By Ben Altsher

Manchvegas.  That’s what the locals (like me) call it.  Otherwise known as Manchester, New Hampshire, the Queen City and Sin City bear very little resemblance.  There’s no casinos (that we know of), very few neon lights, and in general, not much sin (unless you’re wearing a Yankees cap).  What is similar is the variety of things to do these days in Manchester, which is exactly what makes this city one of the most popular in baseball.

This week Northeast Delta Dental Stadium hosted the 2011 Eastern League All-Star Game.  It’s the home of the New Hampshire Fisher Cats, Double-A affiliate of the Toronto Blue Jays.  It’s also the second time in four years that this building, once named Stadium, has put on the event.  The last time was 2008 and there’s a reason the game came back so soon.

Opening in 2005, the stadium is one of the newest in the Eastern League, and one of the best.  The view is spectacular for all parties involved: fans, media, even those who don’t have tickets.  When it was originally built, there was very little that stood out about the park.  Since then, the Fisher Cats have added the Sam Adams Bar and Grill in left field and the Hilton Garden Inn stands tall in left center.  The hotel has no affiliation with the team, but patrons can go out and sit on its patio and enjoy the game and the opportunity to catch a well-hit home run.

The bar and the hotel add personality to what otherwise might be a standard issue minor league field.  The other difference is in the dimensions.  The left field foul pole stands 326 feet away, but the wall quickly just out to 380 feet, creating a wide swath of space in left center field.  The other side is a different story with the right field foul pole just 306 feet away, making Northeast Delta Dental Stadium a dream for left-handed power hitters, and a nightmare for the pitchers facing them.

Because the All-Star Break occurs over two short days, a lot of planning and gathering goes into a short span of time.  The festivities started with the All-Star Block Party featuring games and entertainment for adults and children alike.  The players were able to enjoy the evening in a separate VIP area, complete with a full buffet and plenty of room to gather with their fellow All-Stars.

Despite the rain on Wednesday, nothing dampened the mood.  Players from both sides could be seen laughing and joking around during batting practice, the autograph session, and during the Home Run Derby which took place with the tarp on the field.  Mike McDade and Moises Sierra put on a show for the home crowd, battling through three tiebreaking rounds in the finals before McDade emerged victorious.

The game itself was played pretty swiftly for the most part.  The Western Division ran away late with an 8-3 victory, but as is so often the case with All-Star games, the result takes a back seat to the experience.  Several of the players I talked to said it was one of the best events they had been involved in.  Sea Dogs’ pitcher Alex Wilson said that the attention to detail was excellent and that the players never felt rushed throughout the various promotions they were required to attend.

In Minor League Baseball, All-Star games are an opportunity for an organization to show off its stadium, its staff, and its city.  In this particular case, Manchester and the New Hampshire Fisher Cats clearly showed themselves well.  The players enjoyed it, the media enjoyed it, and the fans enjoyed it.  Now that it’s over though, the attention is already focused on next year’s host and what the plans will be for 2012.  Reading, you’re on deck.

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