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What do you do for an encore? If you’re Mark Knopfler, you do Telegraph Road. If you’re Velvet Revolver, so I'm told, you do Sweet Child O' Mine. If you’re Thomas Dolby, you only had one hit anyway, so why are you touring?

But if you’re the New Hampshire Fisher Cats, whose inaugural season in 2004 ended by capturing the Eastern League championship title, what do you do? You open a brand-spankin’ new jewel of a ballpark, that’s what.

The Fisher Cats, Toronto’s Double-A farm team, are the latest iteration of a franchise that has made Manchester its third home in five years, after a lengthy stint in Knoxville and a brief stopover in New Haven. But the Cats aren’t going anywhere for a long while, thanks in no small part to a state-of-the-art ballpark that will host New Hampshire’s 2005 home opener April 7.

“The location looks fantastic,” says Mike Murphy, Co-Director of Broadcasting and Media Relations for the Fisher Cats and a familiar voice to Bauxites who tuned in to hear Mike and co-anchor Bob Lipman’s radio accounts of Fisher Cat games last season. “Everyone driving north or south along Interstate 293, which cuts through the heart of downtown Manchester, gets a great view of the ballpark.”

While Mike hasn’t yet set foot inside the nearly new complex, the virtual tour (available at the team's Website) comes close to actually being there. “I can only imagine how dynamic it will look once summer comes, the lights are on, and the game is being played,” he says. (Check out Kevin Gray's detailed article on the new ballpark in the latest New Hampshire Union Leader).

It figures to be quite a change from 2004, when the Cats played their home games in venerable but antiquated Gill Stadium, a charming old relic that nonetheless left much to be desired as a modern entertainment attraction. “It was a 90-year-old park with a facelift,” says Mike. “The new stadium will have so many things going on that even if the Fisher Cats lose, families will want to come back for the affordable fun. Other teams in our league have proven that already.”

Mike visited numerous other Eastern League ballparks last season and was impressed with the facilities in stops like Akron and Altoona. He looks forward to Manchester joining that elite group. “Last year, we had a high-school football scoreboard,” he points out. “This year, there’s going to be a full-size JumboTron. That alone is enough to blow my mind.”

Every minor-league club in the northeastern U.S. copes with chilly springs and correspondingly frosty attendance. But when last summer arrived in New Hampshire, even Gill Stadium was regularly more than 90% full. Those kinds of figures in 2005 would project to a sensational 5,000 fans per game. Even if the Fisher Cats average 4,200 fans every match, they’ll have doubled their first-season attendance.

Mike points out that while a winning team is obviously great, the key to attendance for a minor league ballpark is the “experience.” “With the rest of the modern amenities the ballpark will feature,” he says, “I'll probably want to go to more games with my family and play hooky from the broadcasts.”

Whether from the stands or in the press box, Mike will be seeing a vastly different Fisher Cats lineup in 2005. While final minor-league rosters have not been set, Gerry McDonald’s excellent pre-season predictions are a great place to start. Here’s a position-by-position breakdown of an estimated New Hampshire starting nine and pitching staff, with age on Opening Day included.

C Tim Whittaker, 26
It’s hard to pin down who’ll be backstopping New Hampshire: Guillermo Quiroz owns the Syracuse job, while Curtis Thigpen and Robinzon Diaz will fight it out to wear the tools of ignorance for the A-Ball teams. Of many candidates, steady veteran Tim Whittaker seems the likeliest bet. He began 2004 with New Hampshire, but ended up spending the bulk of his year at Triple-A, where he laboured his way to a .257/.272/.347 line in 144 AB. There’s a decent chance that Thigpen could make his way up to Double-A before the season ends.

1B Vito Chiaravalotti, 24
“If what I read in my favourite Website,, is correct, then this is our stud,” says Mike. He’s too kind to us, of course, but he’s probably right on about Big Vito. “He’s a guy with a great name, good looks, and as much talent as you can hope for. [H]e certainly strikes me as someone with the potential to be a guy the team could market.” Indeed, Fisher Cat fans undoubtedly will quickly take to this strapping New Jersey native. Chiaravalotti took the NY-Penn League Triple Crown in his pro debut in 2003, then struggled with injuries and Florida State League pitching in a two-level jump to Dunedin in 2004. But he used a hot start to coast to a .325/.402/.545 line (3 HRs, 8 doubles, and a 10/21 BB/K rate in 77 at-bats) in the Arizona Fall League.

Vito’s a solid hitter with power, rather than a pure slugger: he takes what the pitcher gives him and has the strength to drive it to or over the fence. He also has an excellent eye for drawing a walk. But he also strikes out, a lot, and he’ll need to ratchet up his power at Double-A to justify those K’s and convince some doubters that he’s a viable big-league prospect. If he starts off strong at New Hampshire, the Jays might well give him a shot at Syracuse. First base, at the moment, is not the big-league club’s strongest position.

2B Carlo Cota, 24
A 33rd-round pick in the 2002 draft, Cota stung the ball in his short-season debut at Auburn in 2003. Last season at Dunedin, he pounded out 37 doubles, which would have been a franchise record had teammate Ron Davenport not topped him with 40. Cota has a decent batting eye, but like Big Vito, he does strike out a lot, and he grounded into a team-high 20 double plays in 2004. Cota is okay defensively and has little speed, so he profiles a little bit like last year’s New Hampshire second baseman, Dominic Rich – a player perhaps destined for Syracuse or for a utility role in New Hampshire this year, but one whom Cats fans would love to have back. Rich, says Mike “was one of the two players to come to the victory rally after the season ended. His buddy Justin Singleton was the other. If every player loved New Hampshire like those two, and could play like they did, it would be another great year.”

At 24 to open the season, Cota really has to hammer the ball to be considered a viable big-league option. Also in the Fisher Cats’ minor-league camp is Ryan Roberts, an 18th-rounder in 2003 who ripped up the South Atlantic League in the first half last year, causing a promotion to Dunedin that pushed Cota to third base. But Roberts struggled badly in the Florida circuit, and will have to prove himself ready for the Eastern League.

SS Raul Tablado, 23
Probably he’d be better situated at third base, but the Jays need to see what Rob Cosby can do at third, and Corey Koskie and John Hattig both have dibs on the hot corner in Toronto. Tablado languished in the minors for a few seasons as he learned both plate discipline and maturity, and tore the cover off the ball for the D-Jays last year. Unfortunately, he was suspended near season’s end for, according to Baseball America’s 2005 Prospect Handbook, “testing positive for a banned substance (reportedly from an over-the counter supplement).” That situation apparently sorted itself out, and Tablado spent quite some time in the Jays’ major-leaguer spring camp and has been hitting very well in minor-league camp as well. He appears to be back on track; now he has to repeat his breakout season at Double-A. As Mike points out, following in the footsteps of Aaron Hill at shortstop for the Fisher Cats, he’s got “tough shoes to fill. But I look forward to seeing him.”

3B Rob Cosby, 24
A tenth-round pick in 1999 from a Puerto Rican high school, Cosby was quietly working his way up through the system and debuted last year with the Fisher Cats. He started off the year red-hot, then broke his leg and missed the rest of the season, leaving the tantalizing possibility that he might have finally put all his tools together. Cosby had shown little home run power through his pro career, but his doubles totals kept increasing, as did his walk-to-AB ratio, which reached 1/10 in 2003 with Dunedin. No one’s quite sure what Cosby will bring to the table, but entering his seventh season in the organization, he has to make his case right now. Mike makes a good point: “It’s even more amazing to think about what New Hampshire did last year, when you consider Cosby was destined to be a masher in the middle of the lineup when he went down with his season-ending injury. Then [Dustin] McGowan, the ace of the staff, was knocked out for the year. What a deep organization.”

LF Ron Davenport, 23
Another former high-school pick who broke out last season in Dunedin, Davenport cracked 16 home runs for the D-Jays, second on the club only to Tablado, and set a franchise record with 40 two-baggers. He showed a decent batting eye, walking once every ten at-bats, to go along with remarkable bat control – he almost totaled more extra-base hits (60) than strikeouts (68). Farm director Dick Scott called him the most eye-opening player in the Toronto system in 2004. Davenport is average defensively, and might someday be ticketed for a first-base job. But like many intriguing graduates of Dunedin’s class of 2004, he needs to show he can thrive at Double-A ball. “I saw him in Dunedin last year and figured he was Double-A ready then,” Mike notes. “With another year in Single-A under his belt, I think he figures to be a corner outfielder with the Fishers.”

CF Miguel Negron, 22
Aside from 2003 and 2004 draftees Aaron Hill, Dave Purcey and Zach Jackson, Negron (2000) is the only Toronto first-round pick in the last 17 years not to reach the majors. Often unfairly coupled with fellow bargain-signing Alex Rios, Negron is a different type of player altogether. Already the consensus best defensive outfielder in the entire system, Negron has excellent speed and can swing the bat. His difficulties have come in staying healthy (a collection of elbow and hamstring injuries), drawing walks, and finding his power stroke: he required a hot two-week stretch last summer just to bring his HR total to 9. Negron has tremendous raw talent, however, and the Jays are working hard to sculpt a ballplayer out of him. New Hampshire fans can at least look forward to watching a tremendous centerfielder at work: the Blue Jays brass will be watching for more. “This is a guy who could have a huge year on his way to bigger and better things,” says Mike.

RF Maikel Jova, 24
Right field is a little up in the air for New Hampshire – incumbent Jova might well return for a second tour of duty, but it’s possible that Dunedin alumni like Rodney Medina or Jason Waugh might be challenged with a promotion to Double-A. It requires a certain skill to walk just 12 times in 426 AB and still be a productive player, but that’s what Jova accomplished last year. Despite his appalling 12/90 BB/K ratio, Jova banged out 40 extra-base hits and played a fine right field for the Fisher Cats. Wth so much upheaval on the roster and no obvious candidates to move up from A-Ball, Jova might be a good bet to return. “I hope he comes back,” says Mike. “He’s always smiling, he’s got some definite pop, and everyone loves to say ‘Jova.’”

DH Mike Snyder, 24
A second-round draft choice from 1999 who was slowly building an interesting minor-league CV, Snyder’s first Double-A season went poorly as he struggled to a .211/.285/.360 line in 261 at-bats. But a wrist injury he suffered early in the campaign probably contributed to his misery, and he’s shown both patience and decent power in previous seasons. The Jays have nothing to lose by giving him another crack at a full season, and his return would be popular in Manchester. “He’s one of the nicest guys on the team,” says Mike, “and he just looks like a ballplayer. He still hit the biggest homer in franchise ‘history,’ the walk-off to beat Binghamton on a Friday night in mid-August, starting the team's march to the EL championship. I think the team could use a power bat from the left side.”

Honourable mention goes to Justin Singleton, who’ll turn 26 right after the season begins. He has hardly any command of the strike zone (a 33/152 BB/K rate in 441 at-bats last year), and Negron will certainly take his spot in centerfield. His role in the organization is uncertain, but “if Singleton comes back, he's got to play,” says Mike. “He was the best defensive outfielder in the Eastern League by far last year.” Indeed, if you asked most observers to assemble an all-defensive farm-system outfield for the Blue Jays, Singleton and Yuber Rodriquez would almost certainly flank Negron in center.

If the Fisher Cats begin the season with the rotation we’re predicting, they will have one of the most remarkable collection of arms the system has seen for quite some time.

SP Francisco Rosario, 24
Rosario should be just about all the way back from Tommy John surgery conducted in the fall of 2002, and that’s pretty exciting. His return to the mound last year started poorly, but about halfway through the season, he began to regain his confidence, and he finished the year with powerful playoff performances to lead the Fisher Cats to their inaugural championship. His stint in the Arizona Fall League was less impressive – a 6.58 ERA, 49 baserunners in 28 innings – but it was the end of a long season for the youngster. The Jays are expecting great things from Rosario, who shows up for work with a blistering mid-90s fastball and an excellent changeup. The degree to which his control returns and to which he can further refine his slider will dictate when he reaches Toronto, and whether he arrives in a starting or bullpen capacity. If he starts off 2005 strongly, he won’t be in Double-A for long. “He seems Triple-A ready for me at this point,” Mike agrees. “He was nearly unhittable at the end of the year, when everything came together. If he starts with New Hampshire, I sure don't expect to see him here by Memorial Day.”

SP Josh Banks, 22
The 2003 2nd-round draft choice blazed through the Toronto system until struggling badly in his Double-A debut last summer. But he had regained his equilibrium by season’s end, returning to his normal habit of striking out a lot of batters while walking very few. Banks does not have overpowering stuff, but he has a five-pitch repertoire (his low-90s fastball and mid-80s splitter are probably his two best offerings), and like Dave Bush, the pitcher to whom he is often compared, he mixes them well and changes speeds with excellent location. He gave up far too many home runs last season, but that appears to be his only weak spot. Like Rosario, he could move up in a hurry. “Banks should be at the top of the staff,” says Mike. “He really bounced back from a rough start at Double-A and was at the top of his game at the end of the season.”

SP Shaun Marcum, 23
The Jays will probably give Marcum a look in the Fisher Cats rotation to start 2005. Recently converted to the mound from shortstop in college, he posted a sensational 4/72 BB/K rate in 69 Dunedin innings last summer after a mid-season promotion from Low-A Charleston, where he also dominated. He brings four offerings to the mound, though a wicked slider and a darting fastball are his two best pitches. Scouts are pretty sure that his build and repertoire are better suited to the bullpen than the rotation, and the Jays may in fact make that move upon his fairly inevitable promotion to Syracuse. But for the moment, he’s another solid member of this staff.

SP Vince Perkins, 23
This British Columbia native is a real wild card for the Fisher Cats, and for the Jays organization. Baseball America calls Perkins’ stuff second only to Dustin McGowan in the organization – and that is very high praise. Perkins fires a fastball in the mid-90s with exceptional natural movement, and he adds a solid changeup and a power slider to the mix. His weakness has always been wildness, and recently he has added health to the mix – back and elbow injuries ruined most of his 2004 season, though they don’t appear to have affected his velocity. He tends to throw across his body too much, and the coaching staff will be looking to straighten his delivery. Perkins’ upside is staff ace – it’s that simple – but a lot of observers see his strapping frame and full-effort delivery and see a young John Wetteland. The 2005 season looks to be a crucible for Perkins, who will be 24 by season’s end and must make his move now.

SP Ismael Ramirez, 24
Rounding out the probable Fisher Cats starting five is Ramirez, the stealth pitching prospect who quietly snuck up on the organization last year. Signed as a free agent from Venezuela in 1998, Ramirez finally broke out during a 2004 campaign in Dunedin during which he actually got stronger as the year wore on. Thanks to some mechanical adjustments, Ramirez was able to get maximum results out of his live low-90s fastball, which he can throw (along with a slider and changeup) for strikes whenever he wants. Ramirez’s eventual destination is likely to be in the bullpen, but for the moment, he should be a capable member of New Hampshire’s rotation.

The bullpen is really up in the air, and few of the candidates are considered more than just journeymen, so there’s little to say here. Bubbie Buzachero, 23, seems likely to start the year as closer. Buzachero, who has been advancing more slowly through the system than most would like, called unwanted attention to himself this past off-season when his name surfaced as part of a group of players on the scene when top Phillies prospect Cole Hamels ran into trouble with the law. Buzachero had been throwing great numbers on the board the last couple of seasons, but he seemed to wear down in the second half for Dunedin last year. “We've been spoiled with Double-A closers,” Mike points out. “Adam Peterson and Jordan DeJong were among league leaders, while Brandon League dominated once he was allowed to just start pitching in the playoffs, and Jamie Vermilyea thrived in every role. We'll see if Buzachero is the next in line.”

For a minor-league club like New Hampshire, the talent on the field is obviously important. But the relationship with the major-league front office might be just as critical. Making sure everyone is on the same page, ensuring that both major-league and minor-league goals are attained, and juggling often-competing priorities like player development and a winning team can be tricky.

But the relationship between Toronto and Manchester seems to be solid. While JP Ricciardi rarely gets the opportunity to see the farm clubs in person, other members of the organization — especially in scouting and development — are more frequent visitors to the Granite State.

“[Director of Player Development] Dick Scott was [at the ballpark] often, and I thought we had a tremendous relationship,” Mike says. “He was great with the media, would always find time to spend an inning in the booth, and was quite forthcoming in his opinions of players and the likelihood of promotion. As a Maine native, Scott has a New Englander's passion for baseball that makes him genuinely enjoy visiting New Hampshire,” he adds. “I also like how he put on a uniform on gameday. Nice touch.” Director of Player Personnel Tony Lacava also made a few appearances during the year, and Mike finally met him during the playoffs in Altoona. “I did enjoy talking to him about the world-famous Primanti Brothers Sandwich in Pittsburgh and asking him about being Dan Marino's high school teammate,” he reports.

Minor-league Operations Manager Charlie Wilson “was outstanding,” says Mike. “I flew to Florida last spring training to meet [manager] Mike Basso and see a few games. Wilson allowed me full access, set up the meeting with Basso and others in the organization, and answered any and all questions about working in professional baseball.”

Charlie later came up to New Hampshire for the groundbreaking of the new ballpark, and made another visit later in the summer when the Blue Jays announced a two-year extension with the Fisher Cats. “I also enjoyed when the roaming instructors visited,” Mike adds. “Nothing like asking Merv Rettenmund what he thinks of a hitter, or talking Olympic baseball with Ernie Whitt. Those were good days.

“I think what’s most impressive about Scott, Wilson, [Jay] Stenhouse and Lacava is just how comfortable they made me feel when talking to them,” he says. “Part of that, I believe, is that I was not viewed as a ‘reporter’ covering the team. I was essentially part of the team — just one who couldn't hit, run, or field worth a damn.”

So, in addition to the talent on the mound, what can New Hampshire fans expect to see at their new (and so far, happily unsponsored) Fisher Cats Ballpark? Well, according to the schedule, everything from Jimmy Buffett Night to the Kenny Rogers Lookalike Contest (paging Kent Williams) to something called Zooperstars!, which apparently will bring Clammy Sosa, Shark McGwire, Nomar Garciaparrot and Mia Hamster out to the park.

Oh, and fireworks – lots of ‘em. “For whatever reason, fireworks equals fans,” observes Mike. “More fans came to Norwich last season to see fireworks than for Willie Mays' appearance. At Gill Stadium, the team wasn’t allowed to have fireworks promotions. You can bet that will make a difference, though I've never understood the fascination with them. I look forward to Brandon League Bobblehead Doll day myself.”

For the Fisher Cats, this really is the best of times: a beautiful new ballpark, a solid relationship with a surging organization, and the foundation of a longtime love affair between the team and its fans. “The championship was great for the state of New Hampshire, which not only had been without an affiliated minor league baseball team for three decades, but also for Manchester, which had never had a professional championship to celebrate,” says Mike.

“The brand new ballpark alone will do wonders for attendance, and the addition of luxury suites will naturally bring more businesses into the equation. The city's image will only continue to improve with the riverfront ballpark and what it does for businesses in the surrounding area. I picture, within two or three years, a vibrant Camden Yards-esque experience with restaurants, bars and shops for fans to visit before and after the game.” Here’s one Bauxite who’s looking forward to taking in a game in Manchester’s riverbank ballpark before too long.

New Hampshire Fisher Cats 2005 Preview | 8 comments | Create New Account
The following comments are owned by whomever posted them. This site is not responsible for what they say.
Gerry - Thursday, March 24 2005 @ 09:49 AM EST (#107334) #
The hitting will be the biggest question for the Fisher Cats this year. Guys like Vito, Cota, Tablado, Negron, Cosby and Davenport were either not ranked by BA or ranked in the bottom half of their top 30 prospects. AA will be make it or break it time for all these guys, it will be interesting to follow their progress.

It is two weeks to opening day, Jordan you brought the excitement a little bit closer. Great job.
jim854 - Thursday, March 24 2005 @ 10:05 AM EST (#107335) #
Thanks, Jordan for an excellent article on the AA team. Last year I listened to many of their games on the net and enjoyed the game and the announcers. This year with the new ballpark it should be a memorable year for the players selected to play on the team. Hopefully both the pitching and the hitting will come thru and this team will contend for the championship once again.
Named For Hank - Thursday, March 24 2005 @ 10:16 AM EST (#107339) #
If you’re Thomas Dolby, you only had one hit anyway, so why are you touring?

Dude, that was low. Low, low, low. And anyways, didn't both Hyperactive and Airhead chart?

I was listening to Astronauts and Heretics last night, it hasn't aged as well as I thought it might. Aliens Ate My Buick still stands as his best work.

Also, good preview. Thanks. And a couple of friends of mine have now ridiculed me for not knowing who Velvet Revolver are.

Rob - Thursday, March 24 2005 @ 02:34 PM EST (#107397) #
I almost wish I had something to say, but most of last year's F-Cats have moved on. If I knew anything about the D-Jays, I would chime in...but all I can say is good job, Jordan.

Back-to-back, anyone?
robertdudek - Thursday, March 24 2005 @ 04:33 PM EST (#107439) #
"I Scare Myself" was a great song, and part of a very underrated follow-up LP.

Named For Hank - Thursday, March 24 2005 @ 04:41 PM EST (#107440) #
I'm with you there. I think the best song on that album was Screen Kiss, tho'.
Stellers Jay - Thursday, March 24 2005 @ 07:13 PM EST (#107452) #
Excellent article Jordan. The starting pitching staff is obviously the strength of the team. If everything goes to plan McGowan, Purcey, and Jackson will all be in the rotation by mid summer and make it even more fierce. It will be balanced by the fact that Banks, Rosario, and Marcum(maybe) are Syracuse bound by June. If McGowan proves to be recovered he could presumably by-pass New Hampshire for Syracuse too.
Sano - Thursday, March 24 2005 @ 09:31 PM EST (#107460) #
I'm really interested in Perkins. It seems as though with some prospects there really is nothing you can do for them. I mean, you can tell them again and again to do it this way, but until it 'clicks', then it's like banging against a brick wall. I suppose there are mechanical things that can be ironed out straightforwardly, but it's just annoying hearing people say he's got such amazing stuff and yet he's not able to put it all together.
New Hampshire Fisher Cats 2005 Preview | 8 comments | Create New Account
The following comments are owned by whomever posted them. This site is not responsible for what they say.