It’s safe to say that the Yard Goats got off to a bit of a rocky start in Hartford. Right off the bat, the AA franchise was essentially stolen from New Britain in 2015 in an attempt to develop the downtown “Hart City” area. The Goats almost never took the field at Dunkin’ Donuts Park.
The construction of the new stadium, all told, costed thirteen million dollars over the original fifty five million dollar budget. It seemed as though Dunkin’ Donuts Park would never be built due to one complication after another. Hartford hooligans stole tools and equipment from contractors, construction companies changed halfway through their contracts, and lawsuits followed. All of the issues culminated in the announcement that the park would not open in time for the 2016 season opener. The new ballpark gathered a slew of negative press and it seemed as though the ballpark was destined to be doomed, abandoned, and eventually a failed project by the state of Connecticut.
But tonight wasn’t about controversy. Tonight was about baseball.
Before the gates opened on a cold April night in 2018, hundreds of people were already lined up outside of the Yard Goats’ box office. Kids were anticipating the taste of sugary cotton candy and the tight fit of a foam finger, college kids waited to get their hands on a cold drink, and old men who just really love baseball all made their way through the turnstiles as the stadium staff allowed them to go ahead.
Upon entering the stadium, you’re greeted by a friendly ticket-taker, reminding you to enjoy the game. Directly to the left of the main entrance is the Yard Goats’ team store, where you can buy quite literally anything that has room for a Goats logo on it. I’m talking hats by the dozens, t-shirts, mini bats, baby bibs. Anything you could imagine, they have it. They even sell UCONN and Hartford Whalers paraphernalia (R.I.P.) for old times’ sake.
After you leave the team store you will find yourself at the concessions stand. Believe me, there is nothing minor league about the food that the Goats are serving up at Dunkin Donuts Park. They have everything from classic ballpark food such as nachos, ice cream served in a mini helmet, soft pretzels and hot dogs to local favorite, Bear’s BBQ (Get the “Mac Attack,” you won’t be disappointed) and new for this year, The Donut Dog, which consists of two hot dogs carefully placed inside a glazed donut to make up the bun, topped with bits of bacon and raspberry jam. It’s delicious. Find a craft beer stand to wash down your over-indulgences, it’s only customary.
Buddy, an usher in his 60’s, was happy to take my ticket and help me find my seat. “I think it’s great,” Buddy says as he leads me to my assigned row, “younger crowds like yourself. Instead of going to a bar, you can come here!”
I was seated along the third base line, almost exactly in front of the bag. The grounds crew lightly sprayed the dirt on the infield with water as both starting pitchers warmed up with their catchers in the outfield. A cold cloud of smoke escaped their mouths with each exhaling breath. The attendance for the minor league game was surprisingly high considering the brisk April chill, the Yard Goats’ 0-8 record, and the fact that it was a weekday. During the summer, you might see a long line at the beer stand, but today everyone who was in line was there for coffee or hot chocolate at the Dunkin’ Donuts behind home plate. On the opposite side of the ballpark is a rooftop bar, with counter-tops and seats that overlook the outfield. A giant Dunkin’ Donuts coffee cup sits on top of the massive scoreboard. A huge elk, the mascot of the The Hartford Insurance Company, watches over the entire ballpark from right field.
As people returned from the concessions stands with armfuls of snacks and drinks, a seemingly endless line of children formed on the field down the first base line, around home plate, and up the third base line. They’re here tonight because they were named “most improved student” by their respective schools. The “hype-man-announcer-guy,” as I like to call him, held the microphone in front of each kid’s face. He asked them their name and how old they were, and boy were they excited to be there.
Beside me sat a guy that was sitting with a little boy. “The food is good,” says Jeffrey, a seven year old wearing an Aaron Judge jersey and a Yankees ball cap, as he shovels a handful of nachos into his mouth. “We’re here to support our nephew,” said 30-something year old Adam, a first timer at the park, as he gestured toward Jeffrey, “[The park] is really kid-friendly, actually.”
The crowd erupted with applause as the national anthem was sung. A hockey player from the Hartford Wolfpack threw the first pitch and finally, the Yard Goats took the field.
The Goats’ signature theme song, “Eat It Up” blared over the stadium’s PA system as the players took their positions and threw a few last minute warm up tosses. The away team’s batter walked to home plate, adjusted his helmet, and the first pitch was thrown. A 93 mile an hour fastball taken for strike one.
It’s not just baseball when you visit Dunkin’ Donuts Park. The Yard Goats front office does their best to put on a show for fans of all ages. “On the weekends in the summer they do fireworks,” explained Joan, an employee of the ballpark who spends most of her time on the Sam Adam’s porch that overlooks the outfield selling $9.00 beers. “This is the best spot to see them, they set them off in the outfield and it reflects off the buildings.” Joan pointed towards the Ernst & Young building on the opposite side of I-84. “It’s what Hartford needs, too.”