The first stop on our three city New England minor league tour was Northeast Delta Dental Stadium, the home of the New Hampshire Fisher Cats. Located in Manchester, New Hampshire, the ballpark was almost five hours from our starting point in central NJ. The distance required a very early start (at least for me) in order to catch the 135 pm start.
Luckily for us, the Sunday morning traffic made navigating the NYC metro area fairly easy, allowing us to reach Manchester about an hour or so before game time. Arriving just after noon, we ate lunch at a local diner before heading to the ballpark.
Northeast Delta Dental Stadium is located in downtown Manchester (adjacent to the Merrimack River), and like most urban stadium, onsite parking was limited. VIP parking at the stadium was $10, but it puts you just steps away rom the main gate. We arrived early enough to take advantage of this convenience. Otherwise, offsite parking seemed plentiful, but likely fills up quickly for better attended games.
The brick facade of the outside of Northeast Delta Dental Stadium gave the park a retro feel, something akin to ballparks from the 1950s. However, after entering the ballpark, it was clear that the stadium was modular in construction, complete with steel bleachers down the left and right field lines.
Unlike most minor league ballparks, the concourse encircled the stadium, with a few rows of seats ringing the outfield wall. The access allowed us to take pictures from all angles while exploring the park. A building heat wave along the East Coast pushed temperatures into the lower 90s as game time approached, sending us seeking drinks and shelter from the sun.
Beside standard concession serving typical ballpark fare, the Sam Adams Brewhouse offers a more specialized menu with tables overlooking the field. Having just eaten lunch, we chose to forgo the food options present, instead loading up on drinks to combat the hot conditions.
Much like most minor league ballparks constructed in the 1990s, Northeast Delta Dental Stadium had a certain spartan fell, with little in the way of accoutrements than ballparks built a decade later. At first look, the ballpark seemed to have little in the way of “feel”, with no distinguishing characteristics (other than perhaps the hotel past the centerfield fence). However, it appeared to be a fine place to spend the afternoon watching a game.
Bright sunshine splashed our seats, located just behind first base in the lower level. Factor in the rising humidity levels, and it was a typical July afternoon for baseball. As we have seen at many Sunday minor league games, the attendance was fairly light. The sparse crowd watched the Fisher Cats (the Double A affiliate of the Toronto Blue Jays) host the Portland Sea Dogs (the Double A affiliate of the Boston Red Sox), with the first pitch occurring shortly after 130 pm.
There was a familiar surname in the ‘Cats lineup this afternoon. KC Hobson, the son of the former Red Sox third baseman Butch Hobson, was playing first base and batting cleanup. KC Hobson has been working his way through the Blue Jays’ system, and this was his second year in New Hampshire. Hobson would eventually be released by the Blue Jays, and caught on with Lancaster Barnstorms of the Atlantic League of Professional Baseball, where he played for his father.
It became apparent early that this game would feature a pitcher’s duel, with each starting pitcher dealing. The Sea Dogs scored a run in the fourth inning off the ‘Cats starter John Anderson, while the Sea Dogs starter, Mike McCarthy, tossed 5 1/3 innings of shutout ball. McCarthy was taken out of the game in the bottom of the sixth, and there was no obvious reason why. It has been our experience that, in the minor leagues, it is more important to evaluate players than adhere strictly to game situations. In this case, it’s possible that the Portland manager saw all he needed to see from McCarthy that day.
The hot and increasingly humid day did not result in thunderstorms in the general vicinity of the ballpark, but we did spy a large thunderstorm north of the stadium after the sixth inning. The storm kept its distance, and was not joined by others as they often do in the mid to late afternoon in the summer. We enjoyed the remainder of the game in a rain free environment.
The Sea Dog bullpen made the two run lead stand up, shutting down the ‘Cats offense for the reminder of the game. Following the game, we made the two hour drive up Interstate 95 North to Portland, Maine for the next stop on our New England baseball tour. We would see the same Portland Sea Dogs host the Trenton Thunder.