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The future of Norwich Sea Unicorns is in the Futures Collegiate Baseball League

Norwich — The Norwich Sea Unicorns will join the Futures Collegiate Baseball League, a summer wooden bat league, this summer, starting May 26 in a game at New Britain with the home opener at Dodd Stadium scheduled for Monday, May 31 at 7 p.m.

The full schedule is expected to be announced Wednesday, with the on-field staff coaching staff, ticket information and other details in the coming days.

The Sea Unicorns will work with the state of Connecticut and local health officials to ensure proper safety protocols are in place for the 2021 season.

The team will play 68 total games — 38 home games, the same number as the former Connecticut Tigers, and 30 road games, Sea Unicorns general manager Dave Schermerhorn said. The season will run from May 26 to Aug. 13.

They become the second summer collegiate team to play in the region, joining the Mystic Schooners of the New England Collegiate Baseball League, who play their home games at Fitch High School.

“We are very pleased to be able to keep baseball here in Norwich,” Sea Unicorns team owner and president Miles Prentice said in a news release announcing the team’s new chapter. “The Futures League is a great home for Sea Unicorns baseball. We understand what this team and this facility means to the people of Norwich and surrounding communities. We look forward to providing the same level of affordable, family fun and excitement that fans have come to expect from a night out at Dodd Stadium for years to come.”

The new schedule will not interfere with spring high school baseball games being held at Dodd Stadium, Schermerhorn said, nor the Northeast Conference college tournament, which will be held at Dodd Stadium May 27 to 30.

The Sea Unicorns also will be on the road June 9, when Norwich Free Academy will hold graduation at Dodd Stadium, Schermerhorn said.

The team’s future has been in limbo since Major League Baseball announced an overhaul and contraction of the minor league baseball system, eliminating short-season leagues, including the New York-Penn League, where the former Connecticut Tigers had played. The team then formally lost its affiliation with the Detroit Tigers, leaving the newly named Norwich Sea Unicorns out of any minor league baseball with MLB affiliations.

The contraction came within months after the team had signed a new 10-year lease with the city of Norwich in August 2019 for use of the city-owned Dodd Stadium. The team changed its name to Norwich Sea Unicorns that December, and hoped to take the field with the new name last summer. But all of Minor League Baseball was canceled by the COVID-19 pandemic last summer.

Norwich Mayor Peter Nystrom and City Manager John Salomone met Tuesday morning to discuss negotiations for a new lease with Sea Unicorns ownership. Nystrom said the first proposal by the team was unacceptable — short-term and shifted many costs to the city.

The city sent its proposal to Prentice and is awaiting a response, Nystrom said. He declined to discuss details but said the City Council is expected to discuss the status of negotiations in executive session at its meeting Monday.

"We want longevity," Nystrom said, "not a revolving turnstile."

Salomone said he hopes to have the lease finalized before the team starts play at the end of May.

Salomone said he is "intrigued" by the new team. With MLB now holding its summer draft of amateur players in July, with fewer rounds — now 20 rounds — Salomone said more quality young players will play in college and in summer collegiate leagues, such as the Futures League.

Norwich will be the eighth team in the Futures League, which features college prospect players from the New England area and beyond. The Vermont Lake Monsters, also a former New York-Penn League team, joined the Futures League earlier this spring.

Founded in 2011, the Futures League has attracted more than 2 million fans and more than 200 FCBL alumni have been drafted by or signed with Major League Baseball organizations, the Sea Unicorns news release stated.

"The level of baseball on the field will be very similar (to the Single A Tigers)," Schermerhorn said, "and everything surrounding the game, the entertainment, the food, the promotions will remain somewhat the same."

Schermerhorn will work with the new manager to select the remaining coaching staff and will work with them to search for college and college-bound players for the 2021 baseball season.

“We are thrilled to welcome the Norwich Sea Unicorns to the Futures League as our eighth team and look forward to showcasing our fun, exciting brand of baseball in a new area in southeast Connecticut,” FCBL Commissioner Joe Paolucci said. “Bringing in another former minor league organization and facility is outstanding for our league. We can’t wait to continue providing high-quality baseball to a great New England community for years to come.”

c.bessette@theday.com

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