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April 09. 2014 10:04PM


Northeast Delta Dental Stadium: Hitters park or pitchers park?

Fans watch the New Hampshire Fisher Cats take on the New Britian Rock Cats in the Cats' home opener at Northeast Delta Dental Stadium in Manchester in 2012. (Mark Bolton/Union Leader)

MANCHESTER — The short porch in right field teases and beckons.

At 306 feet down the line to right, it is tantalizingly close to home plate, is the most reachable fence in the entire Eastern League and helps make Northeast Delta Dental Stadium a hitters’ park.

Or does it?

The New Hampshire Fisher Cats open their 10th season in their windswept gem of a riverside home next to the Merrimack — they played their first season in Gill Stadium while the new place was being built — tonight against the Binghamton Mets.

So here’s the question: Does the ballpark play to the strengths of pitchers? Or hitters?

It depends.

“I’d say it leans towards a hitter’s park with the short right field and the big gap in left-center,” said right-handed pitcher Deck McGuire. “It kind of plays in a hitter’s favor in being spacious. But left field can be a little big. I know our right-handed hitters complain about it.”

A couple of those right-handed New Hampshire hitters see both sides of the issue.

“I definitely think it’s one of the tougher parks to hit in for a righty,” said first baseman Gabe Jacobo. “In left-center and center, it’s one of the bigger parks we play in. You get hold of a ball, and you think you might have it, and the guy is camped underneath it in left-center. Sometimes that’s a little depressing.”

Then there’s the other direction, that short poke to right field, a pull hitter’s delight for a left-hander.

“I’m sure lefties love coming here to hit,” Jacobo said. “It has its pros and cons, and I have no complaints. I actually like hitting the ball the other way, so I don’t mind it. And if you get hold of one to left, hopefully it should go out.”

Hitters or pitchers?

“This field is a little different because it’s a little of both,” said outfielder Brad Glenn. “If you’re a left-handed hitter, you love playing here because it’s 306 down the line, and it doesn’t shoot out much deeper after that. And I know from playing here for two years that left-center is huge, and it plays bigger. The ball seems to hang up there for a while, and the great center fielders in the league seem to run those down.”

Winds coming off the river and over the roof of the Samuel Adams Bar & Grill out past the left wall help hold balls up, especially early in the season, said Bob Lipman, who has been calling Fisher Cats game on the radio since day one of the franchise.

In eight of the nine seasons in the park, Lipman calculated, the Fisher Cats and their opponents have hit more home runs at Northeast Delta Dental than they have on the road.

A Baseball America survey for the 2010-12 seasons showed the stadium near the middle of the 12-team Eastern League in total runs (sixth at 8.95 per game), hits (eighth at 16.88) and home runs (fourth at 1.74).

The ballfield measures 326 feet down the left-field line and an even 400 to straightaway center to go with the 306 down the right-field line.

The only other fences in the league that are less than 310 feet from the plate are at Prince George’s Stadium in Bowie, Md., the home of the Bowie Bay Sox. The distances there are 309 in left and right field and 405 in center.

Just two other fences are closer than 320 feet — left field in Jerry Uht Park in Erie and left field in Portland’s Hadlock Field at 315.

Right-handed hitters aren’t apt to change their stance and take aim at the short shot to right. But they do think about it, and it does come into play for them, too.

“It’s tough for anyone who’s been doing it their whole life to change their approach based on a park,” Glenn said. “But it does help you a little bit because you try to focus more on right-center, and that usually keeps a right-hander on the ball instead of pulling off. If anything, I think it helps you stay on the ball to right center.”

It comes down to what a pitcher is trying to do, as well.

“Last year, when we’d face a lefty and we’d have a scouting report that says his ball runs way from righties and he tries to stay away from you, it kind of creeps into my head that, ‘OK, if he throws one out there and I get some late barrel, I can get one out there,’ ” Jacobo said. “Sure, I’ll take that.”

Short porch and big country in left-center, all in all, McGuire, the pitcher, likes the place.

“It’s an awesome park, and it’s a great atmosphere,” he said. “I think it plays pretty fair. It does change the way you pitch a little bit, especially late in the game when a solo home run can make a difference. You try to stay away from going in on the lefties and away to the righties — stuff like that. But mostly you pitch it like you would anywhere else. And hopefully it stays in the yard.”

Jacobo and Glenn, of course, hope the opposite when they’re at the plate.

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