Saturday, April 25, 2015

Binghamton Mets 5 at New Hampshire Fisher Cats 10 (Eastern League) - April 24, 2015


The AHL playoff schedule was released just after my visit to Bridgeport last weekend, and I was happy to see that the Manchester Monarchs would be at home on Saturday night for the second game of their series against Portland. Manchester is one of the teams that is moving to California this offseason, so I wanted to visit Verizon Wireless Arena this season. Even better, Manchester's minor league ball team, the New Hampshire Fisher Cats, was on a homestand.

I had visited Manchester twice before to see the Fisher Cats. Once in 2006 when I had misread the schedule and showed up a day late for a game (back then, the schedule showed the dates in local time - Japan, where I lived, is a day ahead) and then again in 2009 where I saw the last few innings of a make up game before the regularly scheduled game was postponed.



Six years later, and I was finally able to make a third trip to the Granite State and add this ballpark to my official venue count. In the meantime, it had changed names, with the sponsor going from MerchantsAuto.com to Northeast Delta Dental. I'm not sure which is worse. I described the park in my original post, and it hasn't changed much. It still costs $10 to park in a lot, while street parking is available just a few steps away. Meters are enforced until 8 pm, so you'll have to fork over $1.50 if you arrive around 6. Many Mancunians still prefer to spend that extra $8.50 to save the short walk, and there are small traffic jams after the game as a result.



The field is in poor shape as you can see above, a result no doubt of the harsh winter that New England experienced over the past umpteen months, while I found the concourse area to be a bit dreary, again with the weather the prime culprit. It was unseasonably cold, with the temperature dropping to just above freezing midway through. That didn't stop me from trying an IPA from Baxter's Brewery, based in Lewiston, ME. It is refreshing to have these microbrews available at smaller ballparks now, and for less than a pint in NYC!



If you want something outside the typical concessions, visit the Samuel Adams Bar & Grill, above the left field fence. There is a patio that will be great during the summer (below), while above that is a full-service restaurant with open windows to the field, as well as TVs tuned to ESPN and NESN. I sought refuge here after the 5th inning of the freezeathon, but it was no warmer than the seating bowl. No special brews here either, just a few varieties of Sam Adams, which is fair enough. They also have a good sized menu of pub food, with a burger costing $9 and other entrees similarly priced.



The defending Eastern League champion Binghamton Mets were in town for a four-game set, with New Hampshire having won the first 5-4 on Thursday night. On this freezing Friday, the only thing warm were the bats, as the teams combined to smack 27 hits. New Hampshire's were a bit more timely though, and included 3 homers as they won 10-5 in a game that took 2:54 and seemed to last twice as long. There was no way I was going to leave early though.



Dwight Smith (above), drafted 53rd overall (first round supplemental) by Toronto in 2011 and the Jays #11 prospect according to MLB.com, homered in the first off Gabriel Ynoa, the Mets #15 prospect (below). Smith later doubled and singled, and is doing quite well in his first appearance in AA. The hoodie has to go though.



Ryan Schimpf (5th, 2009) and Jake Fox (trying to make it back to The Show) also hit dingers for the Fisher Cats to back John Anderson (28th, 2008), who lasted 5 frames and yielded 2 runs while striking out 5. Ynoa is known for his control (63 walks in 505 career minor league innings), but walked 3 in his 4.2 innings, although the umpire seemed to have a rather small strike zone. At this level, many of the players are prospects, but most of the umpires are not and I wonder if that is noted in the scouting reports sent up the chain. Another big name playing for Binghamton is Brandon Nimmo, the 13th overall pick in 2011, who went 2/5 in this game and is expected to join the Mets in 2016.



The scoreboard ran out of 2s I guess, as the Fisher Cats added a deuce in the eighth to salt things away. Glad the home team won, and it was good to get a close look at a few up and coming Blue Jays, but I was still very happy when this one ended and I was finally able to say that I had seen a Fisher Cats home game.

Notes

Although this is a Toronto farm club, it is smack in the middle of Red Sox country, as you can tell by the scoreboard in the left field fence. I wore a Blue Jays hat and jersey and was the only one so attired receiving the occasional puzzled look from a fan wearing Red Sox gear. There are banners around the concourse celebrating former Fisher Cats who made it to Toronto, although sadly none of them are still with the big club, such as JP Arencibia.



New Hampshire won Saturday's game by the same 10-5 score. I then dragged my wife to Sunday's game, where we could enjoy a slightly warmer afternoon at the Bar and Grill. The Fisher Cats fell 3-0 in a game that saw only 10 hits and lasted a mere 2:15. My wife believes her prayers to the gods of quick baseball games helped, while I think it was because it was getaway day.

I have only one Eastern League ballpark left to see, that being the Diamond in Richmond. I visited there way back in 2003 when the franchise was the AAA affiliate of the Braves, but the stadium has undergone some renovations in the intervening decade and to fulfil my venue count rules, I'll be paying another visit there sometime this season. As an aside, the day after I saw that game in Richmond, I went to Lynchburg, Virginia to see the Hillcats. I recall big Walter Young (who became the heaviest MLB player in history in 2005) playing for Lynchburg, but sadly not the batter behind him in the lineup: some guy named Jose Bautista. It is great that USA Today maintains those old boxscores. If you are a fan of minor league ball, you should keep track of the games you see; some of these players are not prospects but go on to be all-stars anyway. It is always fun to look back and see who you might have witnessed before they were famous.

Best,

Sean


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