Mike McCann / Minor Leagues
NEW HAMPSHIRE AND PAWTUCKET
By Mike McCann
It is getting to be more and more difficult for me to travel to see new baseball stadiums. Despite that, I was able to take a trip up to New England to see two games a few weeks ago. My goal each year is to visit the stadium of the closest team that I haven't seen yet. This year, the closest team is the Pawtucket Red Sox. They are just far enough away that it would be too difficult to make it as a day trip, so I decided to combine them with another team on my trip.
My choices for the other game were the Boston, Lowell, New Hampshire and Portland. Even though I really love baseball, I still haven't made it to Fenway Park.. There are a few reasons for this. I don't know anyone in the Boston area who I could stay with or go to a game with and they have sold out over 100 games straight which makes getting tickets a little tougher. I really can't use either one as a big excuse, but I generally try to plan my trips with a little more flexibility, so I end up going in another geographic direction. Tickets to see the Lowell Spinners are difficult to get as well. Since the team came into existence in 1996, they have sold out every game. They do play in the short season NY-Penn League, but 40 sellouts per season is still pretty good. The Portland Sea Dogs would be a good team for me to visit since they are an outlier on the map, but they are pretty far away. I decided to go with New Hampshire because they are playing just one season in historic Gill Stadium, and I don't want to miss my last chance to see a game there.
The New Hampshire Fisher Cats are playing their inaugural season after moving to Manchester from New Haven, CT. They are planning on opening a new stadium for the 2005 season and playing just one season in Gill Stadium. I've heard information that the new stadium might not be ready for the beginning of next year, but I don't want to miss my opportunity. Gill Stadium originally opened in 1913 and had not been used for minor league baseball since 1971 when the Manchester Yankees were playing in the Eastern League.
Some modernizations were made to the stadium such as replacing the seats and adding two picnic areas. The picnic areas fit in nicely because Gill had so much foul territory to work with that they could extend the seating out a little bit from where the permanent seats are. I don't like the look of the temporary fencing around it though. Due to the way that the stadium was constructed, there are obstructed view seats because the pillars used to hold up the roof over the grandstands. I did think that it was a nice looking, historic stadium.
I was also lucky to see a good pitching matchup that day in seeing Trenton's Justin Pope (making his AA debut) versus New Hampshire's Josh Banks. Both pitchers are considered decent prospects. The game itself was pretty good. After each team put up a pair of runs early in the game, it remained tied until the bottom of the 8th inning. The Fisher Cats sent 11 hitters to the plate scoring 6 runs on 5 hits. It took the Thunder 4 different pitchers to get through the inning. Neither starter was involved in the decision as New Hampshire won the game, 8-2.
From there I went to Pawtucket for a Sunday afternoon game. McCoy Stadium is one of the nicest stadiums that I have seen. Most cities feel that they need to build new stadiums to compete and as a result, many of the stadiums end up looking quite similar. McCoy was nice because it is an older stadium, built in 1942, but it looks up to date. The outfield has bleacher seats in right field and a grassy berm in left. There are also three BBQ areas for group picnics. Many of the older stadiums start to show their age, but McCoy has been renovated and kept up nicely.
One interesting feature of the stadium is that the dugouts are at field level and the fans are well above field level. At most stadiums, the fans closest to the field are at or close to field level. This doesn't deter the fans from trying to get autographs though. Many fans will tie an object to a string and lower it to the dugout for the player to sign. All of these things hanging down on strings was definitely one of the more interesting sights I've seen at a game.
This game was also very exciting. Even though the Norfolk Tides took a 3-0 lead, Pawtucket kept the game close after that. The Red Sox just couldn't pull through as Norfolk won, 6-5. The game consisted of six home runs including two by prospects who are constantly mentioned in mid-season trade rumors, Norfolk 3B David Wright and Pawtucket C Kelly Shoppach. Pitching for Pawtucket were former major leaguer Frank Castillo and current major leaguer Ramiro Mendoza on a rehab assignment.
It was definitely a fun trip since I got to see two good games in nice stadiums. But than again, it would be tough for me not to have fun at baseball games. So in case anyone is interested, the next closest team for me to see is the Boston Red Sox. But I will be moving soon and by doing so, I believe that the Mahoning Valley Scrappers will become the closest team for me. And all of this will be moot if any teams move with day trip distance of me, such as if the Expos move to the Washington DC area. It's an interesting game for me and fun way to decide which teams to see each year.
I am always looking for topics to write about, so please send me an email and let me know what would be interesting reading for you. Feel free to ask any questions or give an idea for a column.