Column: 'Hartford Has It'

In this photo provided by the author, the New Britain Rock Cats play in a game at New Britain Stadium on May 29, 2015. The team is relocating to Hartford, where it will be re-branded as the Hartford Yard Goats. (Courtesy/Daniel Madigan)

Last Thursday marked the end of an era for Connecticut baseball when Jordan Patterson hit a two-run walk-off home run in the bottom of the 15th inning to give the New Britain Rock Cats a win in their final game ever at New Britain Stadium. 

After 22 years, minor league baseball will be leaving New Britain. The Rock Cats will begin next season as the Hartford Yard Goats, playing their home games at a brand new stadium, which is in the process of being built in the state’s capital. 

As great as the new stadium and team may be, the departure of the Rock Cats from New Britain has been a huge blow to the town of New Britain. People (myself included) love the family-friendly atmosphere, location and the quality of play. 

Going to Rock Cats games was one of my favorite things to do as a kid. While they were associated with the Minnesota Twins, I got to see so many current MLB players like Denard Span, Joe Mauer and Francisco Liriano. Even though I was young, I thought it was the coolest thing to see guys I saw right near my hometown making an impact in the bigs. Not to mention, I always had a good time being there with my friends and family and making the most of some great summer nights.

This season, the Rock Cats signed a two-year player development contract with the Colorado Rockies. This switch led me to writing for Purple Row, SB Nation’s Colorado Rockies blog. Though I did not get to as many games as I wanted to this season, I had a great time covering some games, watching some exciting young prospects in David Dahl and Trevor Story, and getting to know the people of Purple Row. 

None of that would have been possible if it was not for the Rock Cats, and I will truly miss catching my fair share of games at their New Britain Stadium.

The author stands in front of the New Britain Rock Cats front office building during the team's re-branding process. The signs indicate new team names the franchise was considering. (Courtesy/Daniel Madigan)

While next season will be different, a lot of things will stay the same. The Yard Goats will still be the Rockies’ affiliate, and have some talented prospects. I will still be helping out at Purple Row, and going to games with my friends and family. I will get a soft pretzel at every game I go to (it’s my weakness). It will still be good baseball, even if it is played in Hartford. 

I understand that many people, especially those from New Britain, are upset the Rock Cats are gone, and rightfully so. However, not all hope is lost. Baseball is staying in New Britain, with mayor Erin Stewart managing to lure an independent Atlantic League team to New Britain Stadium next year. 

Those people that love New Britain baseball will love the Atlantic League team, and I will surely be checking out a few of those games myself. But next season is the year of the Yard Goat.

This organization has already dealt with its share of adversity and has handled it with class. After being mocked in every possible form of media for their name, the Yard Goats have survived and thrived, selling merchandise by the dozens thanks to a slick and creative new logo and have already become one of the most talked about minor league teams despite not even playing a game yet. Not to mention, they boast one of the best social media accounts (@GoYardGoats) of any sports team in New England.

This is an organization that was fully aware of the risks of moving to Hartford. They tackled the media onslaught head on and while I still do not think it was the right decision, the move grows on me each and every day. The Yard Goats have gone all in on Hartford, and their stadium plan –and plans for the area around it – has me buying in as well.

Fans will not be hard to find in Hartford, despite a lot of Rock Cats fans pledging that they will never step foot inside Dunkin’ Donuts Park when it opens next spring. This team has the potential to reach a whole new group of fans and possibly serve as a stepping stone to revitalizing at least a small piece of the state’s capital city. If Connecticut residents ever dream of the possibility of having a professional sports team, it starts with feverishly supporting this Yard Goats team.

A new logo, new stadium and new fans in a new city. Sounds risky. But no athletic organization has been more willing to take risks in this state more than the Yard Goats. And just like the name and logo have already started to pay off, the location will sooner rather than later. At the end of the day, it is quality baseball, no matter where it is.

Yard Goats baseball. Hartford has it.