Monday, June 19, 2017

Altoona Curve 2 at Hartford Yard Goats 0 (7, Eastern League) - June 17, 2017


At the end of the August 2015, I took a short trip to New Britain, Connecticut, to see the final minor league game played at New Britain Stadium. The Rock Cats, AA affiliate of Colorado, would be moving to nearby Hartford, where they would open 2016 in Dunkin' Donuts Park as the Yard Goats. Or so it was thought. Midway through the ballpark's construction, it became apparent that the project was rife with problems. Fingers were pointed while construction ground to a halt. Delays were announced, so much so that opening day was missed and the team started the season on the road. Eventually construction was completely stopped, the parties involved (primarily the city and the contractor) sued each other, and the Yard Goats spent the entire 2016 season without a yard. It was a legal mess that is still being sorted out in court.



Thankfully the physical mess was cleaned up by another builder this past winter, and the new stadium was finished in time for the season opener. Despite being just a couple of hours away from me, however, it was quite difficult to find a weekend when I was free and the Yard Goats were home. I finally decided to visit on June 17 when the Yard Goats had a weekend set against Altoona. I even brought my wife as Hartford also has the oldest public art museum in the nation, which is definitely worth a look for art aficionados. The shot below is from a work by Sol LeWitt, a Hartford native.



Anyway, enough about art. We arrived in Hartford on Friday evening with rain tapering off. That was good news for me as that night's game had been suspended in the fourth inning, meaning I would get the rest of that game before a 7-inning tilt on Saturday. Free baseball!



The ballpark is located on the edge of downtown Hartford, just north of 1-84 which runs underneath the cross streets at this point. The Hilton is just a block away, allowing for a nice photo from 17 stories up.



The main entrance is at the corner of Trumbull and Main (middle right in the above photo), where the ticket office is also located. The Yard Goats are immensely popular, so much so that they have sold out nearly half their games, with the vast majority of those being season tickets. What this means is that seats are not guaranteed if you walk up a few minutes before game time. Or even a few hours.



When I arrived at the box office Saturday morning, about six hours before gates were to open; I was told there was precisely one seat left. It was in section 203 atop the right field corner, so I decided to buy an SRO ticket for $10 instead, expecting some drink rails along the concourse. Turns out that there are drink rails, but there are high-top swivel seats along each rail, so that there is no standing space here, as you can see below.



In fact, there is really no place to stand comfortably to watch the game between the bases. Seating capacity here is 6,056 and attendance was 6,847, so nearly 800 other fans also bought standing room, which made things even more crowded. Fortunately, I found an unoccupied swivel chair behind home plate and was able to remain there for the second game.



As you would expect from a brand new park, there are a number of features. Most obvious are the varied seating locations, with sections above the right field fence stretching all the way to a bar that is almost directly above center.



There is also a lower section behind right field that is covered by netting, which I assumed was to stop fans from throwing things on opposing players. Turns out that it is because they built right field too close to home plate and the netting is actually in play. Thanks to fellow stadium traveller Paul for that tidbit.



The seat I avoided is part of a smaller section that is near the club entrance, with the view below.



There are also seats in left field as well. They've done a good job spreading things out here given the relatively small footprint.



Down the left field line is another bar area, and this has a drink rail along the edge of the wall with a view directly toward home plate.



This is also where you get the best view of the Hartford skyline.



Note that if you are with a group, buy your tickets in advance as far as possible. You will save money as tickets are $2 cheaper than on game day, and you will guarantee seats together rather than being separated should you show up at the box office when there are just singles remaining.



Inside the main entrance is the starting lineup in picture form, as well as league standings, league leaders, and even the MLB standings, which were being updated as I made my way in (below). That's a lot of work for something that can easily be checked on your phone.



Just above this is a picture of the Hartford Senators, who featured Lou Gehrig before he gained fame with the Yankees. He's sitting fourth from the left in the photo below.



Obviously there is no "Road to the Show" exhibit here yet as the team is just over a year old. There are a few panels dedicated to the history of sports in Hartford, including a mention of the Whalers, whose departure 20 years ago still riles local fans.



The concourse is wide but with such a large crowd, it does get busy. The photo below was taken just after gates opened, before most fans had turned up.



Food lines can be long so best to stock up before the game lest you miss anything. I did not bother trying any of the food, though the 32 ounce craft beer for $12 was very tempting and also very popular. There is naturally a Dunkin' Donuts stand here as well.



You can walk around the entire concourse and behind the bullpens, where there is a group party area.



The view of the main structure from center field is below.



You can also go up to the top level, where the bar is. The picture below was taken during the first game, which started an hour before the originally scheduled time, so there weren't as many fans in the stadium. By the time the second game got started, it was nearly full.



If you think the Yard Goats might change their name in the future, the high-top swivel chairs should remove that notion from your head as they are all adorned with the logo.



There are several mascots around, with Chompers being the star. He was constantly surrounded by adoring fans, so I never did get a picture. The best I could do is a promotion featuring Dial, Luctite, and RightGuard. I have no idea what this promotion was for, but at least it smelled nice.



One of the prime advertisements throughout the evening encouraged fans to vote Dunkin' Donuts Park as the best AA park for Ballpark Digest. The campaign worked as the stadium was voted just that, beating Altoona's Peoples Natural Gas Field. Personally, I don't agree (Pensacola, Tulsa, and Birmingham come to mind as worthy challengers) but as this is a fan vote and the stadium was a year late, I'm willing to accept the result.



Overall, there is only one problem here, and that is the lack of comfortable standing room between the bases. Otherwise, this place does very well and should be a top ballpark destination for years to come. If you do decided to visit this year, make sure to get your tickets in advance so you have a place to sit to watch the Yard Goats play.

The Game

Altoona (Pittsburgh's affiliate) was up 2-0 in the opener when play resumed, but Hartford came back to win 4-2. After a 45-minute wait while the grounds crew prepared, the second match started. Yency Almonte (Rockies #12 prospect) started for Hartford against Tanner Anderson (20th round, 2015). Jordan Luplow (3rd, 2014, Pirates #30 prospect) hit a monster homer into the right field seats leading off the second to give Altoona an early lead. Almonte lasted five innings with only that blemish, but his replacement Johendi Jiminian allowed another run in the top of the 6th. Meanwhile, Anderson faced the minimum through 6, yielding just two singles, both of which were erased on double plays. He was in line for the shutout but was pinch-hit for in the 7th having thrown just 55 pitches. Closer Montana DuRapau (32nd, 2014) came in and gave up a walk but struck out the other three batters for his 10th save as Altoona salvaged the Saturday with a 2-0 win. The game took just 1:48, not uncommon for a 7-inning tilt where pitchers can be more aggressive. Anderson gets my coveted Player to Watch award for his stellar performance.

Notes



Hartford is one of the oldest cities in the nation, and the Ancient Burying Ground is testament to this fact. Well worth a look just to imagine the lives led by these settlers over 300 years ago.



Another interesting attraction is the Mark Twain House, located about a mile and a half west of the city and easily accessible on foot or by bus. Twain wrote his most famous stories here and the house has been restored with many original pieces of furniture. The tour is quite expensive at $20 and really doesn't provide any incredible insights into his time here, but if you are a fan, you can stand in the room where Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn came to life.

Next Up

I've now seen games in all active ballparks between High A and AAA (120 total). I still have 20 minor leagues parks left to reach the magic 160: 6 in the Low-A Midwest League, 6 in the Short-Season Northwest League and 8 in the Rookie Pioneer League. Those last two circuits are next on my list and I'll be heading out west this weekend to get started. Check back for that trip schedule shortly.

Best,

Sean

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