action:article | category:SPORTS0102 | adString:SPORTS0102 | zoneID:40

Home » Sports » Baseball » Fisher Cats/EL

April 04. 2013 10:16PM

Kevin Gray On Baseball: Things are looking up

Fisher Cats Kenny Wilson, left, congratulates John Tolisano, center, after Tolisano's second-inning home run against Reading Thursday night at Northeast Delta Dental Stadium in Manchester. Nashua's Kevin Nolan, right, scored on the homer. (Thomas Roy/Union Leader)

Fisher Cats Clint Robinson slides into the bag to retire Reading's Zach Collier Thursday night at Northeast Delta Dental Stadium in Manchester. (Thomas Roy/Union Leader)
MANCHESTER -- After nine years and two Eastern League titles, the New Hampshire Fisher Cats have proven themselves as one of the most successful franchises in Minor League Baseball. Don't take it for granted.

The Double-A franchise, which opened the season with a 9-0 victory over Reading at Northeast Delta Dental Stadium on Thursday night, was hemorrhaging money and suffering through its worst on-field season (68-74 record) before Art Solomon bought a controlling interest in July 2005. It's easy to forget how Solomon, a savvy businessman who amassed millions in real estate, took a risk with the Fisher Kitties.

"You always take a risk when you make an investment," said Solomon, who acquired full ownership in 2008. "We thought if we provided people with affordable family entertainment that we would do well. Before I bought the team, it was losing a lot of money, frankly, and now we are doing much better."

Off the field, the Fisher Cats are never late on an enormous lease payment to the city - a figure approaching $1 million per year and considered one of the worst leases in the minors - and the front office has been honored as one of the best in the game.

Last season, New Hampshire averaged 5,559 fans (paid attendance) per opening, ranking third among 12 teams, while bringing in an assortment of baseball stars. Jose Bautista, a two-time American League home run champion, dazzled the crowd with a home run and grand slam while making a rehabilitation stop in Manchester.

The 2013 squad opened the season wearing old-school pine green jerseys, reminiscent of the inaugural 2004 season. That year, Robinson Cano played second base in the first-ever Fisher Cats game at Gill Stadium. Ryan Howard blasted a home run toward JFK Coliseum later that season.

Aaron Hill, a No. 1 draft pick, arrived as Toronto's golden boy and delivered the goods in a championship season. Hanley Ramirez was only 20 years old when he reached Double-A and played for the Sea Dogs. The aforementioned players all became All-Stars in the majors.

Through the years, New Hampshire has changed colors and names (Primaries, anyone?) and seen more than 60 of its alumni reach the big leagues. Season ticket holders have witnessed three no-hitters, 17 walk-off home runs and a bat-fetching dog, Ollie, who appears to be on top of his game this season.

Fisher Cats leadoff hitter Kenny Wilson, a second-round pick in 2008, opened the season with a flare base hit to right field and suddenly jetted to second base for a double. (Eventually he was picked off.) Kevin Nolan, a Nashua South graduate, handled his first few ground balls at shortstop and knocked in the first run with a laser-single off the right-field wall.

The next batch of baby Blue Jays is here, learning under first-year manager Gary Allenson. Based on what we've learned the past nine years, several players on the opening-day roster will reach the big leagues this season.

"It's nice when guys improve their game, get better, and you call them into your office and tell them they're going to Triple-A or the big leagues. That's the best part," said Allenson, a former catcher for the Red Sox. 'If I was a fan, I'd want to be watching guys that you know are going to play in the big leagues. You see a guy like Kenny Wilson and say, hey, that guy has some skills."

Fisher Cats president Rick Brenner enjoyed his 20th opening day in the business, including seven with the Fisher Cats. He was hired in January 2006 and essentially asked to stop the bleeding. He made necessary hires and fires. He built a stronger fan base by connecting with the community. (The Fisher Cats Foundation has provided more than $2.4 million in monetary and in-kind donations). It was a difficult yet steady process. Brenner said 2007 was "one of the most challenging and most rewarding years that I've ever had in this career."

And now the Fisher Cats are thriving in Year 10. They may not forever stay linked with the Blue Jays - Ottawa is making a push to land Toronto's Double-A affiliate - but there are many major-league teams that would love to partner with New Hampshire. And Solomon indicated on Thursday that his team will stay in the family and not be sold.

"My kids and grandkids are all passionate baseball fans as I am. This is our local team, our hometown team," Solomon said. "I think the team will stay in the family for a very long time, hopefully for multiple generations."

Hard to believe it's already the 10th season with the Fisher Cats. We've come a long way since Gill Stadium. And they play again tonight. Winter is over. Life is good.

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

 NH Sports Angle ╗ more
Links to news and happenings around the world of sports with a Granite State connection, updated daily.

Former All-Star Red Sox shortstop Rico Petrocelli: ôblessedö to have grown up in Brooklyn, now lives in Nashua

Toronto Maple Leafs left wing James van Riemsdyk, right, tangles with Boston Bruins goaltender Tuukka Rask in the first period of Game 1 of their NHL Eastern Conference quarterfinals hockey playoff series in this 2013 file photo.

NH-based insurer sues NHL to limit its defense in players concussion lawsuits

A's claim former Fisher Cat Marcus Walden

Mariano Rivera's son to pitch for NH squad

Kevin Davis, CEO and president of Bauer Performance Sports, displays Bauer Hockey's latest innovation in hockey skates — the Vapor APX 2 with easily changeable skate blades in this 2013 file photo.

Exeter-based Bauer continues to expand beyond hockey with $330M purchase of baseball firm Easton-Bell

Hollis-Brookline head football coach resigns unexpectedly

New owners for Waukewan Golf Club

Matches announced for USA v. Cuba clash at Rockingham Park this weekend

Boston Marathon victim Jeff Baumann throws out the first pitch prior to the start of a game against the Philadelphia Phillies at Fenway Park last year.

Service's creed on display in support of airman affected by Boston bombing

40-year-old Manchester mechanical engineer wins MMA decision

New Hampshire Motor Speedway touts viability of casino site in Loudon

USA Knockouts Tamed in Cuba

U.S., Cuba boxers clash in Havana, U.S. bouts set for Rockingham Park in Salem

Lee USA Speedway opens season April 13

Newmarket woman plans world-record cross-country run for charity


Is Chip Kelly racist?

World Series of Boxing event moved to Rockingham Park - USA vs. Cuba

Manchester man in top 30 candidates for Padres public address announcer

NH man helps MLB players deal with stresses on, off the field

Review of the 2014 Toronto Blue Jays Minor League Handbook

New Hampshire Motor Speedway may run Sprint Cup race in 2015 under the lights

How Boston lost the Patriots and 'New England' grabbed the NFL's 'Gold Standard'

Twin State Speedway gets new manager

Yale promotes former UNH coach to offensive coordinator

Bulldogs sign UNH's Nick Sorkin


 New Hampshire Events Calendar


Upcoming Events

 New Hampshire Business Directory