By LISA CAPOBIANCO,
The Bristol Blues have recently undergone administrative changes as they gear up for next year’s baseball season.
Elliot Scheiner, eight-time Grammy Award winning producer and co-owner of the Blues, confirmed that the team’s general manager, Rick Muntean, and head coach, Pat Riley are no longer with the team anymore.
“We don’t want Bristol fans to think that we aren’t doing our job,” said Scheiner. “We love Pat. I absolutely love the guy. It just didn’t work out this season. Rick is a nice guy too, and we never had a problem with him, but it was time for a change there too. We’ve decided to look for someone in the area.”
Scheiner also did not mention the expected timeline for bringing a new general manager and head coach on board, but confirmed that the Blues are currently looking to fill those positions. Riley is now working at Iowa Wesleyan University.
“We have gone through some changes here, but we’re gearing up for next season,” said Scheiner.
A native of Youngstown, Ohio, Muntean has a degree in radio and television and developed a passion for sports and baseball, which he was involved with for at least 35 years. Whether it was California, Washington, Wisconsin, or Kansas City, Muntean has lived in over a dozen communities in the country taking on different positions over the years. Muntean, who was a baseball pitcher in college, served as parade marshal during the 2015 Mum Parade.
Although the Blues ended this past season with a five-game losing streak, losing 10 of their last 12 games of the regular season, and were bumped out of the postseason, Muntean still played large part in the success of the franchise off of the field.
Since the announcement of the team’s presence in the fall of 2014, the Bristol community has welcomed the Blues with open arms. On opening night of their first season, the Blues saw a turnout of 3,000 fans, Muntean previously said while serving as a guest speaker during the Bristol Chamber of Commerce’s 2015 Beautification Awards. The Blues ended the regular season in third place of the West Division with a 23-32 record, but they finished third in the league in attendance behind the Worcester Bravehearts and Pittsfield Suns with a total of 41,013 fans out of 26 openings, averaging 1,577 people a home game. The Blues finished fourth (35,435) in attendance with 27 openings in 2015.
“We love how [Bristol] feels about the Blues,” said Scheiner, who has produced and engineered for performers like Aerosmith, BB King, Foo Fighters, Fleetwood Mac, and more. “They love being at the park and hopefully we provide good baseball at an expense that’s less than any other ballpark.”
Jim Rice Night received a record-setting attendance of 3,331 for the franchise when the Blues hosted the Bravehearts on July 14. The MLB hall of famer returned to Muzzy Field for the first time since 1973 when he debuted for the minor league affiliate of the Boston Red Sox, the Bristol Red Sox. Rice signed autographs and spoke to fans before the game.
Besides appearing at community events, the team gave back through various charitable causes, such as raising money for Bristol Hospital’s Beekley Center for Breast Health and Wellness. One of the most successful ways the Blues interacted with the Bristol community was through their reading program, which allows students to read books and earn tickets to Blues games. The Blues also hosted a concert at Muzzy Field last month, featuring country artists Craig Morgan and Scott Stevens.
T-shirt tosses, raffle prizes, games for kids, and fireworks were just some of the promotions that the Blues offered to try and attract families at home games this past summer, but Muntean also helped to bring in a new press box behind home plate during the offseason, which was fully functional for their staff and the media about halfway through the season. The new press box came as a huge upgrade for the franchise, allowing for an easier and smoother level of communication.
Muntean served as a crucial face of the franchise off of the field, but Scheiner said that one of the best qualities of Muntean was his ability to sign contracts.
“He knew a lot of people and had a good handle,” said Scheiner. “That was his biggest forte. We had really good players last year, but they just couldn’t play together.”
As a native of Strafford, Vt., Riley earned a Master of Education degree and played a four-year career with Castleton State College, where he was both an All-Conference and All-Academic performer. He began his coaching career with the West Hartford Thunder in the Connecticut Collegiate Baseball League. The Thunder won the CCBL title that same year. Riley also served as the pitching coach for the College of St. Joseph in Rutland, Vermont.
Riley came to the Blues as an assistant coach under former head coach, Barry Lyons. The former major leaguer and backup to baseball hall of famer Gary Carter lasted with the franchise until about halfway through the 2015 campaign until the Blues released him. Riley stepped in to take over as the interim head coach, leading the team to the championship series where they fell short to the Worcester Bravehearts in the final game of the series in extra innings.
“He didn’t pull any punches,” said Scheiner. “He did things that he felt was right for baseball, where guys were being benched for whatever reason. He was great, but I don’t know if he was quite up to that level.”
Riley’s first assistant head coaching position was coaching alongside Lyons during the 2015 season.
“When he came in for Barry, we thought that he did a great job,” said Scheiner. “This year was a little different though. He had to take it right from the beginning and go all the way. It started out great, but we just didn’t know where it was going to go once the next 10 games went by. It was a little disappointing in that respect, and I think he needs a little more experience.”
Justin Malley, executive director of the Bristol Development Authority (BDA), said the baseball team’s current in-house changes will not affect the city’s positive relationship with the Blues.
“The city enjoyed a great relationship with Rick and I wish him the very best, but I definitely do not think the change will affect the City’s great relationship with the Blues,” said Malley.
Cindy Scoville, president and CEO of the Central Connecticut Chambers of Commerce, agreed.
“The relationship with the Blues will not change at all. We will continue to work with the owners of the Blues,” said Scoville. “They have brought a new level of life to Bristol and to Muzzy Field, not only for Bristol, but [also] for the communities in our region.”
Moving forward, Scheiner said the Blues still hope to hold more theme nights next summer, especially money-saving theme nights where general admission costs a dollar.
Some of those theme nights that will return next summer include Polish Night, Bristol Blues Baseball Overnight, and College Night. Bristol Blues Baseball Overnight is a sleepover done by the Bristol Boy Scouts and Kids Club on the field after a game. Next year’s campout will feature a portable movie screen, donated by the city.
But the most important goal on the top of Scheiner’s list is always providing a winning team for Bristol. Scheiner added that everything the Blues are going to do will be for the fans.
“Bristol is so into baseball,” said Scheiner. “We have a group called the Bleacher Creatures. They’re huge supporters even when the team is down and are right there until the end. We don’t ever want to lose that. We want to keep the prices low because we care about the fans. We just want to have a winning team to complete what they want, and that’s a championship as well.”