#Shortstops: Goats on the Road

Part of the SHORT STOPS series
Written by: Matthew Carter

The story of how Hartford's Dunkin’ Donuts Park came to be is a story like no other.

In 2014, it was announced that the Eastern League’s New Britain Rock Cats would move to nearby Hartford, Conn., for the 2016 season. Ground was broken for the stadium in February 2015 with construction work to be completed in time for the 2016 season.

However, construction delays caused the stadium to not be ready for the start of the 2016 campaign. The team, the City of Hartford and the stadium’s developer, Centerplan Construction, worked out an agreement to get the ballpark completed in time for the homestand starting May 31. This caused the team, now known as the Hartford Yard Goats, to start their season on the road until then, playing some “home” games in nearby Norwich, Conn.

By May 31, the ballpark was still not ready. The next month, the city dismissed Centerplan, causing work on the ballpark to stop. As a result, the Yard Goats played the entire 2016 season on the road, finishing with a 74-67 record.

Yard Goats owner Josh Solomon and Eastern League President Joe McEachern threated to move the team out of Hartford if the ballpark was not ready for the 2017 season. In response, Whiting-Turner was hired as the new developer, and construction was completed in time for the home opener on April 13.

To commemorate the opening of the park, the Hartford Courant published a special fan guide section in its April 13 edition. A copy of the section is preserved in the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum’s Library and Archives.

The front cover has the words “Yard Goats Extra”, a picture of the park’s playing field, and an advertisement for United Bank. On the back cover is the Yard Goats’ 2017 schedule and an image of a Yard Goats pennant, printed in green, blue, and black ink.

That night, a sellout crowd of 6,850 came to witness Minor League Baseball’s return to Hartford, who last had a minor league team in 1952. The hometown Yard Goats lost the inaugural game to the New Hampshire Fisher Cats 7-2.

In all, 395,196 fans came to Dunkin’ Donuts Park that season, with the team finishing third in the Eastern League in attendance.

Making a strong impression on fans, Dunkin’ Donuts Park would go on to win multiple awards in its inaugural season, including Ballpark Digest’s “AA Best of The Ballparks” Award. It would win the award again in 2018 and 2021.

Matthew Carter was a curatorial intern in the Hall of Fame’s Frank and Peggy Steele Internship Program for Youth Leadership Development

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Part of the SHORT STOPS series