On April 15, 2004, on a bone-chilling night that no one who was there will soon forget, a sellout crowd of excited fans and international media watched the return of professional baseball to Manchester as the New Hampshire Fisher Cats (formerly the New Hampshire Primaries) defeated the Trenton Thunder 3-1. In that first game of their first season, played at historic Gill Stadium on Manchester's East Side while their riverfront ballpark was being constructed, Fisher Cats ace Dustin McGowan (now a starting pitcher for the Toronto Blue Jays) outdueled Trenton's Chien Ming Wang (now the ace of the New York Yankees). To date, more than a dozen former Fisher Cats, including McGowan, Alex Rios, Gustavo Chacin, Aaron Hill and Shawn Marcum have gone on to become full-time major league stars in Toronto and elsewhere.
That inaugural season proved a huge success, as the Fisher Cats won their first Eastern League Championship. Starting in 2005, the team moved to the state-of-the-art Merchantsauto.com Stadium along the banks of the Merrimack River in the heart of downtown Manchester. The park opened to rave reviews for its wide-open concourses, unobstructed sightlines, variety of food options, and economical, family-friendly atmosphere.
Baseball had returned at last - and the fans responded with open arms.
The subsequent sale of the team during the 2006 season introduced the City of Manchester to new owner and Managing Partner Art Solomon and new team President and General Manager Rick Brenner - two men with the necessary business-of-baseball experience to ensure that the Fisher Cats would be winners both on and off the field.
Solomon, who holds a B.A. from Brown University, an M.A. from Trinity College and a Ph.D. from Harvard University, is widely regarded as one of the most successful investors, developers and operators in the U.S. real estate market. He is also widely known for his commitment to strong and vibrant local communities. Earlier in his career, he worked for the anti-poverty programs in New Haven, Connecticut and in Washington D.C., and while serving as a professor of economics and urban planning at M.I.T., he also served as the Executive Director of the Harvard-M.I.T. Joint Center for Urban Studies -- a leading think tank on the development of our cities and regions. Since taking over the team, Solomon has continued that trend, starting the Fisher Cats Foundation - a statewide charitable organization dedicated to bettering the lives of New Hampshire's youth by supporting Children's Hospital at Dartmouth (CHaD) and providing scholarships to college bound New Hampshire students, and revitalizing the famed Granite State Baseball Dinner - which has played to sold out crowds in 2007 and 2008 and raised over $200,000 for the Fisher Cats Foundation & the Children's Hospital at Dartmouth (CHaD).
Before coming to New Hampshire, Brenner spent three seasons as the Eastern League Vice-President and six seasons as General Manager and Chief Operating Officer of the Eastern League's Trenton Thunder, the Double-A affiliate of the New York Yankees, and previously, the Boston Red Sox. Under Brenner's leadership, the Thunder became the first Double-A team in minor league baseball history to draw 400,000 fans for eleven consecutive seasons. Brenner is a triply-decorated baseball executive, having previously been named the Eastern League's Executive of the Year while under his leadership, the Thunder was awarded the coveted Larry MacPhail Trophy for Minor League baseball's top promotional/community effort and the prestigious John H. Johnson President's trophy as the nation's best professional baseball franchise.
Not surprisingly, the battery of Solomon and Brenner has been a winning combination.
In 2007, the Fisher Cats set numerous attendance records. On June 16th, a franchise single-game record 8,227 fans saw the Fisher Cats beat the Erie SeaWolves. Just nine days later, the team established a franchise-record seventh consecutive standing-room-only crowd of 6,831 when the Fisher Cats hosted the Portland Sea Dogs. A grand total of 371,710 fans came to Merchantsauto.com Stadium to cheer on their hometown heroes. To add to the record-setting season, the franchise welcomed its 1,000,000th fan on July 7th. Since Brenner took over the Fisher Cats operation in 2007, the Fisher Cats have also partnered with more than 800 charitable organizations in and around New Hampshire, and raised over $475,000 through Fisher Cat fundraising events.
The 2008 season featured the opening of the highly-anticipated 4,600 square foot Samuel Adams Bar and Grill and an expanded Bugaboo Creek Kids Area. Located on and behind the left field wall, the Samuel Adams Bar and Grill features 11 high-definition LCD televisions with full sports-bar level programming, a beautiful 85-foot mahogany bar with full-bar service and table top seating featuring an extended menu, live music before and after selected events, and great views of the action on the field - providing an exceptional new location for family gatherings or corporate events. For the kids, the Bugaboo Creek Kids Area, located behind the ballpark, features a giant slide, bounce house, and inflatable obstacle course to help work off some energy before the game, and between innings.
In addition to these new features, the Fisher Cats still provide the same great range of fun opportunities they always have, including corporate and family events, birthday parties, and youth skills development through the Fisher Cat Baseball Camps.
The 2008 season marks the Fisher Cats' 5th anniversary. To celebrate, the Fisher Cats will host the 2008 Northeast Delta Dental Eastern League All-Star Game on July 15-16 at Merchantsauto.com Stadium. On July 15 from 6-10pm, the Fisher Cats will team up with Bank of America to host a free Block Party with live music, food and drink, and lots of fun activities for the kids in Veterans Park in downtown Manchester from 6-10pm. Then, on Wednesday, July 16, gates open at 3pm for autographs and batting practice, followed by the HomeRun Derby at 5pm, and the playing of the 2008 Eastern League All-Star Game at 7:05pm. This highly-anticipated event will showcase some of minor league baseball's top talent, and will attract scouts and media from across the country and around the globe.
In five short years, the New Hampshire Fisher Cats have become a favorite New Hampshire entertainment destination, and a staple of the New Hampshire community. To learn more about the Fisher Cats, to buy tickets, to explore partnering opportunities for your business or not-for-profit organization, or to book your next family or corporate outing, go to www.nhfishercats.com or call the Fisher Cats front office at 603.641.2005.
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