Monday, July 17, 2006

Live Free or Die, Bitches: New Hampshire Sports v. Perceptions of New Hampshire Sports

This just in from Deadspin: Sports are over for the year in New Hampshire. Thanks for the update, fellas. Last one out has to turn off the “Massachusetts Drivers Suck” neon sign.

What? They’re over? It’s July! Just because this week’s NASCAR race at New Hampshire International Speedway is over doesn’t mean that sports in New Hampshire are over.

In as high an opinion as I have of Deadspin, they have just committed a classic sports faux paus, ignoring the sports happenings in the fringes. New Hampshire is like any other fringe market: even though it spends most of the year – i.e., whenever there isn’t a NASCAR race – out of the centers of sports media, there’s still a lot of sports to be had there.

What’s your pleasure? What’s your drug of choice? Football? Baseball? Basketball? Hockey? New Hampshire can fill any prescription.

Football

Manchester is home to the Wolves, the Granite State’s entry into Arena Football 2 and the 2005 Eastern Division champs. I love arena football, and how can you not? It’s essentially full contact Single A baseball. All the sport you love about football combined with all the camp you love about minor league baseball. And any sport with a small venue and a dance team gets an automatic leg up (no pun intended). Seriously, come up and see a Wolves game. I guarantee it’ll be more entertaining than Detroit versus anybody in the NFL this year.

And like every other state in the Union, New Hampshire boasts a lively high school football tournament. How lively? Well, not only is it full of all the pride and purity of great youth sports, but last year my home town’s starting QB got arrested – without probably cause as it turned out – for drunk driving and possession of marijuana HOURS BEFORE A PLAYOFF GAME! If that happened to Carson Palmer or Marcus Vick, we’d still be talking about it. Wait, didn't that happen to Marcus Vick?

Baseball

There are two quality minor league baseball teams in New Hampshire, the New Hampshire Fishercats in Manchester and the Pride of Nashua. Both have won league championships in the last few years, although the Pride have since left the Atlantic League due to financial mismanagement. They’ve moved to the smaller Can-Am League, and are actually playing well. So well in fact that Bode Miller, who couldn’t be bothered to give a rat’s ass in the Olympics, has decided to grace the franchise with his presence. Tell me that’s not worth the $6 for admission?

The Fishercats can’t boast such celebrities… they just get future major league All-Stars by virtue of being the Blue Jays AA team in the Eastern League, possibly the best minor league in the country. A few years ago you could swing by MerchantsAuto.com Stadium (I hate that name… of all the stupid dot com stadiums that survived, why did one of them have to be in my home state?) and see Jonathan Papelbon when the Portland Seadogs (the Red Sox AA team) were in town. Any good players that the Blue Jays accidentally produce in the next few years will play in Manchester, NH before they play in any MLB stadium. And a Fischercats game is way cheaper than the big leagues.

Basketball

Ok, there’s not much basketball in New Hampshire, although I once tried to get an ABA team there. The state high school tournament is quite good, but it doesn’t inspire the same amount of passion as the football playoffs (except with my dad, who loves any and all high school sports). The inherent problem is that the Granite State produces a lot of shortish white guys with no game (mirror, I’m looking in your direction). It’s ok, though, because I’m setting up for the big finish…

Hockey

Hockey is big in New Hampshire. Not the NHL, but where hockey is still fun and affordable – the minors and college. The LA Kings’ AHL affiliate, the Monarchs, play in Manchester. Does anyone remember when hockey was really cool to go to in person? The NHL hasn’t had that in a long time, but the AHL has got more of it than Paris Hilton has bedpost notches. Back when the NHL went on strike, the AHL kept playing. Hockey fans in Boston, New York, Chicago and other big media centers had to suck it up while hockey fans in fringe markets like New Hampshire could continue to enjoy their favorite sport.

But even more than the minors, college hockey is the real deal. I’ve written numerous articles on the merits of college hockey – I firmly believe it’s an up and coming sport. In New Hampshire, the UNH Wildcats are the biggest show in town and on ice, both the men and the women. In college, the game is a little slower, you can see all the plays develop and the arenas are smaller so you’re closer to the ice. Plus, the players are legitimately likeable and the sport comes packaged with lots of college rivalries, just as intense as college football or basketball. If you’re lucky enough to get tickets to a Black Bears-Wildcats game, come prepared to yell awful things at a bunch of kids from Maine.

So there’s plenty of sports in New Hampshire year round, and plenty of legitimate fringe sports media like WMUR, the Union Leader and the Nashua Telegraph to cover all of it. Don’t go hating Live-Free-or-Diers. But if none of this floats your boat, if you still think the sports in the fringes of New Hampshire suck, just remember this: there’s another NASCAR race there in September.

4 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

No basketball? Remember the short-lived New Hampshire Thunderloons?

10:03 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

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»

4:37 PM  
Anonymous Fringe Sports Central said...

Holy shnikies! How could I have missed the USBL's Thunderloons? You're absolutely right. Check out what's left of the team's website - http://www.ksep.com/LOONS/LOONS.html

5:23 PM  
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