Hartford Yard Goat drama has been well documented in the past few years. The issues stemmed from many missed construction deadlines, as well as the stadium being nearly 10 million dollars over budget. It was, and in many cases continues to be a major headache for the city. In a way, the stadium drama is the perfect metaphor for a city that is trying extremely hard to get out of its own way. But Hartford has potential and if what I saw at Dunkin Donuts Park on Friday night is any indication, the Yard Goats will be loved by the city and the suburbs for many years to come.
The Yard Goats, formerly the New Britain Rock Cats, are the Colorado Rockies Double A affiliate. Since the Whalers left Hartford in 1997, the options for professional sports in Connecticut has been limited. The Sun, Connecticut’s WNBA team, play great basketball, but their season is during the summer months and I think it is tough to draw crowds inside when it is nice outside. Minor league hockey- the Hartford Wolfpack and the Bridgeport Sound Tigers also make for a fun night out, but most Connecticut hockey fans secretly wish they were watching the Whalers. There was also one season of professional football that nobody remembers happening even though it did and it was awesome. That leaves minor league baseball. And since there was never a professional baseball team in Connecticut, that means we can’t miss one.
I grew up watching the Rock Cats. Sometimes I would have trouble sleeping the night before a game. It was like Christmas Eve during the summer. At the time I didn’t care about the price of tickets, but my parents sure did. That is one of the beautiful things about minor league baseball, it’s inexpensive and creates lasting memories. Upon entering Dunkin Donuts Stadium on Friday night I saw many kids who appeared to be just as excited as I remember being at their age. The energy within the stadium was intense. It was a beautiful night, in the low 70s, with a slight breeze. Despite being late April, it felt like mid-summer. The game itself wasn’t great. The Yard Goats beat the Richmond Flying Squirrels 2 to 1, and while that score suggests a pitcher’s duel, it didn’t feel that way. On several occasions, each team had runners in scoring position with one or no outs, but they both failed to score.
That didn’t dampen anyone’s spirits though. What happened on the field seemed almost secondary to the atmosphere of the stands. Everyone was happy to be cheering on the home team. Most had some form of Yard Goat attire on and a few times in between innings fans were treated to Youtube videos of goats. It was so weird, but everyone loved it.
The most exciting part of the game took place in the bottom of the fifth inning when the Yard Goats were trailing 1-0. Right fielder Dillon Thomas sent a deep shot out to left center and the whole crowd stood to see if the ball had enough on it to make it over the wall. Unfortunately, the Flying Squirrels center fielder, Slade Heathcott (a contender for the best name of all time) made a fantastic over-the-wall catch to rob Thomas of his second homerun of the season. Although fans were happy to see a great catch, it was a little sad to see the Yard Goats miss a chance to tie the game. On the next pitch, however, first baseman Collin Ferguson crushed the ball to nearly the exact same spot as Thomas. This time the ball cleared Heathcott’s glove by mere inches and the Yard Goats tied the game at 1. The crowd went bonkers. They scored again in the next inning and that is what would end up being the final score.
At the end of the game, the grounds crew brought fireworks onto the field and the fans who remained were treated to an impressive display. Kids sat on their parent’s shoulders and watched the fireworks shoot into the sky. As we were leaving I heard one kid ask his dad if they could come back again soon. The dad laughed and said, “for 12 dollars a ticket, we’ll be coming here all summer.”