It’s ‘Play Ball!’ in New Britain, ‘No Ball’ in Hartford

There is something fittingly ironic that as we head into mid-May, there is plenty of professional baseball in New Britain and absolutely none in Hartford. Connecticut’s Hardware City, home to Double A baseball since 1983, is now home to the New Britain Bees of the independent Atlantic League. Its former team, the Rock Cats, are now the Hartford Yard Goats with no ball yard to graze in as work drags on at Hartford’s Dunkin Donuts Park. For baseball fans, it’s a head-shaker. For Hartford taxpayers, it’s a nightmare.

"Chompers" the Yard Goat.
“Chompers” the Yard Goat.

The Hartford Yard Goats are currently sharing Dodd Stadium in Norwich with the Connecticut Tigers, the short-season Single A affiliate of the Detroit Tigers. They played their first 30-plus games on the road and there is no guarantee The Dunk will be ready until sometime in June. (Opening Day has been tentatively scheduled for May 31 but there is no evidence the construction can meet that deadline.)

The Yard Goats’ short history is replete with questionable tactics used to leave New Britain. The franchise showed no respect to the city, sent the young mayor into a nutty and possibly violated an agreement to keep the Rock Cats in New Britain for an undeterminable number of years.

The construction delays are nothing short of embarrassing even for Hartford. The Yard Goat’s railyard in Hartford’s north end was politically problematic from the start, splitting the two Democratic senators who represent the city. Sen. John Fonfara, chairman of the legislature’s Finance Committee, backed a bill that would have sent some state money the Yard Goats’ way. Sen. Eric Coleman, who faced a primary challenge at the time, campaigned against the franchise getting a dime of state money. Fonfara’s effort failed.

Then came the finger-pointing and political maneuvering. The $63 million stadium project is now a Big Dig-like $10 million over budget. After the team, the developers and the city spent some time blaming each other, they reached an agreement to divide up covering the overruns. Hartford taxpayers are on the hook for $5.5 million of it.

Construction at Dunkin Donuts Park in Hartford.
Construction at Dunkin Donuts Park in Hartford.

However, now the developers face a May 17 deadline to have things “significantly completed.” That means finishing some sort of kitchen in left field—we’re talking refrigeration, a walk-in cooler and some overhead coils. Will they have the pencils for the scorecards in stock?

Meanwhile, the lovable New Britain Bees have been playing for a week now, opening the season by splitting a four game series with the Sugar Land (Texas) Skeeters including an entomological doubleheader last Thursday.

Fans can go see the Bees from the best seats in the hive for $13 a seat. You can’t get a ticket online for a Yard Goats game and it’s not because they’re sold out. The links to “buy tickets” are missing. So it seems the team itself isn’t very confident of moving into The Dunk any time soon.

The Yard Goats haven’t played an inning in Hartford and they’re already down in the count.