When we left Hadlock Field a couple summers ago, I didn’t know where and when my next baseball game would be.
It probably wouldn’t have been a return visit to Portland, not right away, but maybe there would be a road trip to Cape Cod in our future. Manchester and Lowell are two of my favorites. Hartford has a beautiful ballpark I have to get to again, and of course I’ll always want to see the Yankees if our mostly annual trip to New York City comes at the right time.
As for when … that was just an issue of when the next opportunity would be.
But then you know what happened next.
When and where baseball came back, there were no fans, and since having a well-run organization that provides fun and affordable entertainment for enthusiastic fans and families apparently doesn’t carry much weight, Lowell lost its team.
In the end, the “where” was Suzi and I heading a little less than an hour north over the New Hampshire border into Manchester.
The “when” was not for another 21 months.
I’ve been to games — one in Fort Mill, South Carolina (which, by baseball geography at the time was “Charlotte, North Carolina”) springs to mind — where the given attendance figure must have included fingers and toes.
It wasn’t intentional. If more people had come, they would have been welcome.
The crowd at the Fisher Cats’ game, however, was small by design. Seats separated small groups of fans in any one row, and the rows in between were left empty.
Ballpark staff members wore masks, but they were optional for fans. Like some people, I put mine on when I wasn’t in my seat, since I’m not quite fully vaccinated, but plenty of people didn’t.
Hand sanitizers were available at regular intervals, and markers 6 feet apart at concession stands instructed people where to line up.
Instead of dousing my French fries in ketchup from a squeeze bottle, I had to get individual packets, which I didn’t like, but I was still able to order my ice cream in a plastic helmet, which I did.
Since the Fisher Cats will be returning to 100 percent capacity June 1, it was like a microcosm of the world we’re leaving behind, one in which Massachusetts is lifting almost all of its restrictions next weekend and Suzi’s and my respective native states of Connecticut and New York already have.
On the field, though, everything looked pretty much the same.
New Hampshire led 1-0 until Portland scored two in the seventh inning and one in the eighth to go up 3-1. There was a little weirdness in the last of the ninth — a New Hampshire home run that may have grazed the foul pole or just dropped over the fence was called back and ruled a double, and after the Fisher Cats made the score 3-2, one of their players tried to bunt the tying run in from third — but the Sea Dogs held on for the win.
There were excellent plays, a home run and a Sea Dogs reliever being told to warm up “muy rapido” because he could be called into the game soon.
The man in charge of the between-innings entertainment worked hard to keep the crowd — listed as being 1,312, which I can believe was full people and not body parts — enthused.
There was a match between two people in sumo suits in right field (although I’m not sure sumo matches include theatrically hitting people with chairs) and a contest where fans competed against Fisher Cats players trying to pronounce the names of local landmarks.
Given that one of New Hampshire’s major attractions is Lake Winnipesaukee, you can see where the idea for that game came from. The fan didn’t do great, but asking someone who has been in town no more than a couple weeks to pronounce “Winnipesaukee” is like asking me to do quantum physics.
Much to Suzi’s chagrin, the musical selections did not include Glen Campbell’s “Rhinestone Cowboy,” despite her crusade (mostly consisting of telling me it should be so) to make it standard ballpark music.
I’ve never associated Northeast Delta Dental Stadium with planes, but there is an airport nearby, and in particular the number of what looked like military planes flying low over the ballpark made me wonder if the invasion of Vermont was on.
In short, it was a baseball game … a regular, close baseball game on a pleasant New Hampshire night in May.
“I think ‘pure fantasy’ right now is doing normal things.”
I get that kid-on-Christmas-morning feeling whenever I’m going to a baseball game, and since I hadn’t been to one in almost two years, Suzi was teasing me the other day that I’d be “all up in my feelings” … which is a phrase that should probably be banned from use by or to describe anyone over age 45.
But once we got to the ballpark, it didn’t feel like any kind of transcendent experience, even after having been away for so long.
It felt like … a ballgame. I love going to ballgames.
And maybe that’s how it’s going to be, whether it’s ballgames or shows or eating in restaurants or no one having to wear masks when my parents come for my birthday next weekend.
The excitement won’t feel like a metaphorical trumpet flourish, but the joy of doing “normal” things again for those of us who can, since once upon a not-that-long-time ago, it felt like a fantasy.