As the home of UConn baseball for over 50 years, J.O. Christian Field has seen some phenomenal players and unforgettable moments. But none of the Huskies will be complaining this weekend as they make the short trip to Hartford to play in the friendly confines of Dunkin’ Donuts Park.
“I say it all the time, Dunkin’s my favorite place to play,” Conor Moriarty said after UConn’s victory over UMass Lowell on Wednesday. “We travel so much, we see all these different ballparks, and I think Dunkin, what they have going down in Hartford, is awesome.”
UConn (18-10, 4-2 The American) has played at least one game every season since the picturesque park opened in 2017. The team will play a pair of series there this year, beginning with rival Cincinnati this weekend, and fellow conference foe Wichita State in early May.
“The atmosphere is great, we get a lot of fans, we love playing there,” Moriarty said. “We’re all jacked up for it so I’m really looking forward to it.”
The home of the Hartford Yard Goats and considered one of the nicest ballparks in minor league baseball, the Dunk hasn’t been particularly kind to UConn in their brief history. The Huskies are 3-3 all-time in the stadium, losing three of last year’s five appearances there.
But the park is certainly a night-and-day improvement from J.O. Christian Field, and for a UConn team that has played 24 of its 28 games away from home, the brief trek to Hartford provides some familiarity.
“In some ways, it’s more familiar that we have to hop on a bus, we’re used to taking transportation together to our site,” head coach Jim Penders said on Wednesday. “The guys are always geeked up to play there, it’s a big-time environment.”
UConn, ranked No. 22 in the country according to Baseball America and D1Baseball, enters having won six of its last eight games. Earlier this week, the Huskies bounced back from a frustrating loss to Fairfield on Tuesday with an emphatic 9-4 victory over UMass Lowell the next day. UConn now trails only ECU in the conference standings.
After a rocky start to the season, Cincinnati (11-16, 3-3 The American) has righted the ship as of late, winning five of their last seven. However, the Bearcats remain just 4-11 on the road this season, something the Huskies will look to capitalize on.
For the Bearcats, shortstop Joey Bellini is the best bat in the order, hitting .312/.376/.364 this season. Rightfielder AJ Bumpass comes in red-hot, riding a 16-game hitting streak. He also leads the team with three homers and 15 RBIs.
On the mound, Nathan Kroger has been near-unhittable in his five starts, amassing a 1.86 ERA, though he has just one victory to show for it. Behind him, all other starters have ERAs north of 4.30, so the Huskies will hope to poach on the backend of the rotation.
After a last-minute change due to weather, the three-game series begins on Friday at 1 p.m. at J.O. Christian Field. Saturday and Sunday’s afternoon games will be played in Hartford.
While UConn’s new facilities arriving next season may not quite compare to the charm of Dunkin’ Donuts Park, it’s a glimpse into the future of playing at a legitimate ballpark. The team is anxious to show out in Hartford.
“It’s gonna feel a lot like what it’s gonna feel like across the street when we get that thing done next year,” Penders said, referencing UConn’s incoming new facilities. “It’s a big-time atmosphere and hopefully the guys realize, like in ‘Hoosiers’ when Norman Dale measures the basket, it’s the same 90 feet between the bases and 60 feet, six inches from home to the rubber. It’s the same game, but there will always be a little bit extra juice when we get there.”