1. New Jersey to Hartford, Connecticut
Our destination for the quick baseball getaway was Dunkin’ Donuts Park in Hartford Connecticut. Dunkin’ Donuts Park is the home of the Hartford Yard Goats, the Double A affiliate of the Colorado Rockies. (Wondering what a yard goat is? You can find out here). Originally set to debut in 2016, Dunkin’ Donuts Park was unavailable due to construction delays fueled by political posturing. As a result, the Yard Goats were forced to play their games away from home, becoming road warriors for the summer.
Now that the Hartford Yard Goats had their home, we traveled up the road to see yet another new ballpark for Saturday night and Sunday afternoon games. Since the trip was relatively short, we didn’t leave NJ until after lunch. Battling summer weekend traffic, we made the trip in about three hours, arriving at the hotel in Hartford about two and one-half hours before game time.
2. Dunkin’ Donuts Park, Saturday, July 15th
The late afternoon and early evening were warm but dry (for late July in southern New England), perfect weather for a ballgame. After checking into the hotel (just down the street from the ballpark), we walked to the park. Arriving well before the first pitch (scheduled at 640 pm), we explored the outside of the ballpark first.
Finding nothing special outside the park, we entered the stadium. Though it took far longer to finish the park that expected, it appeared as though the extra time was put to good use. The park was beautiful from top to bottom. During our stroll around the concourse, we discovered that it encompassed the field, allowing us to take pictures from each corner of the park.
The ballpark also featured a second level, which is unusual for a Double A stadium. In fact, almost everything about the ballpark suggested that it was built for a Triple A team. However, the stadium’s capacity is only about 6,200, which would be small for the next level. True to its name, there was a Dunkin’ Donuts in the ballpark, which is also unusual for a minor league ballpark. Toss in the netting in front of the seats in right field, and this park was rife with unique features rarely seen together in a stadium at this level.
Before heading to our seats, we stopped at one of the four concession stands inside the park. Each offered fairly standard fare (though New England Clam Chowder was on the menu), and there was a deli, complete with Reubens and French Dip. Rather than indulge at the deli, we selected something more apropos for the setting.
Because this was the inaugural year for Dunkin’ Donuts Park, demand for tickets was very high. Unable to obtain tickets from the usual sources, we were forced to use the secondary market to secure tickets for the games tonight and tomorrow. The only tickets available for tonights game were located in left field, near the wall.
From the moment we settled into our seats, it was clear that this was not going to be an particularly enjoyable game. The view was obstructed by the the yellow line that demarcated home run from a ball in play. Astonished by the poor siting of the seats, I sent a tweet to the Yard Gots expressing my dissatisfaction. Predictably, I did NOT get a response, but they DID like my tweet.
The fans in the left field section were fairly raucous, and based on the comradely among them, it was clear there were regulars. We were asked about my brother’s camera equipment and me keeping score (we are mistaken for scouts more often than you might think). During the exchange, we were told that the gunfire in the neighborhood usually died down after 2 am. Apparently, our hotel was in a sketchy part of Hartford!
The Yard Goats’ opponent this evening was the Trenton Thunder, the Double A affiliate of the New York Yankees. The Yard Goats struck early, scoring four runs in the first (including back to back homer runs) off Thunder starter Domingo Acevedo. However, the Thunder struck back with two runs in the second and four runs in the fourth to take the lead as evening faded into night.
The Yard Goats answered with two runs of their own in the bottom of the fourth on the second home run of the night for RF Drew Weeks. After the spate of scoring, the bullpens shut down the opposing lineups, eventually sending the game into extra innings.
The Thunder and the Yard Goats traded zeros on the scoreboard until the bottom of the 13th inning. Yard Goats’ SS Brendan Rodgers’ second home run of the night ended the lengthy affair, giving the home team a 7-6 victory. Unlike most minor league games, a good portion of the crowd stayed for much of the game. Perhaps being a warm Saturday night in July coaxed fans into staying longer than usual.
Rather than view the scheduled fireworks (took place in spite of the late ending of the game), we walked back to the hotel. From our perch on the 17th floor, we were able to view the end of the fireworks show. The first impression of the stadium was very positive, save the issue with the view from the left field seats. We were slated to come back for the last game of the series Sunday afternoon.
3. Hartford/Dunkin’ Donuts Park, Sunday, July 16th
Since we did not have a specific plan after checking out of the hotel late in the morning, we decided to walk through Hartford. Not knowing much about the capital of Connecticut, it seemed as though this was a good opportunity to change that. The late morning was warm but not particularly humid, so we embarked on our sojourn.
Though we started in downtown Hartford, our destination was the Connecticut River in East Hartford. We passed through Bushnell Park, where we had a brief encounter with a statue of Confucius, and glimpsed the Old State House above the trees in the distance. Heading east, we crossed over Interstate 91, reaching the river near the Sculpture Walk.
Ambling down the Riverwalk, it was hard to believe we were still in Hartford. The area along the river was serene, a stark contrast from what we saw getting there. However, as peaceful as the area seemed, we could still hear the sounds of the city, reminding us that we were most assuredly still in Hartford.
While the walk along the river was thoroughly enjoyable, we needed to head back toward the ballpark for the start of the game. On the way back, we passed by the park to reach the car. Gathering what we needed for the game, we walked around the ballpark taking pictures before heading in.
Once again, we toured the inside of the park before finding our seats. For the matinee, we have considerably better seats than the previous night. We have discovered that Sunday afternoon games generally have smaller crowds than Saturday night games in the minor leagues, seemingly regardless of the time of year. In the summer, it is likely that the heat and sun have something to do with that trend, and today promised to be warm with wall to wall sunshine.
At first pitch (which occurred at 137 pm), temperatures were in the mid 80s under partly sunny skies, and as expected, the crowd was smaller than the previous night. The view from these seats was much better than left field, giving a much better feel to the park. Clearly, a considerable amount of time and effort went into the look and feel of the ballpark, and it showed.
After an extra inning affair which featured scoreless streaks by each bullpen, the offensive fireworks began early this afternoon. The Yard Goats scored four runs in the first inning, and the Thunder answered with three in the top of the second. Not to be outdone, the Yard Goats tacked another run in the bottom of the second, with Brendon Rodgers hitting his third home run in two games.
The Thunder added a single run in the 5th inning, which closed out the scoring. Even with the early offensive outburst, both starters figured in the decision. Despite giving up four runs, seven hits and four walks in five innings of work, Yard Goats starter Ryan Castellani earned the victory. His counterpart, Brody Koerner, absorbed the loss going seven innings and allowing five runs.
Not long after the final out, we exited quickly to complete the three hour trip back to NJ. The seating issues for the Saturday night game aside, the stadium was well worth the trip. Dunkin’ Donuts Park delivers a great baseball experience nestled an urban setting. If you’re a die hard baseball fan, a trip to the this park would be worth the investment in time.