I hope you weren’t getting too excited about baseball in Hartford this April.
The Hartford Yard Goats née New Britain Rock Cats promised a new stadium built in downtown Hartford by the beginning of April. But now, surprise, developers say that’s going to be impossible without a lot more money. It’s another frustrating chapter in Hartford’s sports and development history, and a miserable headache for new Mayor Luke Bronin to inherit.
The question of who is to blame this time is pretty convoluted. It basically revolves around whether the contractor had full control of the property or whether they needed it, and why they didn’t bother saying anything until now. The developers and the city both accuse one another of breach of contract, the developers say they need more money that the city has no intention of paying, and it’s all a big mess.
The upshot for those of us dreaming of a pleasant green field and the crack of the bat this April is that the much-hyped Yard Goats will be taking an extended road trip this spring. Turns out that moving a team when you don’t actually have a finished place to play is a not the best idea.
This will have some consequences. First, it’s likely going to take a small army of lawyers to try and untangle this dispute, which means the city is going to incur at least some costs it really doesn’t want to have to pay. Second, the Eastern League is apparently furious at both the team and the city. The commissioner, at the meeting held at Hartford City Hall on Tuesday, warned darkly of a coming “day of reckoning” and that “the pain is going to be shared.” This probably also means lawyers.
Of course, the team itself is in dire straits; their careful marketing plan is now in ruins and their image has taken a huge hit. Minor league baseball is a precarious enterprise even in the best of times, and it will be tough to lose a month’s worth of revenue.
They’re also going to have to find a place to play. An extended road trip is a possibility, certainly, as is one of several reasonably decent stadiums in the area, like Norwich’s Dodd Stadium or Bristol’s Muzzy Field.
It’s possible that this will be just a minor blip and that the Goats will be in their pen by mid-season. Other franchises, like Trenton and Bowie, had trouble finishing stadiums on time and have done just fine since. But right now, there’s no guarantee of anything.
Lastly, though, this is yet another iteration of the familiar trope that nothing ever works in Hartford, and that even the most promising of projects will find some way to fail.
Sports, especially, seem cursed. Hartford’s had a whole bunch of different sports teams, and all, except for the AHL’s WolfPack, have failed, moved, or folded. We all remember the Whalers, but how about the arena football team, the Blizzard of the doomed WNBA rival the ABL, or the minor league basketball team?
That means that the stadium woes give more fodder to the kinds of people who think Hartford is nothing but a graveyard for good intentions and taxpayer money. Never mind that Hartford has actually seen a number of successful, transformative projects like CTfastrak, Riverfront Recapture, and the slowly emerging Front Street and Convention Center complex. History and prejudice against the city are always going to be weights dragging Hartford down. A mess like this stadium debacle, which has been badly handled from day one, doesn’t help.