ALEX DAHLEM ’20
The Hartford Yard Goats, the capital city’s Double-A professional baseball team, began their 2018 season on Thursday night at their downtown abode, Dunkin Donuts Park. Coming off of a successful first season during which the team sold out 41 of its 68 home games and attracted 400,000 fans to its new stadium, owners, players, and fans alike are buzzing with excitement for the new season. Despite the obvious buzz, ask anyone on the Long Walk, in Frog Hollow, or in Connecticut as a whole about the successes or failures of the team’s on-field performance, and they likely won’t be able to tell you. Yes, the actual baseball is important, and of course we all want our team to win, but a much more important dynamic to the Yard Goats experiment, as is similar to many other small cities that house minor league sports teams, is the local morale, camaraderie, and economic success that such an enterprise can create.
Connecticut, and Hartford specifically, have fallen on hard times recently. Foiled attempts to create equitable and responsible state budgets coupled with a deep partisan divide over how to fix the state’s economic issues have left many in the state anxiously yearning for a unifying solution.
An attempt to move forward came two years ago when the City of Hartford and the State of Connecticut approved plans to create a new baseball park in the Downtown North section of Hartford. In addition to housing the newly relocated Colorado Rockies Double-A affiliate, the new stadium has also hosted local college baseball games along with community events and fundraisers. Interested developers also dangled the prospect of a complete downtown revival with dreams of ultimately transforming Hartford into a youthful and vibrant place to make a living.
However, budget issues and apparent breaches in the construction contract almost derailed the plan, forcing the Yard Goats to play the entirety of their first season in Norwich, CT and on the road, spurring threats from the Colorado Rockies management that the franchise would have to relocate if the park wasn’t opened by the 2017 season. It was reported by the Hartford Courant that the project was $10 million over budget. After compromises were made between the City of Hartford and Whiting-Turner, the new construction company assigned to the job, Dunkin Donuts Park was finally finished in the winter of 2016.
After all of the confusion and over-spending, anxious and desperate residents have been wondering if baseball is the real answer. Can Dunkin Donuts Park and a minor league baseball team be the spark that Hartford needs in order to turn around? Thus far the Yard Goats franchise has certainly had an effect on development and entertainment success in the region. The stadium’s adoption of a “Neighborhood Flavors” initiative to expand the notoriety of local restaurants by allowing them to station a food cart in the stadium has boosted the overall business of those local eateries. Additionally, according to a WNPR.org article, the Hilton Hotel that sits three blocks away from the ballpark had higher occupancy during the Yard Goats’ first season and saw a huge boost in its restaurant sales. Most surprising of all was the record sale of season tickets leading up to the start of the current season.
Although the team lost more than half of its games last season and has yet to win a game this season, the franchise’s focus is aimed more at fan turnout, ticket sales, and creating a social hub that will revitalize the Downtown North region of Hartford. Moving forward, success for the Yard Goats will be measured in dollar signs and attendance records, not in wins and losses. So, let’s see if the City and State have what it takes to compete.