MANCHESTER, NH – With 18 home games scheduled for June, including seven against the first-place Somerset Patriots (Yankees), this month will be a stiff test for the New Hampshire Fisher Cats.
The Cats got the month off to a good start on Tuesday with a 10th inning walk-off hit by infielder Rafael Lantigua, who hit .329 for the month of May. RHP Hayden Juenger threw four scoreless innings in his team-leading 10th start and lowered his WHIP to a solid 1.11. The ‘Cats made it four-of-five on Wednesday night as recent call-up Cam Eden drove in two key runs with a double. New Hampshire is already the third stop for Eden in the young season following promotion from Low-A Dunedin to High-A Vancouver before coming to Manchester earlier this week.
The unique May play that had Akron RubberDucks fans in baseball stitches happened last Thursday night in a Fisher Cats loss. RubberDucks runner George Valera was a dead duck in trying to score from second base on a sharply-hit single to right field by Jose Tena. ‘Cats outfielder Sebastian Espino uncorked a beaut of a one-hop throw to catcher Chris Bec and that’s when things got interesting. Bec took an extended swipe to his left with the ball but caught only air as Valera veered from the left lane of the interstate to the breakdown lane in a hurry, avoiding the tag and a sure third out. Trouble was he never got within four feet of home plate as he ran past.
We’ll let catcher Bec describe what happened next: “We actually went over this situation in Instructional and we basically came to the conclusion don’t let him juke you. Just sit on the plate. Here it came up in an actual game and that was the first thing that came into my head. Sit on the plate. Flexibility as a catcher is very important.”
Steve Goldberg handles both publicity and announcing duties for the Cats on WGIR (610 AM) and is as well-traveled as any minor league player. A University of Missouri graduate active in announcing a variety of team sports while on campus, Goldberg has a degree in sports management with a minor in journalism. This is the Boston native’s first season with the Fisher Cats.
“One summer during college I worked in the Cape Cod Baseball League,” Goldberg said when asked to name his many baseball stops. “After that I was in Charleston, South Carolina for a season and then the off-season in the Australian Baseball League with Melbourne. I then came back to the states to work a year in Frisco, Texas, with the Rangers Double-A affiliate there.”
Keep your bags packed. There’s more.
“I wound up in Mobile, Alabama with the Angels Double-A affiliate and was there from 2017-2019,” Goldberg continued. “Minor league baseball is a small world. Everybody gets to know everybody.”
“The pace of baseball allows you to story tell more, to have a dialogue and a back-and-forth with your analyst, the announcer continued just after trading pre-game war stories with Sea Dogs announcer Emma Tiddelmann in his booth. “In some other sports, the action is just so fast-moving you don’t have time for any of that stuff.”
When asked to relate a funny minor-league story, Goldberg came up with an unnamed stadium crew intent on drying out a field.
“We had a lot of rain down South,” the announcer said. “Some summers, day after day you’d get rain at home, rain on the road.”
“We were on the road and the crew had been late in putting on the infield tarp and the dirt got soaked, the field was drenched,” Goldberg said while building up to a good laugh. “We weren’t going to play that night. The next day we tried again and the field was still soaked in certain spots and they decided to try to light the field on fire. They started a fire and they’re pouring gasoline down around 2nd base. They’re trying to warm up the field and get it to dry quicker, but their quick dry isn’t working. We had two different fires right around the base. They never did get the field playable.”
Let’s stick to Fireworks Night at Delta Dental Stadium.
Orelvis Martinez is the No. 2 prospect in the Blue Jays organization according to mlb.com. Coming into June 3, the Fisher Cats shortstop has 14 home runs and a solid .835 OPS (On-base percentage added to slugging percentage) despite a .224 batting average and too many strikeouts. Still, the native of the Dominican Republic won’t be 21 until November and his strikeout ratio was down in May. At 6-foot-1-inch and 200 pounds he looks like neither a shortstop nor a power hitter, but results trump looks.
Can you not admire Zac Cook? He’s striking out too much and his batting average is too low, but he’s taken 17 hit-by-pitches and has five home runs in 120 plate appearances. Here’s to a speedy recovery from his latest bad bruise. The Cats record for HBP in a full season is 18.
Tanner Morris has provided some much-needed pop to the batting order, hitting .335 with an on-base percentage of .447 since joining the team in early May.
It’s always the sign of a good team when it scores in the late innings. The Fisher Cats have scored multiple runs in the 9th inning five times this year only to fall short by a single run each time. The Cats are zip-for-17 after trailing going into the 9th inning but have outscored their opponents 37-11 in the 9th.
After COVID-19 cancelled the 2020 Minor League Baseball season and the 2021 season marked a one-time name change for leagues across the Minors, the 2022 season has seen a new alignment for the Blue Jays organization compared to its Pre-COVID configuration as the Florida State League has now become a Low-A league and the Northwest League has become a High-A league, with the Dunedin Blue Jays and Vancouver Canadians serving as Blue Jays affiliates in those leagues, respectively.
The Lansing Lugnuts of the former Single-A Midwest League are now Oakland Athletics affiliates following the Midwest League’s reclassification to a High-A league. The Bluefield Blue Jays are now an independent collegiate summer team known as the Bluefield Ridgerunners after the Appalachian League and the Rookie level of Minor League Baseball was eliminated completely.
The Buffalo Bisons remain as the Blue Jays’ Triple-A affiliate in the International League, following renovations to Sahlen Field after the Blue Jays played their home games there in 2021 due to COVID restrictions limiting travel between the U.S. and Canada.
Baseball movies for a rainy day: 1. A League of Their Own. Penny Marshall’s masterpiece with Tom Hanks, Bitty Schram, Laura Petty, Madonna and Geena Davis at their best. 2. The Battered Bastards of Baseball. A current Netflix offering that will have you rooting for David vs. Goliath in a superb documentary. 3. Field of Dreams. Kevin Costner can be stiff at times but James Earl Jones, Burt Lancaster, Amy Madigan and Ray Liotta carry a creative story. 4. Fever Pitch. 5. Eight Men Out.
Best Cats between-inning entertainment is Pierogi-in-the-pants. It’s way more fun than it sounds. One kid flings a Jaju pierogi over her shoulder with a lacrosse stick. The other has to catch it in the pouch of a pair of stretched-out sweatpants that could fit Jackie Gleason and Oliver Hardy combined. Key to success: Don’t make the pierogi receiver run.
Elevator going down… It was good to see Fisher Cats starting pitcher Luis Quinones go 2 1/3 scoreless innings on Wednesday after allowing four earned runs in one-third of an inning in his first start. His ERA dropped from 135.00 to 18 and change.
Elevator going up… After striking out twice on six pitches in his first game for the ‘Cats Wednesday night, outfielder Cam Eden rebounded nicely with a key double in the 7th inning as the Fisher Cats beat the Sea Dogs 4-3.