Are you in touch with your inner goat these days? Not the scapegoat, not the one that gets all the blame, but the trendy goat that shows your texting is totally with it: that would be G.O.A.T, greatest of all time. And that’s the definition Hartford’s minor league baseball team the Hartford Yard Goats are counting on. They put it right out front on a huge stadium sign: “No Goats No Glory.”
The stadium? Yes, the stadium at last. After construction delays and a season in which they had to play all their games on the road, the Yard Goats, a double A minor league franchise of the Colorado Rockies, are home in Hartford at Dunkin’ Donuts Park.
At the ball field, it’s all goat from start to finish. The ushers wear shirts with “goat herder” lettered on the back. The security squad has “goat patrol” on theirs. In the team store, hats and T-shirts feature a picture of a goat doing what goats do: chomping away at what looks like an otherwise inedible baseball bat.
A recent Yard Goats game against the Bowie Baysox, a double A franchise of the Baltimore Orioles, showcased minor league competition in all its glory: contests, stunts, low prices, and oh, yes, baseball. No opportunity for audience participation was lost: a dozen people threw out individual first balls, some landing well before the plate, some over the catcher’s head, and a few actually on target. That didn’t matter. Promotions Manager Dana Feigenbaum pronounced each one “awesome.”
Later in the evening, as Feigenbaum stood near the refreshment area, a spectator came up and asked her to pose for a selfie with her family. Feigenbaum smiled and agreed.
“It happens all the time,” she said.
Between innings, contests featured a race between three participants decked out in honor of Dunkin’ Donuts in head to toe costumes of a hot coffee mug, an iced coffee cup, and a large chocolate donut. The donut won, proving running around the outside of a stadium in 90-degree weather in a full-body donut suit is indeed possible. Another race highlighted four competitors dressed as a chicken, a parrot, a frog, and what one observer concluded was a friendly looking dinosaur. Despite having a tail to drag all around the field, the dinosaur took top honors.
Yard Goats Assistant General Manager Mike Abramson, who lives in Chester, had arranged for Johnny Shea to sing the National Anthem. Shea recently appeared in Chester in the Goodspeed Musical’s Norma Terris Theatre production of Deathless, which Abramson saw.
“It was great, so cool, my family was all here,” said Shea as a group of spectators came by giving him high fives, congratulating him on his singing.
Ken Gammerman and Matt Hoey, friends from the years they have served together on the Guilford Board of Finance, said this wasn’t their first time at a Yard Goats game.
“Minor League baseball junkies,” said Gammerman, adding his baseball enthusiasm went back many years, even before games were televised—“When I was a kid, I ‘saw’ baseball, but on the radio.”
Establishing New Traditions
Dan Brechlin from Meriden had brought his sons, Ryder, 4, and Xander, 7. This was Ryder’s first game.
“I wondered if he was old enough, but he’s very excited,” Brechlin said.
Xander, who had been to games before, had to think a minute before explaining what he liked, but his answer, when it came, is all-encompassing.
“Pretty much everything,” he said.
With admission starting at $6 and a hot dog at $3, taking children to a Yard Goats game doesn’t mean dipping into the college trust fund. Food offering ranged from the classics like frankfurters to non-traditional items like Greek salad and gluten-free buns. Keeping up with changing tastes in eating, Abramson said, was a priority for food service.
Some classics have changed in unpredictable ways: The Cracker Jacks came in a package like potato chips, not in the red and white wax-paper-wrapped box of memory. But that wasn’t all: The rings and plastic trinkets that generations of kids snapped together are no more; now the package has a piece of paper with a code that the enables the purchaser to download a simple computer game.
The biggest cheer of the night went to a player with a legendary name: Yastrzemski—not Hall of Famer Carl, but his grandson Mike in this case. A group of friends from Boston had come down to Hartford to see him play. Young Yaz, a right fielder, didn’t disappoint. He was the first batter up and he homered. The trouble from the Yard Goats point of view was that Yastrzemski played for the other team.
“Guess we can go home now,” said Nancy Budd, part of the Yastrzemski cheering section. (She didn’t.)
All was not glory for Mike Yastrzemski and the Baysox. Tied in regulation, the game went into extra innings. In the bottom of the 11th, Yastrzemski made a spectacular diving catch in right field, but on the very next play, the center fielder called for the ball and flubbed the catch as the go-ahead run scored. The Yard Goats won 4 to 3.
Still, as Abramson pointed out, minor league baseball is not all about winning. It is about enjoying. That doesn’t mean the two are mutually exclusive.
“I think people are happier when we win,” he said.
There is, nonetheless, more to minor league baseball than the score. As the sun set sky-blue pink on a warm summer night over the manicured green of the ball field and a near-capacity crowd of 6,100 looked on, young men, most of whom would never see the major leagues, played out their dreams in a game whose rhythms have become an emblem of the American experience.
For more on the Hartford Yard Goats, visit www.milb.com.