Since the list of MLB stadiums to visit was becoming increasingly small, we decided to branch out and start visiting minor league (MiLB) stadiums. At first, the radius for visiting MiLB ballparks was limited to places within a three or four hour drive from central NJ. Being avid Mets fans, we set our sights on Binghamton, NY, the home of the Mets AA affiliate. Our first visit occurred in August of 2014, and rather than make it a day trip, we planned our weekend trip to cover the last two games of a three game set with the Akron RubberDucks. The drive from central NJ to NYSEG Stadium, the home of the Mets AA affiliate, was fairly easy, taking about three hours following a mostly interstate route.
After checking into our hotel, we headed out toward the ballpark ahead of a 705 pm game start. NYSEG Stadium is located in the southern part of Binghamton, nestled between the Chenango River to the west and the Susquehanna River to the southeast, about a mile from our hotel. Arriving an hour before game time, we parked in a private lot across from the stadium on Henry Street. With the businesses apparently closed for the day, parking here was plentiful, and the price was certainly right (a mere $5). This was not our only option, but it appeared first as we approached the stadium. There is a Binghamton team-run lot behind the right field wall of NYSEG Stadium (which is closed on Fireworks Nights). Parking there is also $5, and the walk to the ballpark is only a little bit longer than the private lots just across the street.
Located in a mainly residential area, there is not much in the way of activities or places to eat in the immediate vicinity of the park. As a consequence, our normal tour of the outside of a new ballpark was fairly short, and we entered the stadium through the home plate entrance.
NYSEG Stadium is a modular ballpark whose appearance is similar to the majority of the modular MiLB parks we have seen in our travels. There are two decks of seats extending from just beyond the third base to just beyond the first base dugout. The lower deck stretches from the main concourse down to the first seven to 10 rows, and the second deck rises up from the concourse to near the apex of the park. Atop the seating area are luxury boxes and the press level, which are covered by a small roof (as is the top of the second seating deck behind home plate). In total, NYSEG Stadium hold about 6,000 fans, which is on par with other AA stadiums.
Like most MiLB parks, wooden advertising signs span the outfield walls, and there is a relatively small video board/scoreboard in right center field. The layout of the video board/scoreboard is vaguely reminiscent of the old Shea Stadium scoreboard, and perhaps the likeness was intentional, as the Mets are the parent club. Overall, the ballpark itself seemed unassuming. It was surprising to learn that NYSEG Stadium opened in 1992, because in some respects the ballpark seems older. This was especially true of the park’s inner concourse, where the bulk of the concessions are located. After walking around the inside of the park (which is typical for a first visit), we obtained a baseball dinner and headed toward our seats.
Akron had been playing well for much of the season, and seemed to be a lock for a playoff spot. However, leading up the series with the Mets, they had been playing uneven baseball, allowing Binghamton to move to within striking distance of the RubberDucks for a playoff spot. Starting for the Mets that night was 26 year old righthander Greg Peavey. Leading the Binghamton staff in wins and ERA during the 2014 campaign, Peavy pitched well enough to keeping the suddenly struggling RubberDucks down for much of the game, with the Mets beating Akron 5-2.
In the Mets’ portion of the sixth inning, we saw something I had never seen before in person. With runners on first and second, a line drive off the bat of Mets second baseman Dilson Herrera was nabbed in right field on a great catch by the RubberDucks’ Jordan Smith. The Mets runners were on the move, thinking the ball would find a gap in the outfield, and both runners were unable to return to their bases after the catch, resulting in the first triple play I’d seen live. Later in the game, when RubberDucks manager Dave Wallace made a pitching change, we were close enough to see the desperation in eyes, as though he was witnessing the season slipping away. When the Mets pitching coach Glenn Abbott questioned a procedural error by Wallace, we could hear him say ” What the f**k? Just let it go!”
Following the game, we headed across the street to retrieve the car and head back to the hotel for the night. My first impression of the stadium was that is was fairly non descript, and that the crowd was tiny (far less than the announced attendance of 3,800) for a team that was fighting for a playoff spot. We would get a much better look at NYSEG Stadium during the Sunday matinee, the third and last contest of the three game set. Not surprisingly, the streets in Binghamton were nearly deserted as we made out way back for a good night’s sleep after a long day of travel.
We had some time on our hands on a bright sunny Sunday morning after breakfast at the hotel, so we walked along the the Chenango River (which runs alongside the Holiday Inn in Binghamton). We then walked the streets of Binghamton on the warm and dry morning. It was obvious that the city had seen better times, and Binghamton was beginning to show its age. With that said, I was impressed by some of the architecture of the city. There were hints of Art Deco, Neoclassic design and even some Modernism in the churches and government buildings, some of which were built during the Great Depression. Never having been here before, I had no idea what to expect, but I was impressed with the part of the city we explored before heading out to the ballpark.
Once again we arrived about an hour before game time, and we were able to secure parking across the street in a private lot. We wandered around the park a bit more than the night before, and discovered that there were some souvenir stands near the right field foul line, as well as some games for the kids. As is often the case for a Sunday afternoon game following a Saturday night game, the crowd promised to be fairly thin, despite wall to wall sunshine, pleasant temperatures and low humidity. Our seats for this game were very good, near the front row of the lower section just behind first base. From that vantage point, we were treated to a good view of the beautiful hills to the northwest of the ballpark, and the train track lying just behind the left field fence.
Part of the attraction of coming to Binghamton (along with seeing the ballpark) was seeing rising stars in the Mets minor league system up close and personal in their home setting. Fortunately for us, much heralded left handed starter Steven Matz was on the mound for Binghamton, and our seats gave a great look at someone who would be a member of the 2015 National League Champion New York Mets. Matz was impressive in the start, lasting five innings, and allowing no runs on three hits with six strikeouts. Akron struggled against Matz and a trio of relievers, as the Mets took the last game of the series 5-0.
With the win, the Binghamton Mets edged closer to an Eastern League playoff spot. This team loaded with young talent that would at least make an appearance with the parent club in the near future, and would ultimately win the 2014 league championship. As we were leaving for our three hour trip home, I reflected on what we had seen. Because NYSEG Stadium did not have any single outstanding attribute, I felt as though the ballpark took a back seat to the Mets AA team. Having seen the park and the city of Binghamton, I felt as though we had seen all there was to see there, and did not anticipate a return visit.
First visit: exact date unknown, probably during the 2011 season
Most recent visit: July 25th, 2021
Following a job change that took me from southern Maine (where I saw the Portland Sea Dogs at Hadlock Field) to southern New Jersey in 2010, I found that I had landed in an area that was teeming with baseball. The Philadelphia Phillies were 30 minutes away, and two minor league teams were within 45 minutes or so (the Trenton Thunder, the AA affiliate of the New York Yankees, and the Lakewood Blue Claws, the low A affiliate of the Philadelphia Phillies). Since my brother lives closer to Trenton, I chose to make the Trenton Thunder my new favorite minor league team.
Trenton plays their games at Arm&Hammer Park. Opening behind schedule in 1994 (as cold and snow the previous winter hampered construction efforts), the stadium was part of a larger complex containing office buildings and a night club, known as the Mercer County Waterfront Park. Though the ballpark is technically within Trenton city limits, it is located on the southern edge, away from the influence of downtown. Its location (just off Route 29, on Thunder Road) makes ingress and egress much easier than if the stadium was located downtown.
Parking at Arm&Hammer Park is fairly straightforward. After entering the complex, the first parking area encountered is a surface lot to the right. Most times, these spaces are unavailable to baseball fans, as they are either occupied by state employees working at the complex, or by fans with mobility issues. Just down the street from the surface lot is a three-tiered parking deck, which most times offers an orderly exit after games. However, we have learned through bitter experience that most people don’t know how to exit a parking deck, and that fact can add a considerable amount of time when trying to leave the complex. Parking is a very reasonable $5.00, and the walk from the deck to the stadium is about one-quarter of a mile or so.
As the name of the complex implies, Arm&Hammer Park lies along the Delaware River, which divides New Jersey from Pennsylvania. Before games, we occasionally walk along a path paralleling the river, a stark contrast to the urban area not too far away, providing a view most people outside of the area would not expect to see in New Jersey. There are three entrances into the ballpark (each of which has a not inconsequential set of concrete stairs to navigate): one adjacent to the river walk on the first base side, behind home plate and behind third base. Arm&Hammer Park has two seating decks that extend from just beyond third base behind home plate to just beyond third base, as well as suites near the top of the stadium, bringing to the capacity of 6,150 (which is typical of a AA ballpark). Bullpens are located along the left field line (visitor) and the right field line (Thunder), and the outfield is nearly ringed by wooden advertising signs located above and just behind the outfield wall.
While Arm&Hammer Park is a fairly typical minor league ballpark, it does possess what might be the largest video board in the minors. Located in right centerfield, the size and resolution of the video board is more reminiscent of a Triple A ballpark. Being an affiliate of New York Yankees probably factored into the decision to place such a large video board in the ballpark, and it is the most prominent feature of the stadium. Just to the right of the video board, the outfield wall is low enough to allow home runs to leave the park and head toward the river. Actually, it IS possible to hit a fair ball down the right field line that can land in the Delaware River. Though I am not sure it has been done, it might be possible to hit a home run far enough across the river to have the ball land in the Pennsylvania portion of the river.
Arm&Hammer Park offers the standard fare when it comes to concessions, though there are a couple of places worth noting. My favorite is Chickie’s & Pete’s, located on the main concourse on the first base side. Chickie’s & Pete’s serves crab house food, and I rarely pass up the opportunity to indulge in a cup of crab fires (large French fries covered with Old Bay seasoning). They also offer excellent cheese steaks, brats and hot dogs, which are cooked to order. On the third base side is Boomer’s BBQ, which, as the name implies, offers an array of barbeque meals. Personally, I do not frequent this place as often, but when I do, I usually get the chicken sandwich. Most times, though, I elect to get a baseball lunch or dinner (which generally includes hot dogs) before heading to our seats.
When attending a Thunder game, you definitely want to be in your seats for the bottom of the first inning. During that half of the frame, after each Thunder hitter discards of his bat, the Thunder bat dog retrieves it. Currently, the bat dog is Rookie, but he was preceded by Chase and Derby in the recent past. While Rookie sometimes has difficulty grabbing the bat in his mouth to bring back to the dugout, he is successful most of the time, to the delight of the crowd. After the end of the first inning, Rookie returns to the clubhouse, his task for the day completed. As a side note, when the Thunder played the Bowie Baysox for the Eastern League championship in 2019, Rookie made the trip to Maryland, retrieving bats in the first inning. Probably because he was in a new environment, rather than retrieve the bat after a Thunder player walked, Rookie instead followed the player to first base. Murmurs permeated the air when Rookie did his thing, and the Baysox faithful were enamored with the visitor.
One of the biggest perks of seeing Thunder games is the potential to see MLB players on rehabilitation stints. Being a Yankees affiliate, many past and present Yankees have made appearances at Arm&Hammer Park, and more than 9,000 fans were present when Derek Jeter did his rehab assignment during the Fourth of July weekend in 2011. In 2013, when Alex Rodriguez appeared with the Thunder, Trenton drew in excess of 8,000 fans for each of his two games there. More recently, perennial fan favorite Curtis Granderson made an appearance.
In addition to rehab appearances, my brother (who goes to many more Thunder games than me) and I have seen many current Yankees as they came up through the minor league system. Since the Mets AA affiliate Binghamton Rumble Ponies are in the same division of the Eastern League as the Thunder, they come to Arm&Hammer Park a couple of times a year. My brother and I do our best to wrap our plans around these times, and that allows us to see future Mets up close. In the past, we have seen Matt Harvey and Noah Syndergaard on the mound, as well as many position players (like Michael Conforto and Ahmed Rosario) on the field in Trenton. There is something satisfying about seeing future stars in the MLB in such an intimate setting, before they become household names. We were fortunate enough to see Michael Conforto play in Trenton before making the jump to the New York Mets the next day in July 2015.
Being such a big Mets fan, my best memories of Arm&Hammer Park are tied to visits by the Binghamton Mets/Rumble Ponies. Perhaps the most vivid memory occurred on Friday July 24, 2015. We had just finished a tour of New England minor league ballpark in time to attend all of the four games of the weekend series between the Mets and the Thunder. On that night, Robert Gsellman started for the Mets, who tossed seven and one-third innings of one run ball. The run Gsellman allowed tied the game at 1-1, and eventually the game went into extra innings. Trading scoreless innings, the Mets finally pushed across a run in the top of the 17th inning, defeating the Thunder 2-1.
A total of 13 pitchers were used that night (seven by the Mets and six by the Thunder), and the Thunder sent two position players to the mound (DH Taylor Dugas and 2B Danny Oh) for the 17th inning. Dugas allowed a run in the top of the frame before recording an out, and Oh mopped up, allowing no runs and no hits. The 17 inning game (the longest I have ever seen personally) took four and one-half hours to complete, and we left the ballpark just short of midnight. Fatigue from the road trip, combined with the long game that night, made me grateful we weren’t far from my brother’s home.
Arm&Hammer Park also hosted the only professional no-hitter I have seen in person, as the Binghamton took on Trenton in an Eastern League playoff game on September 9th, 2017. After the Thunder took a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the first inning, Rumble Ponies catcher Tomas Nido reached on a ground ball to third baseman Dante Bichette Jr in the top of the second. Initially, the play was ruled an infield single. Trenton left hander Dustin Sheffield then shut the Rumble Ponies down in a short but dominant performance.
In the sixth inning, a nearby fan asked me about the hit by Nido, since I was keeping score of the game. When I told him about the hit, he directed my attention to the scoreboard. At some point, the official scorer changed the hit to an error, and suddenly we were witnessing a possible a no-hitter. Once the change was recognized by the crowd, there was an audible response at the prospect of seeing a no-hitter. Sheffield was lifted from the game after four innings (before the hit was changed to an error), and Taylor Widener threw five hitless innings to complete the no hitter. Because the scoring change occurred so late in the game, there was not the anticipation in the crowd that might have been expected to seeing a no-hitter, which was disappointing as a fan.
Though Arm&Hammer Park is a typical AA facility, it has grown on me over the years. Being able to see future Yankees (and occasionally future Mets when Binghamton visit) in such an intimate setting is enjoyable, and my experience in parks just like this has raised my appreciation of the minor league game over the MLB product. However, a disturbing change brought about by the New York Yankees organization has stripped the park of its association with the team. Instead, the Trenton Thunder will play the 2021 season as a founding member of the MLB Draft League. Even with the change, if you find yourself near Trenton NJ on a summer day, check to see if the Thunder are playing. You will be glad you did.
Due to the continuing COVID-19 pandemic, it was determined that the Toronto Blue Jays could not play their home games to start the 2021 MLB season. As they did in 2020, the Blue Jays would play their 2021 home games at Sahlen Field in Buffalo NY. Home to their AAA affiliate (the Buffalo Bisons), suddenly Sahlen Field would NOT be available for the Bisons 2021 campaign.
Numerous press reports indicated that there was something of a scramble to find a home for the Bisons. Eventually, MiLB decided on Arm&Hammer Park in Trenton. Having lost their primary tenants to Somerset, the stadium was available for use. To my surprise, the Bisons would play in Trenton as the Thunder (the previous name of the franchise). Since the decision to place the Buffalo team in Trenton occurred quickly (and without much fanfare), it was not clear how many baseball fans knew about the relocation of the Bisons to Arm&Hammer Field.
My first visit to the see the new Trenton Thunder occurred on Saturday, May 8th 2021, as they hosted the Worcester Red Sox (the AAA affiliate of the Boston Red Sox) on a rainy and cool night. In accordance with New Jersey’s COVID-19 protocol, fans were seated in “pods” (groups of fans surrounded by empty seats), which ensured proper social distancing. To their credit, the fans followed the guidelines set forth by the Thunder and MiLB, and because of the guidelines, attendance was limited to about 25 percent capacity for the game. For the most part, there was not much different about the park, despite the new occupants taking residence with little notice.
It was strange to see the Trenton Thunder in action again at Arm&Hammer Field, this time as a AAA affiliate. Occasional rain during the first part of the contest put a damper on the evening, but since this was my first live baseball game in nearly 20 months, the weather was hardly a concern. Because of the pandemic, there were small but noticeable differences at the ballpark. First and foremost was the absence of Rookie, the Thunder bat dog. Rookie normally retrieves bats for the Thunder half of the first (to the great delight of the home fans), but he did not dispatch his primary duty this evening. Also, there were no bat boys/girls. This meant players had to retrieve bats near home plate, secure foul balls on the field, as well as keep the home plate umpire’s ball supply up to date. There were no on field games for fans between innings, a family favorite at minor league baseball parks.
Though the teams were now AAA, the level of play overall seemed a step down from the AA baseball we had seen at Arm&Hammer Park in the past. Despite scoring eight runs on 14 hits, the Worcester Red Sox struck out 18 times during the Saturday night game. Clearly the obsession with launch angle and hitting home runs has trickled its way down in the minor leagues. In addition, play in the field was not as crisp as it should be at this level, which was even more apparent during the Sunday afternoon game. Granted, the weather was inclement, and could have been a proximate cause for the sloppier than usual fielding, but I was surprised by what appeared to be a lack of concentration on defense. Even with the perceived deficiencies in the play, I was VERY happy to have live baseball back!
For now, it appears as though the team will play its home games in Trenton as the Thunder for the balance of the 2021 season. However, this is contingent on whether the government in Ontario continues to ban the Blue Jays from their home. Should that decision change, it is possible that the Thunder become the Bisons again in Buffalo later in the season. The Ontario provincial government lifted the travel ban for the Blue Jays effective July 30th, 2021, and the Thunder played their final game as the Triple A affiliate of the Blue Jays on Sunday, July 25th. This change allowed the REAL Trenton Thunder (a member of the MLB Draft League) to finish their inaugural season at Arm&Hammer Field in early August.
The middle stop our three day baseball tour of New England was Portland, Maine. Having lived in southern Maine for 12 and 1/2 years, it was almost like coming home. We arrived in the Portland area the night before, and the morning brought sunshine and temperatures in the 70s, much cooler than the 90s we endured the previous day in southern New Hampshire. Game time in Portland was slated for 705 pm, giving us plenty of time to visit some my favorite places in the area.
Following breakfast at our hotel, a Holiday Inn Express in Freeport, Maine (though I didn’t feel any smarter for the experience), we headed for my favorite place in Maine: Fort Williams Park in Cape Elizabeth. A former Army base, active during World War I and World War II, the main attraction of the 90 acre park is the Portland Head Light. Completed in 1791 (built on the order of George Washington), the lighthouse is said to be the most photographed lighthouse in the world. Considering that I personally have taken hundreds of pictures of the lighthouse, that claim is easy for me to believe.
This sunny and pleasantly warm late morning drew a large number of sightseers, focusing mainly on the lighthouse. However, being very familiar with the park, I headed straight for the rocks behind the lighthouse. Facing Casco Bay, the rocks provide a great view of the bay, as well as the Halfway Rock Lighthouse.
On this morning, as is common during the warm months, the seemingly ever present fog partially shrouded the lighthouse. Located about halfway between Portland and the Atlantic Ocean, Halfway Rock stands approximately where the sea fogs recesses during the day, only to surge inland after the warmest part of the day.
The rocks adjacent to Portland Head Light present a very real hazard to boat traffic moving through Casco Bay, as strong storms and dense fog can obscure the coastline. Perhaps the most famous example of the hazards of the rocky Maine coast was the wreck of the Annie C Maguire on Christmas Eve 1886. The wreck has been immortalized on the rocks of the lighthouse.
The morning flew by visiting the park, and after more than two hours there, we headed north into nearby Falmouth for lunch at Richetta’s Brick Oven Ristorante. Featuring possibly the best brick oven pizza in Maine, we dined alfresco under brilliant sunshine with a cooling sea breeze.
Following lunch, we visited my second favorite place in Maine: Royal River Park in Yarmouth. Living less than a mile from the park for more than 12 years, it is a beautiful place to visit all times of year, but especially so during the summer. The Royal River was once the home of paper mills, and the river provided power for the mills. Though the mills are long gone, the foundations are still visible.
Rapids over the northern stretch of the river transition to still waters closer to Route 1. A tire swing along the banks of the river here provides recreation for the locals, and dogs often dive into the river to swim in the calm waters. Though it is tucked away west of Interstate 295, it is worth a visit if you are in the area, as it affords a view into the natural beauty Maine has to offer.
2. Hadlock Field, Portland Maine
After a brief repair to the hotel in Freeport to relax before the game, we made the 20 minute drive to Hadlock Field, the home of the Portland Sea Dogs. Located on the edge of downtown Portland, Maine, parking was at a premium near the stadium. Fortunately, we were able to park just down the street from the park in a commercial lot; during the warm months, available parking is often more than a mile away. Access to the field from these lots is provided via shuttle bus.
My first game at Hadlock Field was back in 1998, when the Sea Dogs were the Double A affiliate of the Florida Marlins. A lot had changed over the years, as the Sea Dogs became the Double A affiliate of the Boston Red Sox. Shortly after the change, the stadium underwent a fairly substantial remodeling, adding changes that reminded fans of Fenway Park.
Nestled between the hills of downtown Portland and Interstate 295 to its west, the view of Portland is one of the best attractions of the park. Since my last visit to the field, there were a number of additions, including a huge boot from LL Bean on the right field wall. While the additions may have enhanced the popularity of the park, I found that the changes may have detracted from the charm of the place.
Hadlock Field is a modular stadium, with aluminum grandstands along the left field line. During the summer months, a Sea Dogs ticket can be a hot commodity, and seats for this game were at a premium. Because of the demand for tickets, our seats were located more than halfway down the left field line, offering a less than ideal view of home plate.
The design of Hadlock Field brings the left field foul line very close to the seats, allowing for a more intimate feel for the fans. However, bringing the fans that close to the line had an unintended side effect. Line drives off the bats of left hand hitters reach the seats at high velocity, making some of the seats flat out DANGEROUS. We saw two fans hit by these line drives injured during this game, both seriously enough to require medical attention.
Being a veteran of the ballpark, I knew enough to stay alert for line drives. Still, I was surprised upon my return that this portion of the seating area was not protected by a net. Hopefully, this has been addressed, as fans not paying close attention are putting themselves at a risk they may not truly appreciate.
Concessions were located in the concourse below the seating area. The concessions were mostly standard fare, but included fish sandwiches, as well as a Maine favorite, fried dough covered with powered sugar. We briefly toured the ballpark before settling into our seats shortly before game time.
The Sea Dogs hosted the Trenton Thunder, the Double A affiliate of the New York Yankees. The Sea Dogs opened the scoring in the bottom of the first, scoring four runs on four hits and a walk off Thunder starter Brady Lail. Meanwhile, Sea Dogs starter William Cuevas kept the Thunder scoreless through five innings.
The four runs the Sea Dogs scored in the first inning capped for the scoring for the home team. Meanwhile, the Thunder clawed their way back into game, scoring a run in the sixth and two more in the seventh. The Thunder threatened in the ninth, as RF Danny Oh delivered a run scoring double, making the score 4-3. However, the game ended as Oh was thrown out trying to steal third base.
Though there were many changes to Hadlock Field since my last visit, it still ranks as one of my favorite minor league ballparks, the problem with foul balls in left field not withstanding. The great feel of the park, augmented by the vistas of downtown Portland, make this field worth the visit, if you can score tickets during the summer months.
The last day of the three-stop New England minor league tour started in Portland, Maine, following a game at Hadlock Field the previous night. Following breakfast in nearby Freeport, we headed for New Britain, Connecticut for an evening ball game at New Britain Stadium, home of the Rock Cats.
The weather had been spectacular across southern Maine the previous day, but as we drove south, we drew closer to a heat wave that was underway from southern New England into the Mid Atlantic states. By the time we reached New Britain in the mid afternoon, we traded temperature in the 70s in Portland for the lower 90s in Connecticut. In addition, the humidity levels were markedly higher, setting the stage for active weather later in afternoon.
Having arrived in New Britain well before game time, we decided to explore the city. However, the hot and humid conditions were hardly conducive to walking, and after a quick tour of Walnut Hill Park, we took shelter in the New Britain Museum of American Art. Established in 1903, it was the first museum in the US dedicated to American art. Much of the art displayed during our visit was impressionist, as well as post-contemporary.
After about an hour in the museum, we headed toward the ballpark. While in the museum, hazy sunshine had given way to clouds, which were yielding scattered showers and thunderstorms. Conditions improved as we reached the park, with more hazy sunshine as we arrived. There was onsite parking for $5 (for better parking) and $3 (for the rest of the lot), and we got to the stadium early enough so that parking was ample.
Though it opened in 1996, the brick facade of New Britain Stadium gave the park an older, almost throwback feel. Once inside, it was clear that the ballpark was modular. Unlike most modular ballparks, there were no aluminum grandstands; instead, there were nearly 6,000 pine green seats. A concrete concourse spanned from left field to right field, with covered picnic areas near each foul line.
Storm clouds started gathering over the park, and suddenly a thunderstorm enveloped over the stadium. Thunder, lightning and pouring rain accompanied the storm, sending fans under the stands and toward the concession areas. While we waited for the rain to slacken, we visited the team store. As might be expected, the store was busy with bored fans killing time while the storm raged. The store possessed standard fare, and I indulged in a hat, a yearbook and a Rock Cats tote.
Just as the first storm ended, another followed on its heel. At that point, I became increasingly pessimistic that we would get the game in. Fortunately, the second storm dissipated almost as quickly as it formed, leaving just some drizzle as the darkness approached. Finally, the tarp was removed, and the game started about 830 pm, almost 90 minutes after the scheduled first pitch.
For tonight’s game, the Rock Cats (the Double A affiliate of the Colorado Rockies) hosted the Binghamton Mets. In the lineup for the Mets was LF Michael Conforto. The left handed hitting Conforto had been swinging a hot bat for much of the season, though he had cooled off some heading into this series. Despite the dry spell, Conforto would make his MLB debut three days later.
Also in the lineup was CF Brandon Nimmo, a former number one draft pick, who was working his was through the Mets’ system. Finally, LJ Mazzilli started at 2B. Mazzilli, the son of former Met Lee Mazzilli, had been in the Mets system for a couple of years, trying to break through to AAA.
Our seats for the game were adjacent to the Mets’ dugout, affording us a unique view of the Mets on the bench. Some of the hijinks in the dugout was nearly as entertaining as the action on the field. We were also treated to a close up look at players we would see in the big leagues in years to come.
Apparently, the weather delay chased away all but the heartiest of baseball fans. The sparse crowd that remained made the 6,000 seat stadium seem almost empty as the first pitch was thrown. Once the rain ended, the remainder of the night was dry, but clouds remained for the balance of the game.
The B-Mets offense got going early, scoring three runs in the top of the first, featuring a run-scoring triple by Brandon Nimmo. Mets starter Gabriel Ynoa made those runs stand up, yielding a single run in his seven innings of work. Ynoa, who would eventually reach the MLB with the Mets, had possibly his best outing of the season.
Ynoa, along with two relievers, held the Rock Cats to five hits while striking out 11. The quick-paced game clocked in at two hours and 30 minutes. Toward the end of the game, the sparse crowd thinned out even more. Among the remaining fans was LJ Mazzilli’s father, Lee Mazzilli.
It seemed that only a few in the remaining crowd recognized him, but his presence was brought to our attention by murmuring fans near his seat. Mazzilli seemed gracious, but his facial expression indicated that perhaps he just wanted to watch the game. After the final out, we saw him in the concourse, but left him alone.
At the conclusion of the game, we exited quickly, with a three hour drive ahead of us. New Britain Stadium was the epitome of a modular stadium, complete with a unassuming but functional video board. The 2015 season was the last for the Rock Cats, as the would become the Hartford Yard Goats in 2016, scheduled to move into the brand new Dunkin’ Donuts Park.
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. 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 Goats 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 time 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 sense of 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.