In early April, I went to the first-ever game at Hartford’s new Dunkin’ Donuts Park between Quinnipiac and the University of Hartford.
Last night, I made it to my first Hartford Yard Goats game at the stadium to see the home team play the Richmond Flying Squirrels in a match-up of AA Eastern League teams.
I had avoided Yard Goat games at Dunkin’ Donuts Park so far this season because they typically have been crowded with people wanting to see the new stadium.
Last night was the perfect combination of us not having anything going on, an early weekday game after a holiday, the kids are still in school and the weather, while not awful, was poor enough that it would keep some folks away.
As expected, it was a small crowd which gave me the opportunity to move around a bit.
Hartford scored five runs in the third and three more in the fourth to break it open en route to a 12-2 victory.
It’s not often that you see the team on the good side of a 12-2 margin get outhit, but that’s what happened last night, with the Flying Squirrels out-hitting Hartford nine-to-seven. But the Yard Goats took advantage of 12 Richmond walks.
Hartford hit one home run late in the game, which meant that steam erupted from the large Dunkin’ Donuts cup atop the Left Field scoreboard. I was a little late in taking the picture, but you can still see a little steam left over.
For whatever reason, I decided to try and get Richmond’s lineup card, which I knew was risky given the lopsided loss. I am not sure what I was thinking because we already have a Richmond dugout lineup card from 2015. Richmond manager Kyle Haines did respond to my request, but told me he had promised it to someone else.
I was very fortunate to at least get the official batting order cards from the home plate umpire.
Neither team has any elite prospects. Andrew Suarez was a second round pick for the Giants, but didn’t pitch in this game. The same goes for Rockies’ 2nd round pick Ryan Castellani. Yard Goat first baseman Ryan McMahon was also a 2nd round pick back in 2013 and is hitting .326 for the Goats.
2017: 15 lineup cards (5 dugout/bullpen; 9 “official batting order”; 1 “today’s lineup” card)
Lifetime: 136 lineup cards (92 dugout/bullpen; 41 “official batting order”; 2 “relief pitcher usage”; and 1 “today’s lineup”)
Dunkin’ Donuts Park in Hartford will officially open on April 13, 2017 when the Hartford Yard Goats host the New Hampshire Fisher Cats in an Eastern League game. However, a “soft opening” of the ballpark was held on April 11, 2017 when the University of Hartford hosted Quinnipiac University in the first-ever game at DD Park.
Entrance to Dunkin’ Donuts Park
In a word, “quirky” is how I would describe the brand new Dunkin’ Donuts (DD) Park in Hartford, CT, home of the MiLB Hartford Yard Goats.
Is it a nice Minor League ballpark? Sure. For starters, it’s new. If you want to be sarcastic, you can say it should be nice given that it took an extra year to open, although that was really due to in-fighting between the park’s owner (the city of Hartford), operator (Hartford Stadium Authority), Yard Goats’ management, architects and developers (Centerplan and then Whiting-Turner). Then there’s the $71 money spent on the stadium, which was originally supposed to cost $56 million.
Why do I call it quirky? First and foremost, there is a net covering the entirety of the lower right field deck. Apparently, after construction had begun, they realized the right field wall was going to be too short a distance from home plate for current ballpark standards, so they decided to cover the first deck with a net similar to protective netting around the home plate area. Balls hit off the netting are in play.
Seeing it in person last night, I’m not a fan of it. Even worse, it’s awful for anyone sitting in the right field first deck, having to look through the net. I can only wonder if there wasn’t a better solution (e.g., plexi-glass?). Whatever the case, it’s a significant flaw.
View from the first deck of right field
More quirkiness: The visiting bullpen is beyond the left field wall, but the home bullpen is tucked away under the first deck of right center field. I can only assume that given the small footprint there was to work with, they had to shoehorn the home bullpen in where they could.
Walking around the stadium, there are windows to look into the home bullpen from outside of the stadium, and also get a decent look at the rest of the field.
View of the home bullpen from outside the stadium
Speaking of walking around the stadium, one of the concerns since the ballpark was first announced was the location. In short, the stadium is not in the greatest area. There is parking essentially across from the stadium for $5. I chose to drive a couple of blocks from the stadium and park on the street. I didn’t feel uncomfortable making the walk, but that is in part due to the significant police presence around the stadium. There had to be at least 10 uniformed police officers stationed at different points around the stadium, including some rovers. I can only imagine what that cost the city (at least 10 police officers ‘x’ their hourly rate for roughly 5 hours). I wonder if the police presence I saw last night will remain the same as the season goes on, or if last night was more for show.
Back to the stadium. It clearly was made with corporate folks and socialites in mind, rather than true baseball fans. There are plenty of suites, including a couple around the home plate area. Bluntly, the stadium will distinguish between the “haves” and the “have nots.” If you are fortunate enough to work for or have connections with companies buying suites and corporate tickets, you’ll sit in the best seats and probably enjoy the stadium.
Concession prices are not cheap, either. You’ll feel like you are at a Major League ballpark given what things cost.
Some DD Park concession prices
Then there’s the video scoreboard in left field. It’s impressive, although it wasn’t working correctly for the soft opening, so hopefully they get those issues sorted out.
DD Park video scoreboard
Another problem in the soft opening was that the stadium lights suddenly went out in the top of the 8th inning of last night’s game. I read this morning that the lights were set on a timer, which is why they went off. It took 15 minutes for the lights to come back on, with a total delay of about 20 minutes.
No lights = game delay
If we take all of the negative things (e.g., the cost, how will the city recoup the investment, the delays and related finger-pointing, etc) out of the equation, DD Park is a nice ballpark. Like I said at the beginning, it’s quirky. Some will probably like the quirkiness, especially those fortunate enough to get suite tickets. Considering myself more of a baseball purist than a casual fan, I’m not a huge fan of the stadium based on my first game there, but I am at least glad that there is baseball being played in DD Park.
Sean and I made it to the final game of the New Britain Bees’ inaugural season against the Somerset Patriots. The Bees had been knocked out of playoff contention Friday night, and Somerset had already clinched a playoff spot, so it was a meaningless game.
The Bees jumped out to a 4-0 lead, but the Patriots stormed back for a 13-6 win in front of a few hundred fans.
Sean really wanted a game-used Bees hat. His initial plan was to ask someone in the bullpen for a hat, but giving up 13 runs, the only player left in the New Britain bullpen by the top of the 9th inning was the bullpen catcher, and it didn’t look like he had a hat. Plan B was to stand by the OF side of the New Britain dugout.
The first two players Sean asked said no, and he got a little discouraged but I told him that he had no right to get discouraged as the Bees players had no obligation to give him a hat, but if he really wanted one, he should keep trying as some players were still milling around. I then went to get Somerset’s lineup card.
When I came back, sure enough Sean had a hat from New Britain infielder John Dziomba, which was very nice of him and made Sean’s day. It was humid Sunday and Dziomba had been playing, so the hat was accordingly sweaty. Sean actually washed the hat at home, which he wouldn’t have done unless he really liked it and wanted to wear it.
He then dried it using a balloon to help the hat keep its shape.
The hat came out great!
The best moment at the game, and perhaps the season, for me was mid-way through. We were sitting at the top of a section. No balls had come our way yet. I had just walked down and out of the section when, of course, a ball heads near where Sean still is sitting. I watch as he easily goes over and gets it. A younger kid was also going after it but Sean easily beat him to it. But after Sean picks it up, he immediately turns around and hands the ball to the boy. There were only a few hundred people there, but they all started cheering for Sean. That was awesome to watch!
An inning later, a guy comes up to us, tells Sean he thought what he did was awesome, and gives Sean a Bees’ mini-bat, which was really, really nice of him!
We walked by a small pile of snow/melting ice at one point, and of course had a quick snowball fight. I lost.
I knew from past experience that Somerset manager Brett Jodie keeps his dugout lineup card, but he did give me the official batting order cards.
It was great having the New Britain Bees in our backyard this season, especially with the Hartford Yard Goat stadium fiasco resulting in the Yard Goats not playing any games in Hartford. My only disappointment with the Bees was the attendance. Aside from the two school day games I made it to, there were never more than a few hundred people (and in a couple cases, much, much less than that) at the games we went to. The Bees chalked up the lower-than-hoped-for attendance to the fact that they were a new team and got a late start to marketing. There’s some validity to that excuse, but regardless, they missed out on a great opportunity with no other professional baseball played within 50 miles of New Britain in 2016. I hope they are able to draw more fans in 2017!
2016: 57 lineup cards (40 dugout/bullpen; 17 “official batting order”)
Lifetime: 120 lineup cards (87 dugout/bullpen; 31 “official batting order”; and 2 “relief pitcher usage”)
The world was supposed to be at the finger tips of the Hartford Yard Goats in 2016. A brand new stadium, paid for by the city of Hartford, and a new nickname (the Yard Goats were formerly the New Britain Rock Cats). Oh the opportunities to bring on new sponsors, sell more tickets, merchandise, etc.
Take this past Saturday, for example. The Yard Goats were to host the Erie Sea Wolves at their brand spanking new stadium in Hartford on a great summer day for baseball in Connecticut.
But there was one minor problem: the new stadium isn’t ready yet.
It should have been. The Yard Goats were to have hosted the Richmond Flying Squirrels at the new stadium way back on Thursday, April 7.
But here we are nearly three months later, and the gates at Dunkin Donuts Parks as it will be known are still locked.
Why? As was first written in Benjamin Franklin’s Poor Richard’s Almanack, “He that lieth down with dogs shall rise up with fleas.” In this case, the “dogs” are the politicians of the city of Hartford, and the Yard Goats are the ones infested with fleas for having gotten into bed with the Hartford politicians.
You can google “yard goats stadium” if you care to read about the details, but the bottom line is that a construction company that had never built a sports stadium and was the only bidder, was hired to build the stadium that now may not be done in time for the Yard Goats to step foot in the new stadium this season.
Why aren’t the Yard Goats playing in their old stadium while the new stadium is being finished? TheYard Goat organization didn’t exactly leave New Britain Stadium on the best of terms with its landlord, the city of New Britain. Reportedly, the Yard Goats were telling the city of New Britain that they were happy playing in New Britain Stadium while secretly doing the deal with Hartford to make the move, completely blindsiding the New Britain folks. New Britain then brought in the New Britain Bees of the Atlantic League as a new tenant for this season.
Back to Saturday. The Yard Goats were playing their “home” game at Dodd Stadium in Norwich, CT, normally home to the New York Penn League’s Connecticut Tigers. Dodd Stadium is some 45 minutes southeast of Hartford. It was a double-header because the Connecticut Tigers needed the stadium the night before.
Sean and I made the almost one-hour drive to Norwich for the first game of the double header. We were hoping to score our first Erie Sea Wolves lineup card, but I wasn’t optimistic as Sea Wolves manager and former MLB’er Lance Parrish had blown me off last year.
The Yard Goats won 2-1 in a tidy, 1:46 7-inning game. Sean and I had a bet to see who could come up with the most game balls. Being 10 is a decided advantage as he could ask players to throw him balls, while I had to go for hit balls. I scored a foul ball and a ground-rule double, both hit out of the stadium, but Sean won it when Sea Wolves catcher Greyson Greiner tossed him a third out ball after the bottom of the sixth inning for Sean’s third gamer. We also found several balls beyond the outfield wall, most presumably BP balls, include a few ROMLBs in fair shape at best.
In this picture…
…if you look closely, you can see the Erie lineup card pinned to the bulletin board on the far end of the dugout. (You can also get an idea as to how empty the stadium was; the announced crowd was 624.)
We decided that Sean may have a better shot at getting the Erie lineup card than me so that is how we played it. It ended up not mattering as Sean was told that Parrish keeps his lineup cards. Oh well.
I had better luck at the Yard Goat dugout where I was the only one who asked Hartford manager Darin Everson for his lineup card.
We met the father of Sean Wolves relief pitcher Adam Ravenelle during the game. It was Ravenelle’s first game in uniform for the Sea Wolves as he had just been called up. He didn’t play in the game, but did play in the nightcap, a 6-4 Erie victory.
2016: 28 lineup cards (23 dugout/bullpen; 5 “official batting order”)
Lifetime: 91 lineup cards (70 dugout/bullpen; 19 “official batting order”; and 2 “relief pitcher usage”)
We didn’t go to any baseball games for about a two week stretch in August due to vacation. But we still managed to make a couple of great scores in the limited August opportunities we had:
- We had circled the August 9th Auburn Doubledays @ CT Tigers game on the schedule two months earlier because it would be our only chance to get to a Doubledays game in 2015. The Doubledays are a Nats farm team. The Harrisburg Senators had a great lineup card, and we knew through a friend that the Potomac Nationals did, too, so odds were that the Doubledays would as well. The Doubledays lost to the Tigers 4-2. Auburn never led, and never got the tying run to the plate in the 9th inning, so it wasn’t a heart-breaking loss, but a loss nonetheless. Knowing how difficult a loss can be, not to mention that this is their livelihood, we always try to be understanding and more respectful than normal when asking a player, coach or manager for a lineup card after a loss. So we were particularly respectful when asking Doubleday manager Gary Cathcart for his lineup card. It’s hard to believe that Cathcart didn’t hear us, but he went ahead and ripped it into four pieces anyway and threw it in the garbage. Disappointing, but what can you do. After all the Doubledays players/coaches left the dugout, we asked a grounds crew member for the four pieces. The CT Tigers’ staffer pulled the torn pieces out of the garbage and handed them to us. As it turns out, with some tape (which you can see if you look closely at the picture), it came out looking fine, so no harm, no foul. And we got a bonus of sorts. When the Tigers’ staffer pulled the lineup card pieces out of the garbage, he also pulled out a “Nationals Relief Pitcher Usage” card with it. This had been torn into two pieces, but again looks fine with some tape. We’d never gotten one of these before, so this was awesome. We don’t consider it a lineup card because it isn’t, but it’s cool nonetheless.
Of particular note is “Rivera III” at the bottom. This is Yankees great Mariano Rivera’s son. Rivero III didn’t pitch because as the card says, he had thrown 27 pitches the previous night. Also of note on the Doubleday lineup card are “Gibson” – Cam Gibson, son of MLB star Kirk Gibson – and “Zeile” – Shane Zeile, nephew of former major leaguer Todd Zeile.
- Kate and I caught a Vermont Lake Monsters @ CT Tigers game later in the month. The Lake Monsters are somewhat special because we had traveled up to Burlington, Vermont a few years earlier and had a great time at a couple of Lake Monster games. So getting a Lake Monster card would be awesome. And we did, after the first game of what was supposed to be a double-header. It’s a neat looking card with watermarking. It is dated the day before we went to the game because that game was postponed and pushed back to the next day.
- Our local MiLB team, the New Britain Rock Cats, had announced several months earlier that 2015 would be its final season not only in New Britain, but as the Rock Cats. The team is moving to Hartford for the 2016 season and will be named the Hartford Yard Goats (“Yard Goats”, really?!?). It’s sad to see from a couple of perspectives. First, we have had great times going to Rock Cat games over the years. Additionally, Hartford is a longer drive, potentially brings more traffic and parking problems into play, and will almost certainly be more expensive. And did I mention dangerous? I’m told that the area near where the stadium is being built has a bad reputation. The good news is that the Atlantic League already has announced that a new team — the New Britain Bees — will move into New Britain Stadium in 2016.
Back to the 2015 season. I had been thinking all year that it would be awesome to get a lineup card from the last Rock Cat home game. I knew there would likely be at least a couple others, if not a few, with the same idea. I had one trick up my sleeve that may or may not have worked, but we’ll never know. While Kate, Sean and I went to the Sunday afternoon game, it ended up going 15 innings. We called it a day after 12 innings. The kids did each get a ball at the game, which was nice.