Better Than a Trip to the Dentist
Northeast Delta Dental Stadium immediately suffers from the vagaries of corporate naming rights, as the moniker doesn't exactly roll off the tongue (and its previous title of "Merchantsauto.com Stadium" wasn't much better). The 7,722-seat park opened in 2005 (as the more modest "Fisher Cats Ballpark") as host to the New Hampshire Fisher Cats, the AA Eastern League affiliate of the Toronto Blue Jays since 2003. In addition to the Cats, the park hosts local events and concerts, the most famous being a concert by Bob Dylan in 2006.
Though it has some access issues that may leave you scratching your head, the park offers an affordable way to watch a ballgame in a nice stadium with lots of choices for grub and drinks.
What is FANFARE?
The FANFARE scale is our metric device for rating each stadium experience. It covers the following:
- Food & Beverage
- Return on Investment
Each area is rated from 0 to 5 stars with 5 being the best. The overall composite score is the "FANFARE Score".
Food & Beverage
When discussing food and drink at Delta Dental, the first topic has got to be the Samuel Adams Bar & Grill. Located at the top of the stairs at the main entrance, the bar is open two hours before the game, with patrons able to get food and drink inside the bar or on the patio picnic tables to watch batting practice. The namesake beers are available in great abundance, in addition to a full bar of hard liquors (including single-malt scotch) and a menu of tasty made-to-order pub grub. The Jack Daniels Pulled Chicken is definitely worth a try. You can easily fuel and gas up at the bar before the gates even open.
If you wait to enter the main park before eating, there is more traditional ballpark fare on offer. Concessions line the top promenade, offering up ballpark favorites such as burgers, fries, chicken tenders, and pizzas ($3.50-$7). Tortillaville serves up Mexican selections (most are $9, and the nacho bowl is definitely worth a try), Papa Ginos is pizza-only ($6.50 and up for a personal pizza), Kayen Sausages provides a truly epic selection of hot dog toppings ($3.75), and the Healthy Plate dishes out healthier salads and wraps ($7.50-$8.75). Several treats-only stands (fried dough, ice cream, cotton candy, etc.) are also found around the park for kids or those with a sweet tooth.
For suds, most concessions have a wide selection of beers, including Sam Adams, Coors, Miller Light, Angry Orchard cider, Harpoon IPA, Smutty Nose IPA, Blue Moon, and local Narragansett Lager. Bottles and drafts are a reasonable $6.50, and for the more refined, some concessions have wine for $6.75. Tortillaville has expensive margaritas and sangria ($9) for a south of the border flavor.
Northeast Delta Dental Stadium is centered around the main promenade that runs from left field to right field. The crowd piles in at the left field main entrance, which is at ground level, up a flight of stairs, and past the Samuel Adams Bar & Grill. The right field end of the promenade is anchored by the kids area and the right field bleachers section. The main gate opens two hours before game time, and the promenade opens an hour before. All the seating is reachable by stairways down from the promenade. A row of luxury boxes rises above the main level from first base to third base, with the press box in the center behind home plate. The right field end of the luxury boxes holds the Cross Insurance Deck, and the third base side has the Small Dog Electronics Party Deck.
Clearly the most notable feature of the view line of the park is the Hilton Garden Inn in left-center, mirroring the Renaissance Toronto Downtown Hotel in the outfield of their parent club. Hotel guests can sit at The Patio to watch the game, or those lucky guests with rooms facing the field don't even need to leave the comfort of their beds.
The park has more than its share of scoreboards. A manual board sits in the wall in left, next to a long, embedded video board in the outfield wall. Small auxiliary ball-and-strike boards are on either end of the luxury boxes deck, and the main scoreboard in right-center dominates the action. Most of the seats have good views, but the top few rows along the baselines have impeded views to their respective outfield corners because of the angles.
Autograph seekers can hang out by the home first base dugout before the start of the game to try and get John Hancocks. Fungo the Fisher Cat leads the on-field activities between innings, which range from minor league standards of races, contests, and tests of skill, to special events, such as "baseball bingo" (where action on the field by the home team translate into bingo letters and numbers).
Manchester is the largest city in New Hampshire, which is probably of the same import as being the highest mountain in the Great Plains. That said, the city does have some attractions worth seeing, including Verizon Wireless Arena, the Palace Theatre, the kid-friendly Currier Museum of Art, the Millyard Museum (celebrating the industrial past of Manchester), the SEE Science Center (great hands-on science for kids), and -- for architecture buffs -- the Frank Lloyd Wright Zimmerman House.
Considering the University of New Hampshire just north of the park, the great amount of restaurants and bars is probably not surprising. For food, notable locations include the nearby Firefly American Bistro, Luisa's, and El Rincon. For more drinks-focused needs, nearby options include Murphy's Taproom, TJ's Sports Bar, Social 24, World Sports Grille, and Milly's Tavern.
The obvious choice for hotels is the Hilton Garden Inn (located literally in the outfield wall, with rooms with views of the field and free center field seating on The Patio for guests), but a Radisson and the Highlander Inn are also on the park side of the river, with a Comfort Inn, Econo Lodge, and La Quinta near the park on the other side of the river. More choices are closer to the airport south of downtown.
In name, the Fisher Cats are a farm club of the Toronto Blue Jays. In reality, they are deep in the heart of New England Red Sox country, with Fenway a little more than an hour away. Despite this and to the team's credit, they still pull more than respectable crowds, but the place only fills up when affiliates of the Red Sox or Yankees are in town, and in the case of the former, it can be a decidedly "away"-focused home crowd. Though mostly family-focused, the crowd is energetic and into the game.
For drivers, I-93 and 293 pass right through town (with 293 running next to the park on the other side of the river), and state roads 101 and 3/Everett Turnpike also service Manchester. Manchester is just under an hour's drive to Boston; an hour and a half to Portland, ME; and three hours to Albany. There is direct bus service to and from Boston on the Boston Express ($14-$18), and MTA buses on routes 3, 10, and 12 ($1) or the Green DASH (free) stop at the Market Garden stop, a short walk from the park. A regional airport south of town serves people from further afield.
Parking is worthy of a special, negative note. Most of the lots right by the park charge an outrageous $10 for event parking. Smaller lots further afield cost "only" $5, or, if you arrive early, you can use the free, limited, on-street parking (free only applies for evening games -- double-check signs before you leave your car). Municipal lots are available if you're willing to walk a bit.
A large promenade at the top of the seating bowl runs from outfield to outfield, so getting around up top isn't a problem, but the seating rows themselves don't have walkways amongst the seats, so getting to and from your seat can be a bit of a chore, especially if you have a middle seat.
Return on Investment
Minor league baseball's top selling point is the bang for the buck, and the Fisher Cats offer more ways to save than most on ticket prices. The best seats in the house are Premium Boxes ($12 advance/$14 game day), regular box seats run $10/$12, General Admission seats are $8/$10, and the right field bleachers can be had for just $6/$8. Four-Game Plans ($48/$40) offer no discount, but let fans grab the most desired games (vs. Red Sox affiliate Portland, fireworks, weekends, etc.). Season and Partial Season Tickets lower costs to $9 or $8 per game for Premium and Regular Box seats, and Group pricing starts at $5 per head, including food. Perhaps the best bargain are the 4-Ticket packs, which gets you four game tickets and food and souvenirs for those four people, at just $8.75 per person.
Most food items are under $7, though the specialty stands and Samuel Adams Bar & Grill can creep towards double-digits. Combos with food and a drink help with prices. Beers are $6.50 in one size, and the well drinks at the Bar & Grill vary dependent on your poison.
Beside the hotel in left-center, the park has a few extras worthy of note. A small ENH-Power Play Area for the kids sits in right field. The stadium namesake hosts a "Smile Center" on the promenade on the first base side, and Five Guys has a strikeout counter on the press box (though, sadly, no concession at the park).
The fan services booth behind home plate lets you sign up for the on-field activities. A free program is available at the entrance plaza, the main team store is located at the stairs to the main entrance, and a smaller store is on the main concourse.
There are several memorials around the park: Robert A. Baines (the former mayor has a plaque and names the street outside the park for bringing the team to Manchester), the Citizen of the Year (behind home), 10-Year Season Ticket Holders (ditto), and the park commemoration from when it was Fisher Cats Stadium (also behind home). Two retired numbers sit in right: Robinson-42 (the one and only) and Briggs-83 (name and badge number of local police officer killed in the line of duty). For those willing to take a little walk, there's a retro baseball mural in the Hilton Garden Inn lobby.
The Samuel Adams Bar & Grill hosts a plethora of memorabilia and memorials. Banners on the ceiling celebrate former players that made it to the majors, championship banners hang across the ceiling and on the outside wall of the building, the New Hampshire Hall of Fame is on one wall of the bar, and pictures and memorabilia from previous Fisher Cats and Toronto teams (as well as the Red Sox) are also around the bar.
And the manual scoreboard just does something intangible to raise the ambience of the park.
If you can find affordable parking, the Fisher Cats' home at Northeast Delta Dental Stadium gives a cost-efficient way to watch a ballgame in a park with a few unique quirks.