Results tagged ‘ New Britain Rock Cats ’

On the Road: It’s So Hard to Say Goodbye in New Britain

To see all posts from my August 30, 2015 visit to the New Britain Rock Cats (this is Part Two) 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!

Part One of this post covered all that went on as fans awaited the final game in New Britain Rock Cats history. This post, sensibly referred to as Part Two, will what went on during the game itself. Let’s start with the obvious:

It was a beautiful day for baseball.


032This was not to be a typical “Ben’s Biz” day at the ballpark. I didn’t participate in any between-inning contests or throw t-shirts into the crowd or anything like that. I didn’t even have a designated eater; the guy who had signed up cancelled, and I decided not to find a replacement. I was simply on hand to take in the final game atmosphere, and to talk to people regarding their thoughts on the imminent demise of the Rock Cats. (And the imminent rise of the Hartford Yard Goats.)

One of the most important people I talked to was 88-year-old Al Nelson. Pretty much everyone in the ballpark seemed to know him.

033An excerpt from my story on the Rock Cats, which prominently featured Nelson:

Al Nelson, an 88-year-old World War II veteran and retired firefighter, has been there through it all. He lives two miles from the ballpark and Sunday as always, rode his bike to the afternoon contest. (He won’t ride at night, he explained, because “you can’t find the potholes.”) Nelson, who has his name engraved on his first-row bleacher seat, is the unofficial mayor of the ballpark.

Hartford is only 12 miles from New Britain, but Nelson and fans like him have no interest in transferring their loyalties to the Hartford Yard Goats.

“I’m not going over there,” he said. “For one thing, they don’t have a parking lot. You’re gonna park in a garage or something? It’s not gonna be good. I’m not walking around Hartford at 10:00 at night. I’m not gonna feel safe. I’m not going to have any wheels when I get back. Where the hell’s my tires?”

In addition to talking to people, I wandered around a lot. It is always hard for me to sit still when visiting ballparks, and my afternoon in New Britain was no exception.


The pickins in the team store were, by this point, slimmer than a mass produced beef-stick.

037An interview conducted on this outdoor party porch allowed me to take in a second-level vantage point. No women allowed, apparently.

039And how about a round of applause for these two kids, hanging out in the parking lot while waiting for a foul ball to fly their way.

041The Rock Cats had a full roster of mascots wandering the ballpark. I’m not sure how many of them will be making the trip to Hartford.

Here, we have a Walrus who goes by the name of “Blooper.” I never did see Eggman, his purported sidekick.045This is Rookie, nephew of primary mascot Rocky.


Rookie’s favorite player is Rocky, whose favorite movie is Rocky. Rookie’s favorite movie is The Rookie, while his favorite food is Rocky Road ice cream. You’d think that Rocky Road ice cream would be Rocky’s favorite food, but Rocky simply prefers “ballpark hot dogs.” Way to deviate from the theme, Rocky. You’re like the Rocky V of mascots in that regard.

Reading the above paragraph was probably a deflating experience, akin to seeing Fun Zone attractions closed down for the final time.


Yes, the Rock Cats era at New Britain Stadium was rapidly coming to an end. Or at least it appeared so at the time. Midway through the seventh inning, the Portland Sea Dogs held a 4-3 lead over the home team.

“Take Me Out to the Ballgame”, one last time.

The Rock Cats tied the game at 4-4 in the bottom of the 8th. Jan Vazquez walked, advanced to second on a sacrifice bunt and scored on Tyler Massey’s two-out single. Massey then stole second base and tried to score the go-ahead run on Noel Cuevas’ single to right field. But…no dice. Sea Dogs right fielder Aneury Tavarez gunned him down at the plate.

Tie score in the ninth inning? Hey, no problem. It’s never too late to get your picture taken with the mascot.

048The Sea Dogs went quietly in the top of the ninth, and in the bottom of the frame the Rock Cats again put themselves on the brink of victory. With two outs and a runner on second, Jordan Patterson came to the plate.

And…no dice.

Okay, so the Rock Cats era at New Britain Stadium wasn’t quite ready to end. Free baseball! The Sea Dogs again went quietly in the 10th; in my notebook I wondered if the at-bat music played for Tim Roberson (“Mrs. Robinson”) that inning would be “the last ‘mocking the visitor’ walk-up song in team history.” I immediately forgot to continue to keep track of this quirky detail, but it probably wasn’t. There was still more baseball to be played.

The bottom of the 10th unfolded very similarly to the bottom of the 8th. Vazquez walked, advanced to second on a sac bunt and then moved to third on a Juan Ciriaco single. Sensing the magnitude of the situation, one hardy fan attempting to strike up a “These Cats Rock!” chant. Only other person joined him, however. Anemic response begets anemic response, as an infield pop out was followed by a ground ball to shortstop.

No dice, so we went on to the 11th. In the top of the inning, Keury De La Cruz launched one over the wall in right center field to give the Sea Dogs a 5-4 advantage. Al Nelson, the unofficial mayor of the stadium, had seen enough. He left after the top of the 11th ended, perhaps not wanting to see the final game at New Britain Stadium end with a Rock Cats loss.

Fare thee well, Mr. Nelson. You’ve really got to respect an 88-year-old man who still rides his bike to the ballpark.

049But perhaps Mr. Nelson should have stuck it out. Pat Valaika doubled to lead off the bottom of the 11th, putting a runner in scoring position with no outs. But this was followed by a pair of infield pop-ups, little sound and less fury, signifying nothing. Patterson then came to the plate, the only thing standing in the way of a dispiriting final game defeat.

Dispiriting defeat was denied, however, as Patterson came through!

Vazquez struck out to end the inning, so on the 12th we went.

As you can see in the above video, what had been a pleasant late summer day was starting to turn ominous. Might the last home game in Rock Cats history include the last rain delay in Rock Cats history? As if the day hadn’t already gone on long enough. It is also worth noting that a celebrity softball game was scheduled to take place following the conclusion of the Rock Cats – Sea Dogs tilt. Participants included Rollie Fingers, Ferguson Jenkins, George Foster and Jim Leyritz; I was told that, while waiting for this game to end, this cadre of distinguished baseball men hung out in a cramped office within the stadium and traded war stories. What a surreal environment Minor League Baseball can be.

The 12th inning, meanwhile, was completely uneventful as both teams went down in order.

Now it was time for lucky 13. Kevin Pataky, veteran Minor League photographer, figured he may as well stay a while.

Portland, once again, went down 1-2-3 in the 13th. But the Rock Cats, as they were making a habit of doing, threatened in the bottom of the frame. Valaika doubled with one out, and after an intentional walk to Mike Tauchman Will Swanner hit a single to right field.

Valaika was waved around…

…and Valaika was thrown out.

As we careened to the 14th, I obtained a different vantage point.

051Nonetheless, the song remained the same. The Sea Dogs went down quietly in the top of the 14th, and the Rock Cats failed to score in the bottom of the frame. This despite the fact that they loaded the bases, and the guy on the mound was reserve infielder Oscar Tejeda. Yes, the last home game in Rock Cats history would now be decided with a position player pitching

I spent the bottom of the 14th inning in the press box, and the frustration in the room was palpable.

“It’s like he’s throwing batting practice out there! C’mon!” was a representative remark.

I spent the top of the 15th inning on the left field party deck. Any joy that the fans may have once had at getting to savor a few extra innings of Rock Cats baseball had now curdled into disgust.

“For the love of God, be done!” one woman screamed.

“After this game, I’m never coming back,” added a nearby gentleman.

The Sea Dogs didn’t muster anything more than a harmless single in the top of the 15th, giving the Rock Cats another crack at Tejeda — who, once again, is a position player — in the bottom of the frame. Tauchman singled to start things off, replaced by Swanner on first base bases after a botched sacrifice bunt attempt. But no matter. Patterson then came to the plate and finally, mercifully, ended the ballgame all with a two-run home run. Final score: Rock Cats 7, Sea Dogs 5.

Kevin Pataky got a great shot of the ensuing celebration.

walkoffThank You, Rock Cats fans, for 33 seasons of loyal support and, also, for sticking around for the entirety of this farcical baseball game.

052AC/DC, the original “Rock” cats, then played over the PA as the kids flooded onto the field to run the bases. From my notes:

“The emcee won’t stop yelling during run the bases. Dude, let the moment be!”

053And, yes, a celebrity softball game then broke out. Kudos to Mr. Fingers for wearing a full uniform.

054At this juncture of the day, sticking around for a celebrity softball game felt like a form of cruel and unusual punishment. I had only one thing left to do, and that one thing was to make the final Groundbreaking and Subversive Ballpark joke in New Britain Rock Cats history.

Nailed it.

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)


The New: Hartford Yard Goats (2016-?)


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.


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.”


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 story on saying goodbye to New Britain.


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


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


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.


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.


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


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.


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.

About Yesterday Afternoon: New Britain Rock Cats, August 30, 2015

This season, when I’m on the road, I’ll be writing an on-the-spot blog post about each Minor League ballpark that I visit. Then, upon my return home, I’ll provide the multifaceted blog coverage that you have come to know and, perhaps, love. Let’s get to it, lest it get to us!

2015 “On the Road” landing page — including complete itinerary — HERE! 

August 30, 2015:  New Britain Stadium, home of the New Britain Rock Cats (Double-A affiliate of the Colorado Rockies)

Opponent: Portland Sea Dogs, game time 1:35

New Britain Stadium, from the outside:

001New Britain Stadium, from within: 

IMG_0309Culinary Creation: This was the last game in New Britain Stadium history, as the team is moving to Hartford in 2016. This special occasion, coupled with the advent of my designated eater having to cancel, led to the decision to not focus on food this afternoon. So, this is the best I got.

IMG_0312Ballpark Character: New Britain staple Al Nelson, 88, who rode his bike to the game.

033At Random: At the team store, pretty much everything was for sale. Want some signage?


Your Groundbreaking and Subversive Ballpark Joke of the Day: 

8/31: Lowell Spinners

9/1: Pawtucket Red Sox

9/2: New Hampshire Fisher Cats

9/4: Portland Sea Dogs


New Jerseys and Connecticut

If you read this blog, then of course you also read all of the articles I write for It goes without saying. But, nonetheless, I feel compelled to share with you my latest (and therefore greatest) “Minoring in Business” feature, which provides an in-depth look at the theme jersey phenomenon that has swept the Minor League landscape.


The article begins thusly:

Not long ago, Minor League Baseball theme jerseys were almost exclusively based upon a small array of pre-existing options. Pink, patriotic and camo were the three most common offerings, with pop culture references virtually non-existent. But now?

“Now it’s just a free-for-all.”

That’s how Elaine Gastineau of OT Sports describes Minor League Baseball’s current theme jersey landscape. OT Sports, based in Burlington, North Carolina, is a leading theme jersey manufacturer, and Gastineau is their factory sales representative specializing in Minor League Baseball. Over the last decade she’s done her part to facilitate an industry-wide theme jersey phenomenon, with teams attempting to outdo one another in the ever-competitive category of “Who can be the most outlandish?”

If early returns are any indication, then 2015 will be the most outlandish year yet.

Read the rest HERE.

Of course, the big news story in Minor League Baseball this week was the announcement that Hartford’s baseball team will be known as the Yard Goats. The Yard Goats will make their debut in 2016, after relocating from nearby New Britain (where they are known as the Rock Cats).


I wrote a story about this, of course. A relevant excerpt, which truly illuminates my ability to quote from a press release:

So what is a Yard Goat, and why is it the name of a Minor League Baseball franchise? As the team explained on its HartfordPlaysBall2016 website, Yard Goats “honors Hartford’s rich railroad history.” It is a slang term for “an engine that switches a train to get it ready for another locomotive to take over.”

A press release issued by the Rock Cats on Wednesday afternoon provided further detail.

“A Minor League Baseball player is like that humble Yard Goat,” it reads. “Not a glamorous job but working day in and day out away from the big city lights to assure that the Major League affiliate is kept on track.”

Said story was accompanied by this image, which shows the winner of the “Name the Team” contest attempting to keep a couple of live goats in line.


Rock Cats/Yard Goats general manager Tim Restall seems to think the situation is under control. He’s on the right, probably checking to see what @bensbiz was writing about the team name on Twitter.

Thanks for playing along, Brandon.

My favorite Twitter reaction to the Yard Goats name came from New Britain mayor Erin Stewart.

There is no love lost between the city of New Britain and the Rock Cats/Yard Goats ownership, as negotiations to relocate the team were done in secret. When the news of the proposed move first broke, it was news to New Britain as well. Suffice to say, I do not think Mayor Stewart will be attending any Yard Goats games in 2016.

Finally, I hit a major professional milestone this week, via the issuance of my 20,000th tweet. Here’s how it went down:

Here’s to 20,000 more. I mean, why not?

Awesomeness, Kitty Growl and Otherwise

I’m flying to Appleton, WI (home of the Timber Rattlers) tomorrow morning, thus beginning another Minor League Baseball road trip. Therefore, this blog will be entirely given over to “On the Road” content for the next several weeks.

But before succumbing to this inevitability, I’d like to inform you of the “Kitty Growl Awesomeness” that is currently overtaking the New Britain Rock Cats.

Kitty-Growl-AwesomenessOn April 30, Rock Cats Director of Creative Services Mark Milligan wrote in with the following information:

During scoring plays we typically play our run scoring music of Zombie Nation and have had cat growls over top of it. Recently we’ve spiced it up with this video that accompanies our growls.

We’ve dubbed the character as ‘Tom Cat’ and the video ‘Kitty Growl Awesomeness.’

Let me know what you think about it.

My reply was, in essence, “I think it’s awesome.” This encouraged Milligan to get in touch with more info as well as links to two more Tom Cat appearances. He writes:

The first time we broke this out, the Rock Cats erupted for 10 runs and 16 total for that game. Fans are taking to it well — the sales of the hat Tomcat wears are up and we’ve been getting some fans joining him for the Kitty Growly Awesomeness in the stands.

Zombie Nation!

Junior PA announcers get in on the act:

Milligan, understanding that one should utilize the Rule of Threes whenever possible, got in touch one more time:

I wanted to pass along two more things from the legend that is Kitty Growly Awesomeness.

The first is a picture of Rock Cats IF James Beresford breaking out the Awesomeness to greet a recently scored Rock Cat:


The second is this: 

There’s little doubt in my mind that the legend of Kitty Growly Awesomeness will continue to grow. Just remember: you heard it here first!

I’ve got a little more room and a little more time, so how ’bout another bit of randomness? Last month the Binghamton Mets staged “Budget Cut Night,” in which all of the night’s entertainment was done on the cheap. In lieu of the nightly mascot race (featuring local delicacy Spiedie, Chef, and Marinade) the team ran this on the videoboard instead:

You still want more? Jeez, you guys are insatiable! How about this video, which aired as part of the West Michigan Whitecaps recent “Hipster Night” promo:

I am nothing if not a ready hipster (I live in North Brooklyn, where I play pinball and obsess over the intricacies of Bish Bosch), so I hope the Whitecaps are ready for me on June 27. See ya soon, Midwest League!

Turn the Page, Part 2

As you may recall, the last post on this blog was a bountiful bouillabaisse of ripped-straight-from-the-notebook Minor League news items. Well, that’s what this post is gonna be dedicated to as well.

But before we get started with that, please click THIS LINK to read this article detailing my Top 10 favorite Minor League stadiums. Feedback is appreciated and encouraged, and views both complementary and dissenting will be included in a future blog post.

And now, to the notebook!


I’ve never been a Jay Leno fan, but nonetheless there’s always been one thing I’ve loved about his show and that’s the weekly “Headlines” segment. And wouldn’t you know it? Last month, none other than the Lehigh Valley IronPigs made an appearance thanks to this newspaper ad:


Watch it HERE, the IronPigs reference is around the 2:30 mark.

I haven’t yet compiled my 2013 Minor League promotions spreadsheet (yes, compiling such a spreadsheet is an annual offseason task), but one giveaway item that has already caught my eye — and you know how painful that can be — comes courtesy of the Lake County Captains:

On Saturday, July 6, a Skipper Rock-N-Bobble doll featuring the Captains mascot paying tribute to Randy Newman, an inductee in this year’s class of Rock ‘N Roll Hall of Fame musicians, will be given to the first 1,500 fans compliments of Sysco. This year’s doll will also feature a sound clip from Randy Newman’s Burn On, which is synonymous with the Major League movie. 

Yes! A Randy Newman-themed giveaway. And one featuring a song from “Sail Away,” arguably his best-ever album (it’s certainly my favorite). Here’s hoping Randy Newman promos spread through the Minors like a fire on the Cuyahoga. How about “Salute to American Foreign Policy Night”?

It’s pretty much indisputable that the Lexington Legends possess the best team van in Minor League Baseball. Great slogan, horrible pick-up line:


photo posted by @Irrational_Fan on Twitter

Remember a few weeks back when I wrote about the Hickory Crawdads’ “Day in the Minors” fan package? This post prompted an email response from New Hampshire Fisher Cats’ media relations manager/broadcaster Tom Gauthier, who wrote:

While we don’t have a program like [the Crawdads], we do offer a program for young kids to experience a day in the life.  We work with Citizens Bank (sponsor love) to open up a handful of jobs for kids ages 6-16.  They shadow with us for an afternoon and then through the game itself. 

To read more about the Fisher Cats’ “Kids Run the Show” promo, click HERE.


A kid, running things

Meanwhile, I’m more than happy to have kids shadow me for a day. As a veteran blogger, I will teach them how to show up to the office late and disheveled, overpay for lunch in lieu of bringing your own, and write jokes on Twitter instead of doing meaningful work.

You may remember my piece last season on the art of scorekeeping. In this piece one of the fans profiled was the pseudonym-ed “Stevo,” and I will now take the opportunity to direct you to his blog “The Baseball Enthusiast.” Stevo has just begun a series of posts entitled “For Those Keeping Score at Home,” featuring “intermediate to advanced” tricks of the trade.

I have a feeling that many readers of this blog will enjoy picking up what he’s putting down.

I’m pretty sure that the Reading Fightin’ Phils are the first team to give away their stadium, even if it is only for a day. Read all about it HERE. Or just look at this visual and wonder.


I know that snow-covered ballpark photos are so two weeks ago, but here’s a good one courtesy of the New Britain Rock Cats. So soothing!


In what I believe is a Minor League anomaly, the hair of Wilmington Blue Rocks mascot Rocky is real and actually grows. And once it grows long enough, he’s going to donate to Locks of Love. Click HERE to see his ‘do.

Proving that just about anything can be capitalized on by Minor League Baseball teams, the Mobile BayBears recently opened their arms to distressed travelers after the beleaguered Carnival Triumph finally limped into Mobile.


Sez the team:

The Mobile BayBears would like to give all passengers aboard the Carnival Triumph cruise ship the opportunity to visit the Hank Aaron Childhood Home and Museum for free on Thursday and Friday February 14th and 15th.

“We understand travelers have been through a lot in the past few days,” said team spokesman Craig Durham. “In an effort to make their time in Mobile as enjoyable as possible we encourage them to come see one of baseball’s most unique museums and pay tribute to Mobile legend Hank Aaron.”

The museum will be open from 9-5 on Thursday and Friday, and all non-Carnival passengers will be able to visit the museum for the standard price of $5.

NYC still has a long ways to go when it comes to fully recovering from Superstorm Sandy, and the Brooklyn Cyclones are doing their part via their “Meaningful Mondays” initiative. $3 from every ticket sold to every Monday game will go toward a local charity — read about it HERE.

Speaking of meaningful, I’d recommend that you read these most insightful observations from former Durham Bulls staffer Matt DeMargel regarding why employers should look at Minor League Baseball experience in a positive light. 

And now I have reached the end of this notebook page and, therefore, the end of this post. I’ll conclude by sharing this Augusta GreenJackets staff bio. The legend of Dumpster the Stadium Cat continues to grow!


Who is CatDog?


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