After watching former New Hampshire Fisher Cat Kyle Drabek dazzle the Twins for his first Major League win the other day (thank you free MLB Extra Innings preview), it finally kicked in…we are only THREE days away from Opening Day for four of our local Minor League teams. It occurred to me that maybe we should all take a peek at what’s new heading in the 2011 season.
So what’s been happening since last we sat down and had a good chat about baseball? Well, there are certainly some new things to look forward to regarding our MiLB teams here in New England.
The 2011 season brings many changes, starting with Mr. Drabek’s former club in Manchester, the Fisher Cats, who have overhauled a few things. First and foremost, they have switched up the brand itself, opting to switch things over to a red, white and blue color scheme, instead of the unique yellow, green and black they had been known for. The logos and uniforms remain virtually unchanged except for the colors. Some people have complained about this, but I personally think they look sharp…plus now you can buy the old merch on the cheap. Speaking of “The Merch”, they have also changed the stadium name, switching from Merchantsauto.com Stadium to Northeast Delta Dental Stadium.
Continuing north to Burlington, the Vermont Lake Monsters have ended their 16 year affiliation with the Montreal/Washington organization and will now be the Short-Season Single-A affiliate for the Oakland A’s. The team had been an affiliate with the Expos since their inception (known then as the Vermont Expos) and when the big club left Montreal, moved to Washington and became the Nationals, the affiliation remained…until now!
Three popular ex-Major Leaguers from yesteryear have resurfaced around the region, all reincarnated as hitting coaches. Two-time All Star and ten year Red Sox backstop Rich Gedman will play the role for the Lowell Spinners when they open their season in June. Red Sox fans will also remember the heroics of former right fielder Tom Brunansky and his diving catch against the White Sox in the 9th inning of a game in 1990 that sent the Sox to the playoffs. Bruno is back in the region as the hitting coach for the New Britain Rock Cats. And three-time All-Star and World Series Champion Chili Davis becomes the new hitting coach in Pawtucket.
There were also plenty of new managerial moves around the region. 2010 Pawtucket manager Terry Lovullo and Fisher Cats manager Luis Rivera both left for bigger and better things north of the border, joining Blue Jays manager John Farrell as part of his staff. Portland Sea Dogs manager Arnie Beyeler got the bump up to Pawtucket, while Kevin Boles moved into the role in Portland after a successful stint with the Class-A Salem Red Sox. Former Major League catcher and master-of-the-stache Sal Fasano joins the Fisher Cats as their new bench boss. Rounding out the managerial shuffle are Carlos Febles in Lowell, Rick Magnante in Vermont and Andrew Graham with the Connecticut Tigers.
It may have just been easier to tell you that New Britain’s Jeff Smith is the only manager to return to his helm in New England. But I digress, we have a lot to do here to get ready for Opening Day on Thursday and we hope you are as psyched as we are for the upcoming season.