On the Road: Norwich the Way to Go in Connecticut

To see all posts from my August 29, 2015 visit to the Connecticut Tigers (this is Part One) click HERE. To see all of the posts from my August/September 2015 trip through New England, click HERE. To see ALL of my “On the Road” posts (going back to 2010), click HERE.

2015 “On the Road” landing page HERE!

Okay, we’re in the homestretch now! Today’s post marks the first installment of substance in my “New England 2015” blog series, covering my final ballpark trip of the year.  The journey began on August 29 in Connecticut and ended on September 4 in Portland, at which point my season of ballpark travel was finally, mercifully, complete.

We’ll  begin at the beginning: Norwich, home of the New York-Penn League’s Connecticut Tigers (Class A Short Season affiliate of the Detroit Tigers). This visit completed the New York-Penn League for me, as I have now visited all 14 active teams in the circuit (as well as the now-defunct Jamestown Jammers).

The Tigers, perhaps aware of the historical significance of my visit, laid down the social media welcome mat for me.

Dodd Stadium is located in a Norwich business park, a rather unusual location for a professional stadium. It’s also an unusual location for a family-run diner with an attached batting cage. That diner is Stott’s At-Bat; I stopped by while en route to the ballpark.

006Stott’s At-Bat, as it looked immediately after I parked my rental car (a Dodge Charger) in front of it.

005I stopped by Stott’s because, prior to my visit, I had been informed by the Tigers front office that proprietor Jean Stott is “like a second mother” to the team.

003That story checked out and, thus, I wrote a feature story of my own about Jean, her business, and her relationship to the Tigers. Check it out HERE.

Stott’s At-Bat is located just down the road from Senator Thomas J. Dodd Memorial Stadium, henceforth referred to as Dodd Stadium, which opened in 1995 as the home of the Double-A Norwich Navigators. The team changed its name to the “Connecticut Defenders” prior to the 2006 season, and after the 2009 campaign that franchise relocated to Richmond, Virginia and became the Flying Squirrels. The Connecticut Tigers took up occupancy in Dodd in 2010, after relocating from Oneonta, New York.

You got all that? There will be a test.

008In the above photo, please note that the Detroit Tigers logo on the right-hand side has been inverted into a “C” to represent Connecticut. The statue, meanwhile, is of original Norwich Navigators mascot Tater the Gator. His toes are also inverted.

041My Dodd Stadium tour guide was assistant general manager Dave Schermerhorn, which I believe he pronounced “Shermer-horn”. (Here in New York City, Schermerhorn Street is pronounced “Skimmer-horn”.) Dave is an atypical Minor League front office executive, in that he grew up in Norwich and was a diehard Navigators fan from the jump. He attended the first-ever game at Dodd Stadium:

071
Here, Dave poses with a picture of himself as a kid posing with a quartet of mid-’90s Navigators. I believe that one of the players in the picture is Tyrone Horne, the only man in professional baseball history to hit for the home run cycle.

072Dodd Stadium from the inside.

022A pleasant walk along the concourse soon ensued. Here, we have the “Retro Beer Bar,” which specializes in cans of cheap domestics. I found this to be an appealing counterpoint to the craft beer-mania that has swept through the Minors over the past several seasons. The menu consists of Pabst, Schlitz, Schaefer’s and Ballantine Ale. Next season, they should up the old man quotient and offer complimentary pickled eggs. (And who cares what the Board of Health has to say about it.)

034Out in left field is a ballpark offshoot of Norwich’s beloved “Philly’s” cheesesteak joint. It looks like some players and/or coaches were in the mood for a pregame meal. Or perhaps the guy on the right was attempting to dissuade his counterpart on the left.
012To the right of Philly’s is a BBQ Pavilion with a hard-to-pronounce but regionally appropriate name.

013Several cable spool tables dot the concourse, which the team obtained free of charge from Norwich Public Utility. This is an idea that originated with the Vermont Lake Monsters.

“We just sand ’em, lacquer ’em and put ’em up,” said Dave.

014Upstairs we visited the Yard Bar and Grill, comprising an area that used to consist of seven separate suites.

015There is an excellent array of artwork throughout the suites, much of it done by Dennis Lavorato. This, depicting players from the first Navigators team, is a work in progress as Lavorato changes the players so that they now represent the Connecticut Tigers.

017This painting is of Jake Robbins, who went on to pitch 1.2 innings over two appearances with the 2004 Cleveland Indians. In one of those appearances, he surrendered a home run to Jacque Jones.

026Suites are better from the outside, especially on a beautiful Saturday evening in late August.

023Back on the concourse, we strolled past the Burger Barn in right field.

030The evening’s special was named for me!

Oh, no, wait. This sounds more like a “Roethlis-burger.”

028Take Two:

031I’ll have more on the Ben’s Biz Burger, and the Burger Barn, and Philly’s, in a future post in this series.

For now, our concourse tour continues back down the first base line. This is the “Hole in the Wall Bar,” built prior to the 2011 season. Dave explained that the bar was built by a former groundskeeper as a form of therapy, as he was “pulling his hair out” after witnessing the damage done to the field during an offseason Relay for Life-style charitable race.

This bar’s name is literal, as the kegs are tapped through holes in the wall.

032At this juncture, the gates had opened.

033Some of the early arrivals were perusing the offerings in the team store. Note the netting. It’s a nice touch.

035I had no time to shop, however, as C.T. the Tiger was waiting for me down in the dugout.

036C’mon, everybody. Get “Happy”.

It’s always good to close on a note of disappointment. So thus concludes Part One of this CT Tigers saga.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

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