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October 01. 2012 11:16PM

Kevin Gray's On Baseball: Fisher Cats take lead in community

On a sunny afternoon in August, on a day the Fisher Cats were playing at Binghamton, more than 3,000 Manchester residents came to Northeast Delta Dental Stadium to pick up free school supplies. From the entrance gate, a line wrapped around the park and along the Riverwalk.

The last-place Fisher Cats lost on the road that night, but the real story was how the Double-A franchise was making another significant impact on the community. Those efforts haven’t gone unnoticed.

New Hampshire has been chosen to represent the Eastern League for the 2012 John H. Johnson President’s Award, presented to a minor-league club in recognition of its long-term success while positively impacting the local community and the game of baseball.

The Fisher Cats have won countless awards through the years, including the Double-A Bob Freitas Award for overall business operation and long-term success, but nothing would quite compare to the President’s Award, to be decided at baseball’s Winter Meetings in December. In Minor League Baseball, which features 160 teams, the President’s Award is as prestigious as college football’s Heisman Trophy.

“We are honored to receive the nomination for this award from the Eastern League,” Fisher Cats President Rick Brenner said. “We have been blessed to have a hard-working staff, the best fans in baseball, and great partners in our community who have enabled us to put on a fun, affordable show and make a positive impact on those around us.”

The Fisher Cats, a year after winning the Eastern League title, dealt with never-ending roster changes and many significant injuries in 2012, posting a 61-81 record under manager Sal Fasano. In April, the team graduated several pitchers to the Blue Jays, including Joel Carreno and Drew Hutchison, and top prospect A.J. Jimenez (elbow surgery) played his final game of the season May 13.

Since the inaugural year in 2004, the Fisher Cats have seen 61 of their players advance to the majors. Off the field, the Fisher Cats and Fisher Cats Foundation have provided nearly $2 million in monetary and in-kind donations to more than 3,000 non-profit organizations since 2006.

The annual Granite State Baseball Dinner, set for Nov. 17 at the Radisson Hotel Manchester, has generated more than $800,000 for the Children’s Hospital at Dartmouth-Hitchcock, the Ted Williams Foundation and the Fisher Cats Foundation. Proceeds from the dinner have been used by the Fisher Cats Foundation to provide $170,000 in scholarships to 56 students in New Hampshire and Massachusetts since 2007. The Fisher Cats Reading Challenge, presented by the Community College System of New Hampshire, has reached more than 155,000 students since its introduction in 2007.

“Under the leadership of Art Solomon and Rick Brenner, the New Hampshire Fisher Cats have become one of the model franchises in all of Minor League Baseball,” said Eastern League President Joe McEacharn. “In addition to providing fans with the affordable, family entertainment they’ve come to expect on a nightly basis at Northeast Delta Dental Stadium, the Fisher Cats have become equally well known for their work in the community, raising money and awareness for numerous charities throughout the state of New Hampshire.”

______


TRIPLE-A BUFFALO: Toronto’s minor leaguers won’t be racking up as many frequent flier miles now that the Blue Jays have moved their Triple-A affiliate from Las Vegas to Buffalo. The Jays ended a four-year relationship with Las Vegas by agreeing to a four-year player development contract (PDC) with Buffalo of the International League. It’s a no-brainer PDC for the Blue Jays, who’ll be able to keep a closer watch on their prospects and have more flexibility on making roster moves, Toronto general manager Alex Anthopoulos said.

The Blue Jays and Fisher Cats are under contract through 2014, though recent discussions involving the city of Ottawa may change the Eastern League landscape before the 2014 season. McEacharn told the Ottawa Citizen the league will be willing to modify existing PDCs ahead of expiration dates to accommodate Ottawa, which hopes to align with Toronto’s Double-A affiliate as early as 2014. If the Blue Jays moved their Double-A affiliate to Ottawa, the Fisher Cats subsequently would bring in another big-league partner such as the Minnesota Twins.

Staff writer Kevin Gray covers pro baseball for the New Hampshire Union Leader and New Hampshire Sunday News. His email address is kgray@unionleader.com.

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