On the Road: One Last Time in New Britain

To see all posts from my August 30, 2015 visit to the New Britain Rock Cats (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!

When I put together my end-of-season New England ballpark itinerary, there was one imperative: On August 30, I needed to see the Rock Cats play at New Britain Stadium. This would be the last home game in franchise history, as in 2016 the Rock Cats are relocating to nearby Hartford and beginning a new era as the Yard Goats.

The Old: New Britain Rock Cats (1983-2015)

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The New: Hartford Yard Goats (2016-?)

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Goat Springs Eternal

August 30, then, was a day to say goodbye. Seeking to maximize their time at the old ballyard, the faithful-est of the Rock Cats faithful lined up outside before the gates opened.

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But all things considered, New Britain Stadium isn’t even that old of a ballyard. From 1983 through 1996, the team played in Beehive Field (where they were known first as the Red Sox and then as the “Hardware City Rock Cats,” a nod to the Stanley Works corporation having its headquarters in New Britain). Beehive Field, reminiscent of an entirely different epoch, resides next door to New Britain Stadium.

The plaque outside Beehive Stadium reads “Industry Fills the Hives and Enjoys the Honey,” which is the motto of the city of New Britain. This is a better motto than “Worker and Drones, forever subservient to Queen Industry.”

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002Upon entering New Britain Stadium, I hightailed it to the press box and spoke with longtime scoreboard operator Larry Michaels. He was one of several ballpark veterans I interviewed throughout the afternoon, as part of my MiLB.com story on saying goodbye to New Britain.

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Michaels was among many press box denizens fulfilling his duties, one last time.

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Back downstairs, the gates had opened. The Fun Zone inflatables had been inflated. One last time.

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On the concourse, the Legends Diner was open for business. One last time.

009They sell pretzels at the Legends Diner, by the way. Pretzelhead Jones was steering fans in the direction of the pretzels. One last time.

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Further down the concourse, the team store was a-buzzing with activity. One last time. (Yes, I couldn’t resist writing “one last time” one last time.)

It truly was an “Everything Must Go” kind of scene. These stadium signs were available for about $6 a piece, a small price to pay for one’s very own “VIP Reception” sign. I totally would have hung that on my bedroom door during my teenage years.

050There was a Hartford merchandise kiosk set up on the concourse as well. Everything must goat!

036As you can see, New Britain Stadium does not have an open concourse. Seeking the sunlight, I traversed up the stairs and onto the aisle.

011Rocky the Rock Cat was mingling with the fans.

013While traversing the concourse, I ran into devoted ballpark traveler Doug Kern. He’s been to 189 ballparks in his life, but New Britain Stadium was his “home” ballpark. August 30th marked the 229th Rock Cats game he would attend; the team had posted a 115-113 record in the 228 had that preceded it.

Here’s a photo of Doug’s scorecard from the first Rock Cats game he ever attended: April 15, 1999  against the Trenton Thunder (then a Boston affiliate). Tomo Ohka got the win for the Thunder; Shea Hillebrand was ejected. Backstreet Boys (probably) played on the PA.
014Shortly after speaking with Doug, I noticed that Rock Cats players and staff were tossing all manner of memorabilia into the crowd. Everything must throw!

015Fixing a “VIP Reception” sign around my neck as a makeshift credential. I proceeded onto the field for a closer look.

Thanks for the autographs, guy in khakis!

020Nobody asked me for an autograph, though my presence on the field apparently made me quite conspicuous.

Of far more interest to the average baseball fan was one Rollie Fingers, who was to take part in a celebrity softball game that had been scheduled (by the city of New Britain, not the Rock Cats)  to take place after the game. Here Rollie poses with Rock Cats (and now Yard Goats) general manager Tim Restall and his kids. It’s fitting that the GM of the Yard Goats would have kids.

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A VIP of a different sort was this guy, number 35.

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That’s Colorado Rockies first baseman Justin Morneau, who was in the midst of a rehab assignment with the Rock Cats. It was a case of great timing, as the Rock Cats were a Twins affiliate from 1995 through 2014 and Morneau originally came up through the Twins system. He played for the Rock Cats from 2001-03, so it was something special that he was able to return for the last-ever homestand at New Britain Stadium. In fact, two nights before, Morneau made his 2015 Rock Cats debut in front of the largest crowd in franchise history. This crowd had to wait through an unusual pre-game delay; it was “First Responders Night,” and a fire truck parked in the outfield as part of the pregame ceremonies ended up doing significant damage to the turf.

Minor League Baseball, always the best:

But there would be no such delays on this Sunday afternoon. Everything was proceeding according to plan, including one of the longest ceremonial “first” pitch lines that I had ever been a part of.

028I jumped into the line and tossed out my customary perfect strike.

Photo: Kevin Pataky

Photo: Kevin Pataky

The final first pitch was thrown by Rocky himself.

029After that, it was time for the singing of our National Anthem. One last time.

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And with that, Part One of this New Britain blog series draws to a close. Stay tuned Monday for Part Two, in which I write about the Rock Cats one last time.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

instagram.com/thebensbiz

1 Comment

I’ve only seen one game in New Britain, and I won’t lie and say I had a real great experience. That being said, in situations like this I do always feel bad for those die-hard fans that support teams that end of leaving. As someone who has to travel a good distance for baseball at any professional level, I can’t imagine having a local team and not supporting it. All the best to the Yard Goats, though.
-Mike

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