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Lake Monsters ready to open new era

Team opens first season in Futures League Thursday at Westfield. Home opener is Saturday at 6:05pm against Norwich.
Published: May. 26, 2021 at 2:52 PM EDT|Updated: May. 26, 2021 at 6:16 PM EDT
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - Like their namesake mascot rising from the depths of Lake Champlain, the Vermont Lake Monsters are set to rise from two years of uncertainty and change and open a new era of baseball in Burlington.

The Lake Monsters are back on Centennial Field for the first time since the end of the 2019 season. And it’s not just a new season, Monsters fans are also going to see a lot of changes in their post-pandemic team.

The franchise had its 28-year status as a minor league affiliate of the Oakland A’s taken away late last year as Major League Baseball contracted its minor league system.

In February of this year, the club was sold to a group led by Montreal native Chris English, and announced that it would be joining the Futures Collegiate Baseball League. The roster will be comprised of college ballplayers from around the country looking to hone their skills and eventually be noticed by Major League scouts.

The Monsters will make their debut on Thursday at Westfield and the home opener at Centennial Field will be Saturday, May 29 at 6:05 p.m. against Norwich.

There will be players from major college programs coming through Vermont over the course of the Summer, but the Futures Collegiate Baseball League requires teams to keep a minimum of 15 players on the roster that are either native New Englanders or on rosters at a school in New England. Especially with the season getting off to a late May start, when many college players are still competing for conference or national titles, that opens up roster spots for some local kids.

South Burlington alumnus Ben Tate and Colchester grad Chase Carey went head to head in the 2018 D1 state title game at Centennial, and they are reveling in the opportunity to play for the team they grew up watching.

“It’s gonna be completely different.”, said Carey, a freshman at UMass-Dartmouth. “I know I have the experience here, played one game but it’s just more fans are gonna be here. I grew up coming to this field, watching it, being part of the fans, so it’s just gonna be a cool experience actually to be on the field watching what I experienced as a kid.”

“It’s gonna be wild.”, added Tate, a junior pitcher at Dean College. “I’m not sure what to expect, and it’s gonna take a few minutes to calm the nerves down the first time and get used to it. But like I said, I’m really excited. Like you said, get the chance to be where the Monsters were, and now those are those little kids that I once was. Now they’re looking up to me so I’m excited to get that opportunity.”

As a result of the early start to the season though, the Monsters and other teams in the Futures League are going to have somewhat of an interesting challenge filling the gaps in the roster.

Manager Pete Wilk says his team will only have 10 pitchers and 11 position players available for the first week of the season, with guys expected to roll into town as their college and in some cases high school seasons come to a close.

Keeping an eye on fatigue and injuries in that early part of the season will be probably the biggest test the new Monsters skipper will have to sort out all year.

“Can I tell you that in two weeks? You know it’s kind of crazy starting this early because a lot of kids are still playing.”, said Wilk. “So we were just in my office trying to figure out how we’re gonna get to Tuesday from a pitching standpoint. That is a huge challenge. Ten pitchers sounds like a lot, but when you’re playing six games a week, it’s not. So it’s gonna be a challenge I think, but luckily we found some local kids who are interested and who are talented, and you know they’re gonna help us bridge the gap.”

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