MANCHESTER, NH – Last week we brought you the Gutowski family, known as the Royal Family of Monarchs Country, for their 11 years of dedicated Monarchs hockey fandom.
That story prompted an email from Cindy Lavigne, who wanted to share her family’s baseball superfan story.
Craig and Cindy Lavigne and their daughters, 15-year-old twins Cooper and Cassidy, are known to everyone who’s anyone within the Fisher Cats organization as Team Lavigne. They’ve unflinchingly supported Fisher Cats baseball, starting with the very first pitch in 2004 at Gill Stadium.
Of course, they will be there for Thursday’s home opener, like you even have to ask.
They have been the one constant in a world of change – from the the move to Fisher Cats Stadium in 2005 (and two stadium renamings), through managers and staff changes, a logo update, and the rotating line-up of players, season over season, who provide Team Lavigne with hours of family-style fun, and lasting memories.
Below: Fisher Cats “Family Album” with Team Lavigne
Craig Lavigne, who has always loved the game, takes responsibility for his family’s Fisher Cats fever.
“I’ve always loved baseball, and was coaching baseball in Manchester when I met my wife,” says Lavigne.
Cindy Lavigne, who was more a casual fan, grew to love the game as much as her husband. They married and moved into his family home. In 1999 she sent him to see the annual Home Run Derby. In 2000, their twin girls were born. In 2003, they heard that Manchester was getting a Double-A baseball team, and they were all in.
“We were No. 6 in line for season tickets that first year. I think, out of all the Top 10 original season ticket holders, there are only two or three of us left,” says Craig.
There are too many highlights in the highlights-reel of their Fisher Cats fandom to list, but all you have to do is step into their basement (Craig’s boyhood bedroom) to get a sense of how deep it goes. To the left is a huge display wall of autographed baseballs – “and that’s not even all of them,” says Craig, estimating he has collected upwards of 350. There are team jerseys, barres-full of broken bats, a pair of signed cleats, helmets, umpire gear, bobble-heads, and the walls are covered in action shots of players from over the years, most of them shot by Cindy. All of them autographed.
Over the years they’ve bonded – with the players, staff, umpires and fellow season ticket holders.
“Bob and Laura Sigman – we met them at Gill and we got along so well we decided to get seats together at the new stadium, section 104,” says Cindy. “They’re family now,” describing a relationship that includes family get-togethers, spring training excursions, holidays and even vacations, ever since the Sigmans moved to Virginia.
“After my dad died, Bob became like a father figure to me. I ask him advice all the time,” says Craig.
Superfandom has also influenced their daughters, who not only know the nuances of the game, but have both become stand-out softball players for Central High School.
“When we were 4 or 5 could we could name the whole line-up, forward and backward,” says Cooper, who is three minutes older than Cassidy.
“The players knew they were die-hard fans when they’d ask them to autograph balls on the sweet spot,” says Cindy, with a level of maternal pride that goes above and beyond even the most dedicated of team moms.
Over the years they’ve invited players over for cook-outs and birthday celebrations, says Cindy, who is sympathetic to the fact that, for the most part, players who move to Manchester during the baseball season and have to navigate in a foreign city, far from home and family.
“There was a year we had an extra car, a 1998 Sable. It wasn’t great, but we rented it to some of the players for cheap, just so they had a way to get around. We’ve loaned them TVs, helped some of them find apartments. And over the years we branched out, from hanging with the players to include the umpires,” says Cindy.
It’s a practice that has led to some lifelong friendships.
“We joke sometimes that the girls know everyone from the team owner to the guy who picks up the trash,” says Cindy. “But it’s true. “Everyone involved feels like family to us.”
“We feel like the players are our big brothers,” says Cooper.
They’ve also been known to attend away games, and have been to all but three East League ballparks.
“Sometimes it’s frustrating when we hear people say, ‘It’s just Double-A baseball. It’s great baseball. We love the Fisher Cats, and we do everything we can to be ambassadors for the game,” says Cindy, who works for Digital Credit Union when she’s not preparing for game day.
As a matter of routine, Team Lavigne gets to games early, in time for batting practice. Not only because they love the chance to watch, and interact with the players, but because Craig’s job as a bread delivery man means he has to leave early to catch a few winks before heading off to work at midnight.
“There are a core group of us there when the gates open. We get there an hour earlier to watch batting practice, socialize, and it’s nice for Craig to get there early and watch some baseball, before he has to go home and get some sleep,” says Cindy, who stays with the girls until the bitter end.
That way they can let Craig know what he missed, like the time Kyle Drabek pitched a no-hitter, back in 2010. Although he couldn’t believe he missed the moment, Craig has the commemorative framed and autographed poster to show for it.
Craig and Cindy renewed their vows at the stadium, during a crowd participation event, and in 2011 they exchanged championship rings to commemorate their 13th wedding anniversary.
The Lavignes say there is no end in sight for their fanatic love of the Fisher Cats – even once their daughters graduate and move on, they will hold on to the season tickets for four.
“We thought about cutting back to two seats once they’re in college, but then we thought, ‘What if they want to come to the games?” says Cindy. “So no, we don’t see it ever ending. We’re always going to be that crazy Fisher Cats family.”