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Big win marks turning point for Fisher Cats

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the third in a series of bilingual columns by Art Romero of the New Hampshire Fisher Cats. The Spanish-language version of the column is below.

The New Hampshire Fisher Cats (Toronto Blue Jays Double-A affiliate) take pride in creating an unforgettable atmosphere at our beautiful ballpark in Manchester, with something for everyone to enjoy. This season, we’re taking it to a whole new level. For one Saturday night each month of the season, we’re throwing a nine-inning celebration to honor our local Latinx and Hispanic culture. The initiative is called Copa De La Diversion (The Fun Cup), and we’re joining over 70 teams across Minor League Baseball by changing our team name, logo and jerseys to a new identity. On July 6, we played our third game as Gatos Feroces de New Hampshire, in what turned out to be another unforgettable night at the ballpark.

As I walked up the stairs towards the main concourse level at Delta Dental Stadium on the 6th of July, I could tell we were in for a special night. The sound of Timbalero Andres Timbal instantly added energy on the Eastern Propane and Oil Stage for our third-ever Copa de la Diversion game here in Manchester. Ballet Folklorico Colombiano Grupo Bajucol also headlined the evening as we paid tribute with a Pre-Colombian Independence Day Celebration.

Grupo Bajucol’s broke through a cloudy day and brought their own rays of sunlight onto the field. They kicked things off with Abozao, which is a traditional dance from the pacific region of Colombia, followed by Joropo which is a traditional dance from the west region, closed out by a stunning display that featured salsa from Cali. This non-profit organization embraces young individuals who have a passion for dance and Latin American folklore. It was founded by Miguel Vargas in 1995 with the purpose of offering the community an opportunity to learn about Colombia, its roots and its folklore. Bajucol, through teamwork, education and enrichment of Colombia’s cultural heritage seeks to provide a pathway for its members to become responsible, active adults; while offering its members an opportunity to explore their interest in the performing arts.

Representing the Colombian Community of New Hampshire, Maine and Vermont, Retired Master Sergeant of the United States Air Force Diego Cataño added true valor and pride to the evening as he threw out the ceremonial first pitch before the Gatos Feroces took on the Portland Sea Dogs. Mr. Cataño’s restaurant Antojito’s Colombiano’s joined us that evening with food items on the menu such as empanadas, tacos and pasteles de pollo. The mood had been set by the music, dancing and food — we were ready to kick off the ballgame against the future Red Sox!

The Sea Dogs have quite a team this year, featuring five of the top 10 prospects in Boston’s farm system, so it took everything in New Hampshire’s power to pull off a thrilling comeback win. By now, we’ve learned that the Gatos Feroces have a flair for the dramatic, especially after Santiago Espinal stole home to win the game in the bottom of the 10th inning on June 8. This time around, New Hampshire needed to make a little history to beat Portland.

Believe it or not, in the 15+ years of Fisher Cats baseball, the team has never come back to win a game it trailed by more than five runs. We’ve seen three championships, over 100 major leaguers, and countless top prospects in the Granite State…but never a comeback from 6-0 down. On July 6, the Gatos Feroces needed to match the biggest come-from-behind win in franchise history; Portland had established a 6-1 lead in the sixth inning, and had an 8-3 lead at the seventh inning stretch.

After ‘Take Me Out to the Ballgame,” the Gatos went to work, erupting for a season-high seven-run rally in the bottom of the seventh inning to take a 10-8 lead. Espinal started the scoring with a bases-loaded walk, then Nash Knight doubled home another pair of runs to make it 8-6. Josh Palacios tied the game with a two-run single to center, and Chad Spanberger capped off the rally with a two-run blast. The home run put New Hampshire in front for good, as Danny Young and Bryan Baker recorded the final eight outs of the game.

The win was a turning point for the team, and sparked a four-game winning streak. In fact, since our last Copa game, the Fisher Cats lead the entire league in batting average (.292), runs per game (7.6), hits per game (10.3), and home runs (16). There’s just something about the Gatos Feroces that fires up this team – we can’t wait to see what the Eastern Division playoff race has in store for the ‘Cats, as we head toward the home stretch of the season.

The Sea Dogs will be back in town from Aug. 16- 18. As for the Gatos Feroces, mark your calendars for Aug. 24, our final Copa De La Diversion game of 2019. See you soon!

Art Romero is the diversity outreach coordinator for the New Hampshire Fisher Cats (Toronto Blue Jays Double-A affiliate).