Delta Dental Stadium, home of the New Hampshire Fisher Cats, isn’t the grandest ballpark nor the most high-tech. However, it is the first professional baseball stadium to have an all-organic field free of synthetic pesticides and fertilizers.
This “back to nature” story began in the spring of 2018. Fisher Cats management met representatives from fellow New Hampshire-based Stonybrook Farms, who had recently launched a new PlayFree initiative dedicated to making public green spaces into organic fields. Mike Ramshaw, Fisher Cats president, thought it was a terrific idea and asked – “Why not do that here?'”
The ballclub’s turf manager, Greg Nigrello, was also a huge fan of the idea. “Not a lot of guys in the turf industry are willing to take chances to make changes, so they just keep going with synthetics that they have,” explained Nigrello. “Now, having something I’m working with where I know I don’t have to worry about developing a related health problem in 20 years, that is great.”
Similarly, Ramshaw realized the health advantages “if we could remove some of those harmful pesticides from the field that the players are playing on, where we have kids out there playing catch with the players” that could have a great impact.
Switching a synthetic fertilizer-treated field to an all-organic one is complex and time-consuming. First, the soil must be analyzed to determine what is needed to be strong enough for the organic turf to be self-sustaining. Unlike public parklands, a ballpark’s playing surface must stay in top condition for the entire six-month baseball season.
While Stonyfield’s PlayFree initiative has a nationwide scope, the yogurt company was especially interested in helping its New Hampshire neighbor. “Converting the home field of our hometown team was a natural fit, and we’re thrilled to help give our Fisher Cats the organic ball field they deserve,” stated Gary Hirshberg, Stonyfield’s co-founder and “chief organic optimist.” “We hope it inspires other teams to do the same, for the health of their players and fans.”
The Fisher Cats brought in Hirshberg and Chip Osborne, an expert in turf and sustainability, to assist in creating a fully organic playing field. “Doing something like this, where you’re the first, you’ve got to have good people. Greg is fantastic, and Chip is fantastic as well. Chip is sharing with Greg what he’s learned over the years,” Ramshaw stated. “So hopefully, Greg will be able to help other teams in their process at some point.”
This Stonyfield-related assistance helped the Manchester NH-based ballclub overcome some of the turf project’s upfront costs. Ramshaw said cost is the main reason that other teams haven’t attempted doing this before. However, Ramshaw foresees Delta Dental Stadium’s field providing long-term financial benefits. He estimates it could save 25% in materials and up to 50% in water in the future.
Ramshaw views the change to organic grass as a stepping stone to more green projects, including growing herbs and vegetables to use onsite for food and adding plants that will prevent mosquitos. He hopes to expand the team’s partnerships with new organizations for these eco-friendly efforts.
Going with organic grass isn’t the Fisher Cats’ first sustainability initiative. In the early 2010s, the team partnered with a short-lived New Hampshire company, EARTHTEC, that made sustainable clothing.
At one “Go Green Night,” fans who brought in recyclable bottles received fleece socks made from eco-textiles.
The following year, EARTHTEC collected plastic bottles at a game and used them to make blankets donated to the New Horizons for New Hampshire nonprofit. “To the best of my knowledge, this might be one of the first attempts to turn recyclable items collected at a stadium and turn them into products that directly impact a local community,” stated Fisher Cats’ Rick Brenner.
The Fisher Cats remain deeply connected with its local community. The team has hosted a Thanksgiving Day 5K event for over a decade. The Fisher Cats Foundation teams with local organizations for the nightly 50/50 raffle at home games, while the annual Granite State Baseball Dinner has raised over $1.8 million for local charities. The foundation and the team have several programs supporting first responders, service members, and veterans.
The Fisher Cats also are partners in kids reading challenge, youth baseball and softball programs, and the Delta Dental Oral Health Challenge. Additionally, the ballclub has baseball-themed projects, such as Doubles for Little League, NH Healthy Families Base Hits for Kids Program, RBIs for Scholarships, and Home Runs for Hunger. With its extensive outreach and groundbreaking eco-minded turf project, the ballclub has demonstrated a deep interest in succeeding in its community and on the field.