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April 01. 2012 9:14PM

Defending EL champs work out in Manchester Monday


New Hampshire Fisher Cats manager Sal Fasano arrives with the team at Manchester Boston Regional Airport Sunday afternoon. (Mark Bolton/Union Leader)

MANCHESTER — Seven months after capturing the Eastern League championship, the New Hampshire Fisher Cats returned to the Queen City Sunday ready to start another season.

“You come back and it's a new endeavor,” said manager Sal Fasano, moments after stepping off the plane at Manchester Boston Regional Airport. “You have new kids and some repeat guys. The bottom line is to get them ready for the big leagues.”

Today the team will hold its first workout, from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m., at Northeast Delta Dental Stadium.

On Tuesday, the team plans to meet the fans at Executive Health & Sports Center from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. Players will be available for autographs. On Wednesday the Fisher Cats will depart for Trenton, N.J., for the start of their 142-game season on Thursday at 7:05 p.m. against the Thunder. The Fisher Cats will play a three-game series in Trenton, take Sunday off and visit Reading, Pa., for a three-game series against the Phillies beginning Monday.

New Hampshire opens its home season on Thursday, April 12, starting a four-game series against New Britain in a 6:35 p.m. start.

Last season, New Hampshire won the Eastern Division with a 77-65 record, three games better than the Phillies. New Hampshire beat Reading in a best-of-five series, three games to one, for the division title, then won the league championship against the Richmond Flying Squirrels, three games to one.

New Hampshire also won the Eastern League title in 2004 under manager Mike Basso.

Fasano said he was looking forward to returning to Manchester because he truly enjoyed last season and how the team was received by the fans.

“It was a very pleasurable experience, especially when you realize the fans we do have here,” he said. “They're great to be around and very passionate about the game. I thought they were great to me and all the players last year. It's just fun to come back here knowing what the atmosphere is like when you go to the ballpark.”

As for the new players, Fasano said, “That's going to be the fun thing to watch for me, because they really don't know what the atmosphere is around here. It's going to be interesting to see how they respond to people who actually care and cheer for them.”

Righthander Drew Hutchison got a taste of the atmosphere Fasano was talking about when he joined the Fisher Cats late last season, posting a 3-0 record with a 1.20 ERA.

“I was fortunate to be around here when the team won the championship and it was really fun to be part of it,” he said. “My role hasn't changed from last year. Every time I get the ball, I'll take the mound trying to give my team a chance to win.”

Infielder Mark Sobolewski, entering his second full season with the Fisher Cats, said last year's team hit the daily double.

“We're here to develop, become big leaguers some day,” he said. “But in that process, it's good to learn how to win. It felt so good to win the championship and have a great season, but we've got to start another season all over again.”

Fasano gave a sneak preview of this year's team, noting it will not be a carbon-copy of the 2011 championship team.

“You've got to learn how to change with the team because every year is different,” he said. “Last year we had a lot of good speed and defense. This year we've got some boppers and our pitching is going to be good. But we got some guys who can hit the ball a long way. So we may play a little old school three-run homer baseball at times.”

One thing the players know won't be different is the manager.

“This is my third season with him,” said Sobolewski of Fasano. “He creates a loose environment, but you're expected to work hard, develop and learn a lot about the game. He knows the game and knows how to get the most out of every player. It's great to have that kind of guy as a manager.”

Fasano alluded to his statement last year,“I'm not a dictator.” Sunday, though, he added, “There are certain expectations I have for the players. It's basically about trying to communicate what's best for them and hopefully they grow from it.”

Speaking of growing, ever since he was a player, Fasano's signature has been his Fu Manchu moustache.

Sunday, it was thick downward both sides to his chin.

“It will always stay this way,” he said with a smile. “It's that I didn't have any clippers down there (Florida), so I just let it go. Believe me, it's usually good. I can even save some food. You really can't tell that I had a whole sandwich under here (pointing to his moustache covering his upper lip). It's still all good.”


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