Waking Up the Ball Park
Late season snow won't stop the New Hampshire Fisher Cats from 'working on the show'.
Two weeks before opening day, and the stadium that the New Hampshire Fisher Cats call home in Manchester looks more like a snow-covered lake than baseball field. That doesn’t seem to worry Shaun Meredith, Director of Facilities and Turf: “How you put the stadium, the ball park, the field to bed in the fall dictates what it’s going to be like come spring. So for some reason if you’ve got snow and can’t touch it all come springtime, it’s really not in that bad a shape. Granted, behind the buck a bit, but looking up.”
As we’re talking, four workers with shovels are spreading black sand around the outfield.
Tom Gauthier is the Director of Broadcast Media Relations for the Fisher Cats. We talked inside the teams offices, away from the wind. I asked with a week to go to opening day, how are you preparing the ballpark, the team, how are you getting the staff ready?
"It’s a lot of work. We’re here a lot of hours. It’s everything from, making sure in this case, snow removal is going ok, selling tickets, selling advertising, working with partners to come up with last minute promotions… basically our number one thing is working on the show. Making sure that when fans come down this season there’s going to be something entertaining after every break. Whether it’s a giveaway or it’s a sumo wrestling contest between the second and third innings. Getting ready so that every entertainment aspect is ready to go on opening day."
Tom explains the major dilemma all minor league sports teams face: they have no control over the team they put on the field. For the Fisher Cats, those decisions are made up north- in Toronto. As the double-A affiliate for the Blue Jays, they simply accept what the major league club gives them from their pool of prospects. Occasionally that could include a big-name player on a rehab assignment; but for the most part, the team’s office staff is focused on ‘the show’, as Gauthier says. And that show takes a lot of people to pull off. From a full time winter staff of 22 people, the crew at the stadium by mid-season grows into the hundreds.
Mike Ramshaw, Vice President of Sales, echoes the mantra about entertainment first, with baseball as just one part of the experience. “We’re in the business of creating memories. It’s our job to entertain people when they walk through the gates. I think the minute you become complacent and think that you’ve got it, that’s when you start to fail.
Down the hall is the Marketing office. Director Jenna Raizes is standing behind one her two assistants looking at a computer monitor. Next to the desk is a large cardboard box with a pair of stuffed pants and a pink bird head peeking out over the top. I asked Jenna what the process is like at their promotional meetings.
"About ten minutes in we start going ‘are we really having this conversation as professionals?’, but a lot of times we’re original but other teams have great things going on and so we borrow from them, call them, see how they made it work, see what their fans thought of it. Minor league baseball has a reputation of being sponsored up. So it’s something we do look for, but at the same time only if it’s valuable for our sponsors. So if the flamingo and the cowboy are going to be seen a ton and someone wants to partner up, than we can make that happen."
The Fisher Cats main mascot, Fungo, sees plenty of action during the games, roaming the stands. Jenna says Fungo has plenty of his own fans:
"Mobbed, yes, spilt snow cones on, tails pulled, ears pulled, hats pulled."
The life of a ball park mascot is not an easy one. Still, Fungo doesn’t have to feed the thousands of fans at the game. That job falls to Executive Chef Alan Foley. Under the concourse in the stadiums’ massive kitchen area, we find him taking stock in a huge walk-in freezer.
"I think the main thing with this facility is it’s big. So we sell food on the first base line, the third base line, we sell food in left field at the bar, we sell it on the concession levels, so just the tentacles of how far everything goes out is the hardest part. We do sell a lot of quantity, but it’s more like just keeping track of the logistics of where everything goes."
Back up on the park’s snow-covered field, the four workers in winter coats and hats continue spreading sand into the wind. Despite those cold gusts coming off the Merrimack, the sun is out and the ball park is waking up. Baseball- and summer- are on their way.