making sure that it is a positive experience,” Holmes said in a news release. “I loved my time this past summer as the hitting coach but am excited to take over as the manager in 2022.”

The Mountaineers’ platinum anniversary summer will be sprinkled with special events, including an alumni reunion night June 25 and a pair of fireworks shows on July 13 and July 31. 

The team will also honor its 22 former players who have achieved major league status — 19 as players and three who earned front office or broadcasting jobs with major league franchises. A new banner listing their names will be on display opening night.

Part of the appeal of NECBL, the second highest rated collegiate baseball league (behind the Cape Cod League), is following the alumni as they advance through the professional ranks. 

AJ Pollock, the most successful former Mountaineer, continues to star with the Chicago White Sox and keeps in touch with longtime Vermont General Manager Brian Gallagher, who recently visited with Pollock at a game against the Red Sox at Fenway Park.

“When you see a guy like Pollock win a World Series (with the Los Angeles Dodgers) and a gold glove and make the all-star team it’s kind of a cool thing,” Gallagher said. “It gives fans a connection.”

The Mountaineers are also hoping to have Hall of Famer Jim Kaat visit Montpelier at some point this summer to receive a proclamation from the city. Kaat has stopped by to work with Vermont players each season since 2016, Gallagher said.

Another newly minted Hall of Famer with Vermont ties will be honored on June 12. John “Bud” Fowler, widely regarded as the first African American to play professional baseball, played eight games with the Montpelier team of the Northeastern League in 1887. Fans on June 12 will receive a commemorative vintage baseball card of Fowler.

Vermont media accounts from the 19th century chronicled Fowler’s impact on the Montpelier nine.

“Captain Fowler of the Montpeliers is a colored man and a first-class ball-tosser in every respect,” read an excerpt in the Vermont Watchman at the time (as quoted in an article by the Society for Baseball Research). “He played a brilliant game yesterday on second and made two of the four runs for his club. The Montpeliers are fortunate in securing him.” 

This year’s Mountaineer roster will feature 35 players, including 19 or 20 pitchers, Gallagher said. The expanded roster helps offset the attrition that takes place over the summer.

Stetson University in central Florida is sending four players to Montpelier, including Nick Durgin, the team’s 2021 pitching star. Dartmouth and Fairleigh Dickinson are providing three players each.

The 14-team NECBL features a new three-division format this season and has a new playoff structure. Vermont will play in the North Division along with Keene (New Hampshire), Sanford (Maine), Upper Valley (Hartford, Vermont), and Winnipesaukee (New Hampshire).

The West Division includes Bristol (Connecticut), Danbury (Connecticut), North Adams (Massachusetts), and Valley (Massachusetts). The Coastal Division is Martha’s Vineyard (Massachusetts), Mystic (Connecticut), Newport (Rhode Island), North Shore (Massachusetts), and Ocean State (Rhode Island).

The three division winners make the playoffs along with the next three teams with the best record as wildcards. 

“The new format and the addition of a few doubleheaders will limit some of the travel,” Gallagher said, eliminating some of the long bus rides to southern New England.

The new Mountaineers logo adds a 20th anniversary banner to the iconic Skip the Woodchuck mascot.

The Mountaineers continue to make improvements at Recreation Field and hope to launch a capital campaign to pay for new restrooms.

Dawg Daze, a mobile hot dog truck from central Vermont, will offer food in addition to the customary Mountaineer snacks. Three Penny Taproom will again provide a beer garden.

Ticket prices remain the same at $6 for adults; $4 for seniors, students and military personnel; and $12 for a family of five.

No COVID-19 restrictions are currently planned for fans.