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Kevin Gray's On Baseball: Some major league moments for Fisher Cats in 2012
MANCHESTER -- Baseball's reigning home run champion, Jose Bautista, peaked at Double-A this season.
Sure did. Bautista's most productive game of the year happened right here at Northeast Delta Dental Stadium, home of the New Hampshire Fisher Cats, who wrapped up their ninth season in Manchester Thursday night.
It wasn't the greatest year on the field as the Fisher Cats, the 2011 Eastern League champs, went from first to worst. The Sons of Sal Fasano have occupied last place in their division for much of the season, but they did finish strong and give the fans plenty of entertainment this season.
Bautista made a one-game stop on a rehab assignment, blasting a grand slam and solo homer. It was the last hurrah for Bautista, who played two more games for Toronto before opting for season-ending wrist surgery. Fellow big leaguers Carl Crawford, Jacoby Ellsbury, Adam Lind, Brandon Morrow and Ryan Sweeney all made rehab appearances along the Merrimack River. If you were looking for a major leaguer, this was the place.
Pitchers Joel Carreno, Brett Cecil, Evan Crawford. Drew Hutchison, Chad Jenkins, Aaron Loup and Sam Dyson all pitched for the Fisher Cats and Blue Jays this season. Righties Trystan Magnuson and Yohan Pino are next in line to get the call when big-league rosters expand in September.
Several full-time Fisher Cats were must-see minor leaguers in Manchester. Shortstop Ryan Goins (.289) has a chance to break the single-season hit record (158) entering the year's final four games at New Britain. Right fielder Brad Glenn leads the team with 18 homers in his first Double-A season.
There were four walk-off wins this season, including Sunday's 8-7 triumph over New Britain. Gabe Jacobo, who reached in 10 consecutive plate appearances on the homestand, singled to left field to beat the Rock Cats last weekend. Kevin Howard's walk-off home run beat Portland on July 4.
Third baseman Mark Sobolewski, who beat skin cancer during the off-season, had a six-RBI game in April and proceeded to have a big year, earning a promotion to Triple-A Las Vegas. In May, Cecil, Danny Farquhar and Ron Uviedo combined for a no-hitter against Portland.
A crowd of 6,570 came out for the 71st and final home game, which featured Ollie the bat dog turning in one of his best performances of the year. Ollie, always a crowd favorite, delights fans by fetching bats and Frisbees.
Jacobo hit a three-homer off the Sam Adams Bar & Grill, and the Fisher Cats took a 3-0 lead in the second inning.
“Every baseball season is special, and this one was particular nice because we had a lot of special treats. We had a lot of major leaguers come through, and we had a lot of fun with fireworks and other promotions,” Fisher Cats president Rick Brenner said. “Ollie really honed in on his skills this year. The most important thing is seeing the smiles from the fans and people who work here. It makes it all worth it.”
The year's best on-field act, “Ram of War,” competed against eight kids in tug of war and won Thursday night. The Mighty Ram, who wears face paint and a mullet, often practices random acts of kindness. Last weekend, he pushed a stalled motorcycle off the field.
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X-MAN COMETH: Red Sox uber-prospect Xander Bogaerts, 0-for-9 in the series entering Thursday night, singled on a line drive in the first inning, snapping a mini-slump against the Fisher Cats.
Many scouting reports and experts have compared Bogaerts to a young Hanley Ramirez, citing their similar body types (6-foot-3), athletic ability and uncanny power as a teenager. Ex-Fisher Cats pitcher Leon Boyd, who played with Bogaerts on the Dutch national team, would agree with those physical comparisons. Bogaerts and Boyd together won the 2011 Baseball World Cup in Panama, defeating Cuba.
“Huge upside. He has the type of power for 25-30 home runs in the big leagues,” Boyd said. “Great arm, solid defense, and he's definitely mature beyond his years. I could see him making an impact at the majors by 2014, if not sooner. Great kid. I wish him the best.”
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GAME DAY: The Fisher Cats end the regular season with a four-game set at New Britain beginning tonight at 7:05. Righty Deck McGuire (5-15, 5.96 ERA) makes his final start of the season for New Hampshire, while lefty Andrew Albers (4-3, 3.80 ERA) toes the slab for the Rock Cats. New Hampshire (61-77) still needs another win to avoid tying the worst record in club history. The 2008 Fisher Cats went 61-81 under manager Gary Cathcart.
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Staff writer Kevin Gray covers pro baseball for the New Hampshire Union Leader and New Hampshire Sunday News. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @graymatter11.