Some thought it was impossible. Some thought it was foolhardy. Some thought I would eat too many hot dogs. But I did it: I saw all three of Connecticut's professional baseball teams in one summer. Read on for my thoughts.
New Britain Rock Cats (AA affiliate of the Minnesota Twins)
New Britain is a hike from Stamford, which should show you how much I love baseball and how dedicated I was to this pursuit. It was worth it, however, because going to a Rock Cats game is a fun, affordable experience. The stadium is your typical AA stadium with about 6000 seats and three or four food stands. Seats are around $8.
The Rock Cats have the best souvenir shop of the three. They sell souvenir baseballs in about twenty different designs and colors, including hippie flowers and tie-dye. They also sell giant foam hats, which are doubly awesome at a baseball game because the person behind you can't see a thing.
They also have the best food selection. You can get your typical ballpark fare of hot dogs and hamburgers, but they also have a "grill" out in left field serving chicken sandwiches and other slightly healthier stuff.
Since the players are all striving to make the bigs, the baseball is also pretty darn good.
My only complaint is about the seats behind home plate. They're not your traditional fold-down baseball seats; they're this weird plastic bucket-type seat, kind of like an oversized booster seat. They're not very comfortable and they make you sweat.
Where the Rock Cats truly excel is in atmosphere. They don't overdo it with the sound effects and other annoyances, though they do have a whopping four mascots. It's a fun time, and the fans get into it without being told when to "MAKE SOME NOISE" or "CLAP YOUR HANDS."
Connecticut Defenders (AA affiliate of the San Francisco Giants)
Did I say that New Britain is far? OK, Norwich is really far. It's up-near-the-casinos far. Not only is it far from Stamford, it's far from the highway. Once you get off of 395, you then wind your way through an industrial park to get to the stadium, which is pretty much in the middle of nowhere. This might explain why there were maybe 700 people at the game, making this the most eerily quiet baseball game I've ever attended. I'm sure it didn't help that the Defenders have been rumored for years to be leaving town, which they finally did. I guess my Defenders souvenir baseball is now a collector's item!
Besides all those drawbacks, the game itself was darn good until the opposing pitching fell apart in the seventh or eighth. These players are also AA hopefuls, so they can run, hit and throw.
The Defenders also didn't play too many annoying games or sound effects, which is nice. I know minor league teams do all of this to keep the kids entertained, but a lot of teams go way overboard with the cute crap. The Defenders managed to find a nice balance between watching the game and watching silly sausage races.
They also had the best beer selection, including Sam Adams and Brooklyn Lager.
On the con side, the concession stand behind us on the third base side closed in the fifth inning, and the Voodoo Grill, which serves buffalo wings and crab cakes, never even opened!
Time will tell if Norwich will play host to another baseball team in the future.
Bridgeport Bluefish (Independent)
The Bluefish are right here in the FC, but it might take you just as long to get to a weeknight game as it would to go to New Britain on the weekend. In other words, northbound traffic sucks!! This definitely hurts the Bluefish, though they still draw pretty good crowds. (Now if they had built this ballpark in Stamford as was originally proposed, highway traffic would be going against rush hour, and they would draw from all over the area, including Westchester.)
As for the ballpark's immediate surroundings, don't go there. Literally. BPT might be getting better, but I still wouldn't recommend walking around at night.
The food at the Ballpark at Harbor Yard is subpar, even for minor league baseball. Aside from hot dogs and burgers, everything is fried. I don't go to a ballgame and expect arugula and escarole salad, but some healthier choices would be nice.
A lot of the Bluefish players are former major leaguers trying to get back to the Show, so it's usually pretty good baseball. The crowd does get into it, and there are even a few diehard characters like the guy with the giant sign covered in Bluefish logos and slogans on both sides (I didn't take a picture, darn it).
The one other minor drawback to seeing a Bluefish game is the view. In left field, you've got the Arena, and in center and right you've got the train tracks and the power plant. Blecch.
OK, final verdict time. For the money and the fun, I have to place the New Britain Rock Cats at the top of the list. It's a nice stadium, the fans are into it, and the baseball is great. If you're itching to get away (but not too far), it's worth the drive up to the Hardware City to see a game.
Second place goes to the Bluuuuefish. It's right here, it's affordable, and it's a good time. If you can ignore the relatively minor inconveniences and don't mind sitting in traffic, check it out.
And last but not least, the departed Connecticut Defenders. Remember the beginning of Major League, when there are a handful of fans in the bleachers and Bob Uecker doesn't even care anymore? That's what a Defenders game is like. It feels like they just gave up, which is kind of sad.
Well, that's the final score of today's game. Join us again next summer for some great baseball action, and please drive home safely.