The World Begins Anew…
‘Jay shares the excitement of spring training and the arrival the new season – against the backdrop of a snowy New Hampshire day in March’
When it’s spring in New England, and the Red Sox head south, that’s the sign! A whole new season of baseball – as well as life – beckons before us. It’s that moment when all once again seems possible. Whatever our dreams, we’re starting fresh. There is an excitement and a deep abiding belief that this is the year. We’re on our way to the best season ever!
Hall of Famer Ernie Banks once said, “Spring training means flowers, people coming outdoors, sunshine, optimism and baseball.” To go one step further, Spring training is a symbol of renewal and revitalization, something we can all take a note from. Spring historically has been a time for new beginnings, often associated with rebirth, renewal, and growth. As the season follows the long, dark winter months, it brings with it a sense of hope and new beginnings. Just as plants and trees begin to bloom and the air becomes warmer or as baseball players use spring training to hone their skills, we too can use this period to shake the frost of winter and bring some new energy into our lives.
For a sports fan like me, with spring just around the corner, it can only mean one thing: baseball! But before the season can begin, spring training is an essential part of the preparation before the start of the regular season. While it may seem odd that teams play almost an entire month’s worth of games that don’t mean anything come October during the Playoff’s, spring training is actually crucial to how teams perform well into the season. From player conditioning to team building, skill development and competing for roster spots, spring training provides an opportunity for players to get in shape, work on their skills, and develop chemistry with their teammates.
On an even larger level, spring bespeaks numerous values, both practical and cultural, that make it an important season. From an agricultural side, it’s the time of year when crops are typically planted, and the growth of plants is stimulated by the warmer weather and increased sunlight. Environmentally, spring plays a crucial role in maintaining the balance of the Earth's ecosystems. As plants and trees begin to grow, they absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and release oxygen, helping to regulate the climate. And culturally it brings holidays and celebrations such as Easter, and more generally, we partake in cleanses, spiritually, mentally, and physically. So, while spring training may just seem like the start of the baseball season, it’s actually an important symbol – a harbinger of so much more for each of us to embrace, celebrate and enjoy!
Spring Training - New Hampshire Style
Although New Hampshire is typically better known for snow skiing and ice hockey, the Granite State boasts an impressive baseball resume at the NCAA collegiate level. In 2021 and 2022, Southern New Hampshire University’s baseball team punched its ticket to the NCAA Division II World Series, winning the NCAA East Regional Tournament both years. Last spring, the Penmen finished with a record of 46-12, ranked 7th in the nation.
Another perennial college baseball Division II powerhouse, the Ravens of Franklin Pierce University, play their home games only an hour drive down 101 West in the small college town of Rindge, New Hampshire. How do these teams consistently out-pace many baseball programs from south of the Mason-Dixon line? Their head coaches credit our innovative spirit in New Hampshire and our creative use of “sports bubbles” or as some call them, “domes”.
What is a “sports bubble/dome” you might ask? Many of these large, inflated domes measure up to 350 feet in length, 230 feet in width, and reach an amazing height of 72 feet at their center! The playing surface inside these facilities is mostly made of synthetic field turf, a playing surface that is quite common in sports at all competitive levels today. Many bubbles also include a tennis and basketball court or two, along with a running track that travels along their inside perimeter.
In an intense cold weather climate like New Hampshire, where winter storms consistently blanket most outdoor playing surfaces January through March, bubbles provide yearlong access to sports fields for committed athletes. In fact, as many high school and college baseball teams located in southern states begin practice shortly after New Year’s Day, Granite State ballplayers are also now dusting off the baseball gloves, cleats and catching gear, and beginning critical pre-season training at the start of the new year. Thanks to the dimensions of these dome-like structures, many baseball teams are able to simulate most game-like situations. Even the playing surfaces are similar to those used in regular season games. This is a huge advantage that often produces otherwise unreachable early season victories.
As Franklin Pierce University Head Baseball Coach Mike Chambers, a former Londonderry High School Lancer, and Boston Red Sox 2006 MLB Draft-pick, explained, “We earn a lot of wins by outworking other teams in the pre-season. We [Franklin Pierce] have a sports bubble that we use year-round. It makes a huge difference to allow our players to ‘cut it loose’ and get our reps in during the late-winter months.” Southern New Hampshire University Head Baseball Coach, Scottie Loiseau, echoed a similar sentiment. “The bubble in Hooksett gives our players the opportunity to scrimmage indoors. It is a huge advantage in our pre-season preparation. Not only does it give the players a chance to get out there and play, it also gives the coaching staff a chance to identify potential strengths and weaknesses of the group.” So, while it isn’t exactly Fort Myers, FL, New Hampshire sports bubbles are becoming the spring training venue for many competitive baseball programs.
A few examples include the Hampshire Dome, an outstanding indoor bubble located in Milford, NH, and the NH SportsDome[s] which can be found in both Hooksett and Goffstown, New Hampshire. Additionally, other large indoor sports facilities have recently been built in both Derry and Bedford. Not only baseball, but many soccer, football, basketball, tennis, and other sports teams benefit from the indoor expanse these athletic facilities offer. With creativity, unrelenting drive, and positive thinking, Granite Stater’s continue to achieve competitive excellence at the national level – year after year!
The History of Spring Training
People flocking South for the winter to avoid the snow is a phenomenon that has been around for a while. For baseball players, the ritual of going to a warmer climate for spring training started in the 1870’s. Players would head down to Florida, Arizona, or Arkansas, to gather up as teams, practice and iron out the kinks, while also weeding out the roster and potentially testing and bringing on new talent. In 1888, the first major league team to start a camp in Florida for practice was the Washington Capitals of the National League. There was no shortage of critics in the late 19th and 20th centuries when it came to spring training, with a common argument that training in a warmer climate and then coming north and playing in a colder one would lead to more injuries.
Not surprisingly, the criticism has died down over the last hundred years, and it is these early games of the year that bring excitement to see what the new talent has in store along with the return of favorites. And some memorable events actually do occur at these games. One such time was on St. Patrick’s Day, 1918, when Red Sox’ pitcher Babe Ruth first played in the field - first base. During this game, Ruth hit a home run so far that the ball almost landed in the pond of the Arkansas Alligator Farm and Petting Zoo. With the great hitting skills that he demonstrated that day, combined with some deft fielding while playing first base, it was decided to transition the ‘Babe’ from his role exclusively as a pitcher to become more of a regular day-to-day player. And, of course, none of this would have happened if not for spring training!
Today, because of the convenient location of Florida for the east coast teams, many of them have training camps within several miles of each other. As a result the teams formed ‘Grapefruit League,’ which has stadiums on the Gulf Coast as well as the Atlantic Coast of the state. Arizona has more Midwest and West Coast teams, and for that reason they call their network the ‘Cactus League.’
While you cannot necessarily root, root, root, for the home team while they are away at spring training, this timeless tradition creates a fun factor that we don’t otherwise see during the regular season. And sets the stage for the season opener – and getting excited for the moment when the teams arrive north and the umpire announces, “Play ball!”
Positive Profile of the Week: Rick Brenner, CEO, NH Fisher Cats
This week we are delighted to highlight a truly innovator and sports entertainment icon in the Granite State, Rick Brenner, CEO of the New Hampshire Fisher Cats.
Most everyone – young and old - loves baseball. We cheer our favorite teams, we make memories along the way, and we enjoy park food and entertainment. But in order to enjoy America’s greatest pastime, it takes people behind the scenes and outstanding leadership to ensure it happens. And Rick truly epitomizes this important role.
In fact, Rick has one of the greatest resumes you’ll ever see when it comes to sports entertainment, and his vision truly is the memorable quote from the movie, ‘Field of Dreams,’ “If you build it, they will come.”
Rick took his knowledge and training from the Disney Institute and put it right to work as General Manager of the minor league team, the Trenton Thunder. For 10 years, Rick brought the ball club's family experience to new levels. His focus on fun, friendly, and family resulted in numerous awards including attendance records for minor league professional sports. And then he came to the Granite State.
Rick’s first stint with the NH Fisher Cats was in the early mid 2000’s when the Fisher Cats came to town. Rick was instrumental in the construction of Northeast Delta Dental Stadium and its connection and commitment to the community. Rick oversaw every piece of the stadium development and made sure it fit the Queen City’s splendor while establishing some of the best entertainment around. It was personal for Rick. In fact, Rick trained his golden retriever Ollie to be the official bat dog of the New Hampshire Fisher Cats. Ollie became a national hit and was loved by everyone who saw him both on and off the field. In addition to the on-field activities of the team, Rick has played a key role in the Fisher Cats Foundation that has raised nearly $2 million dollars for programs including the Children's Hospital at Dartmouth. The annual baseball dinner organized by the foundation is an annual treat for baseball enthusiasts to meet some of the region's greatest ballplayers. So why the ‘first stint?’ Where did Rick go?
Turns out that Rick would depart the Fisher Cats in 2013 to take the reins of Michigan Motor Speedway. Under his leadership, the fast action speedway featuring NASCAR’s biggest names brought new opportunities to the track including motor clubs and concerts. The fan experience and family culture created new and exciting opportunities for the track and the state, but New Hampshire was home for Rick.
In 2020, despite a global pandemic, Rick became a minority owner in the Fisher Cats and today has assumed the role of CEO. Being back in the 603 full-time, Rick is excited to expand on the ‘foundation for fun’ he created. So along with his hardworking and dedicated team, Rick will continue to bring top notch sports entertainment for us all to enjoy – while also supporting opportunities to ‘do good’ in the community.
Rick is truly one of the Granite State’s favorites! And I think we all can agree that “Rick is successfully ‘hitting it out of the park!’
Quotes of the Week: Spring Training
"Spring training means flowers, people coming outdoors, sunshine, optimism and baseball. Spring training is a time to think about being young again." - Ernie Banks
"Spring training is a time to work on your own stuff and prepare for the season. It's also a time to get to know your teammates and build that bond." - Bryce Harper
"Spring training is a time for optimism, when players bask under the sun and fans dream of October." - Mike Barnicle
"Spring training is a time to find out what kind of team you have, and what kind of team you're going to have." - Sparky Anderson
"Spring training is a time for new beginnings, not just for baseball teams but for fans who have missed the crack of the bat and the pop of the glove." - Michael Gartner