Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Portland Sea Dogs 8 at New Hampshire Fisher Cats 5 - June 29, 2009

NY Trip Begins

With both New York ball teams opening new stadiums this season, I knew that I would have to spend a few days there to catch games in both ballparks. Checking the schedule late last year, I saw the Blue Jays with a 4-game set over the July 4th weekend, followed by the Dodgers taking on the Mets the following week.

I also wanted to see some minor league games on the way down, and found that there was a game in Manchester, NH, home of the Blue Jays' AA affiliate, the New Hampshire Fisher Cats. I was then planning to see a CanAm game in nearby Nashua, but when the Ottawa Voyageurs suspended operations, I decided to skip that game and move down to Pawtucket. I'd then check out a Connecticut Defenders game in Norwich before arriving in New York on July 2nd, in time for the weekend series between the Jays and Yankees.

It was a great plan, and I was excited as I left Ottawa early Monday morning. Unfortunately, it didn't take long before a problem arose.

A minor detour

As the Seaway bridge between Cornwall, Ontario and upstate New York is closed due to a conflict between the local Akwesasne people and the federal government, I was forced to go east through southern Quebec before crossing into Mooers, NY. I then took US2 south through Grand Isle, VT (a very scenic drive as Lake Champlain is visible on both sides) before hitting I89 south, which I would take all the way to Manchester.

Unfortunately, the car had other plans. I am driving a fairly old car that I was borrowing from my family, and as I climbed a hill near Barre, VT, the manual transmission gave out. Ohoh. There was no way to get the car into gear, so I pulled over to the side of the road and called AAA. It's weird being on the side of a highway as cars zoom by at 80 miles an hour. But I wasn't too worried, AAA were able to get a truck there in 40 minutes and I was towed to a local garage. It was still fairly early in the afternoon, so after getting an estimate from the mechanic (2 days, I won't tell you the cost :-), I got a ride to a local rental car agency, where they had 1 SUV left. I didn't have many options, so I took it. I had never driven an SUV before, and although it's a good ride and handles well, it's gas mileage is terrible. It would do for two days, but not much longer.

Anyway, I made it back to the highway where I passed the spot I had broken down a couple of hours earlier. It was about 4:00 pm now, so I still had enough time to make it to Manchester for the 7:05 start. Or so I thought.

Bonus Baseball?

As I travelled southeast, I moved in and out of rainstorms, before it finally cleared as I arrived in Manchester around 5:40. I scanned the radio looking for the local sports station and happened across a baseball game. This was surprising as I didn't expect that there would be afternoon ball at this time, but I was even more surprised to find out that it was the Fisher Cats playing! Turns out that Sunday's game was postponed after 1 inning, and tonight's game was now a doubleheader, with the first game a 9-inning continuation of Sunday's postponement, and then a 7-inning affair for the originally scheduled game. So I didn't have time to go to the hotel, I headed straight to the ballpark to catch the rest of the first game.

MerchantsAuto.com Stadium

Perhaps the worst name for a ballpark, MerchantsAuto.com Stadium is located in downtown Manchester and doesn't have it's own dedicated lot for us normal fans (i.e. non-suite holders). There were some private lots next to the stadium charging $10 which is outrageous for AA ball - tickets are cheaper!. I drove around the back to ask the guy at the suite holders lot and he directed me across the street where there was meter parking for $1, much more my style. Apparently there is also free parking nearby, but I was in a rush, so I parked at a meter and took the 5-minute walk to the ballpark.

Tickets were between $8 and $12 - as the game had already started, I decided not to look for a freebie, but got a $10 seat and entered. It was Johnny Pesky bobblehead night, but as the game had started early, I was too late to get one. Not a big loss, the memorabilia is difficult to store in my tiny apartment in Japan.

The stadium, opened in 2005, is typical of new parks, with one level of seats and a wide concourse behind, from which you can watch the game if you wish. The suites are on the upper level. Despite the team being Toronto's affiliate, fans here in New England are Boston fans, and the park reflects this with a manual scoreboard in the left field wall, similar to that in Fenway. There's no Green Monster, though, instead a Sam Adams Bar and Grill lies beyond the left field fence. There's an electronic screen in center field that shows the batter and some stats.

A few things here that I liked. First is the Ted Williams Museum/Hitters Hall of Fame, a small collection of memorabilia dedicated mostly to The Splendid Splinter with some pictures from this playing days. It may only take 5 minutes to go through it, but it's worth it. I also enjoyed the banners of Blue Jays who had played here, displayed around the concourse, though I wonder what happened to Gustavo Chacin. I appreciated seeing the Eastern League team logos above the suites as well; I think the minor leagues should make sure that the fans know the other teams in the league.

Fans here were friendly and talkative, although many were rooting for Portland, who are Boston's AA team. Overall, I enjoyed my time here, although it was far too short.

Half a game

When I entered the stadium, Portland was leading 6-1, but the Fisher Cats added a couple when David Cooper smashed an opposite field homer in the bottom of the 5th. Cooper (shown below) is the Jays' 1st round pick from 2008 and has moved quickly up the ladder. I saw him playing for Auburn in short-season A ball last season; one year later he's in AA. He should be replacing Lyle Overbay in a couple of years, so it was great to see him hit a dinger.

Since I arrived late, I didn't keep score, so I don't know exactly how it happened, but each team added two runs over the next 3 innings, making it was 8-5 Portland afer 8 innings. Remember those rainstorms I mentioned earlier? Well, they moved into the area and with lightning forking down a few miles away, the umpires pulled the teams off the field. After about an hour, the rain had started to clear, but the field was not playable and as both teams had to travel the next day, the game was called without the tarp being removed. The first game finished 8-5, and the second game will be played as part of a DH in August. So I saw 4.5 innings of baseball, about half a game. A rather disappointing end to a very long day.

A sad sight

Back to Vermont

I'm back in Barre, VT now, where I hope to get the car tomorrow and continue on to Norwich. I'll miss the game in Pawtucket tonight, but with the gas-guzzling SUV that I rented, it wasn't worth the extra 4 hours of driving to see a stadium I have seen before.

Not sure if I'll make the Defenders game tomorrow, depends on what time the car is ready. Either way, I'll post an update here, so check back tomorrow.



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