A New Wave of Excitement comes to Burlington06/03/2022 08:11AM ● By Jessica Wilmes
Previously a Minor League team linked to the Oakland Athletics, the Monsters saw big changes in 2020. Rebounding off half-filled bleachers to COVID-19 capacity measures and a restructuring among the Minor League that saw 42 teams dropped, the future of the Monsters was uncertain going into 2021. To save the franchise and keep the team homed in Burlington, founder of RockFence Capital and veteran baseball impresario Chris English purchased it.
From there, the team joined the Futures Collegiate Baseball League (FCBL) and welcomed new head coach Pete Wilk. With just a month and a half to relaunch at the start of the ‘21 season, the team was short on players, time, and resources, yet bootstrapped their way through the ranks to solidify their talent in the FCBL with a championship win.
“It was pretty magical,” says C. J. Knudsen, senior vice president of the Vermont Lake Monsters. “Everyone was really excited, and the community is ultimately the one that won.”
The FCBL has eight teams, four in Massachusetts, two in Connecticut, and one each in New Hampshire and Vermont. Players come from around the country for a 64-game summer season and are hosted by local families. With scouts following and watching the players, the FCBL offers the opportunity for high- level play and the potential to get drafted to the big league.
“There are a ton of scouts following and watching the players perform,” says C. J. “This season gets players used to playing pro baseball and gets the body acclimated to playing a lot of games.”
The Vermont Lake Monsters 2022 team roster has close to 40 players from schools like Harvard, Columbia, and Pepperdine. The recruiting is done by head coach Wilk and Director of Baseball Operations Morgan Brown, who draw on their close relationships with schools across the country.
“The most important thing we look for is the quality of people off the field first,” says C. J. of the recruiting process. “If they can play baseball, that’s great.”
C. J. noted they are having to turn players away as the caliber of play, the strength of the team, and the quality of summer life in Burlington become more widely recognized
“The roster has been full and set since last September,” he says. “Word is out that Burlington is the place to be and play for the summer.”
The players will take to the field with a home opener on May 27. The home field, Centennial Field, hosted its first baseball game in 1906 and today serves as the home field for the Vermont Lake Monsters. It seats up to 4,415 spectators and regularly fills up during the Monsters’ summer season with excited fans eager to support the young players.
FIREWORKS AND HOT DOGS
“The energy in the park is so great, you can almost taste it,” says C. J. “It’s magical, and we’re so lucky to be so supported.”
Current renovations to the ballpark will see four new field box seats going in, and there is no shortage of promotions all summer long to get people out to enjoy a game. Three post- game firework shows are slated for 2022, along with three Hot Dog Hysteria nights, which feature 25 cent hot dogs and sell close to 10,000 dogs over the course of one game. On Wednesdays, kids eat free, and on Sundays, kids receive a free baseball to play catch on the field after the game. Tuesday hosts senior night with half off reserved tickets along with a free soft drink.
“We really encourage people to come if they’ve never been or haven’t been in a while,” says C.J. “It’s a great, affordable night out.”
ENTERTAINMENT FOR EVERYONE
With tickets starting at $6 for kids, $7 for seniors, $9 for adults, and $10 for reserve seats, the goal is to keep costs low so families can come and participate in the community baseball fun.
And while many people come for the baseball, they may stay for the top-notch food and beer.In addition to providing an entertaining, family-friendly night out, the administrative team for the Monsters puts focus on supporting local businesses with food and beverage purveyors from around the area.
“In Vermont, we like to think we have some of the best beer in the country,” says C. J. proudly.
Giving tap presence to local breweries, beers available at the ballpark include Fiddlehead, 14th Star, Zero Gravity, Von Trapp, Good Measure, and Citizen Cider to name a few. “People love having local beer that was maybe brewed just a mile from the ballpark, and we like to provide access to unbelievable beers,” C. J. says. “People visiting from out of state are always blown away by the selection.”
And as many might agree, one of the perfect pairings for great beer is great pizza. To provide quality pizza to fans, the organization installed a custom-made fire oven for fresh, homemade-from-scratch pizzas available at every game.
The other treasure of the Vermont Lake Monsters is the mascot himself—Champ, the legendary Lake Champlain monster who has been the mascot since 1994. Champ has received worldwide acclaim over the years and is just as popular as the players themselves.
With high-quality food and beer, a legendary mascot, a new, exciting level of play, and events all summer long, a Vermont Lake Monsters game offers something for everyone. Adding even more is the team’s presence in the community and its importance to the state at large.
“The Vermont Lake Monsters are woven into the fabric of Vermont,” says C. J. “I’m most excited to see all the fans come back and enjoy the ballpark.”