Sunday, July 31, 2011

First Impression: Dodd not dead

As Saturday morning quickly rolled into afternoon, I was doing my best to knock out some laundry while I had the house to myself. The dryer backed up my plans, so I flipped from one pocket calendar to the next, contemplating a solo voyage to see some baseball.

The PawSox were playing at 6:00pm, and offered up the shortest road trip for me, but I was feeling stubborn after recently being shunned by the organization. New Hampshire was hosting a 6:00pm double header with Henderson Alvarez and Chad Jenkins slated to pitch, but I was contemplating a trip up to NeDDS on Sunday instead (which never materialized thanks to that damn laundry). The Rock Cats were playing at 7:00pm, but as much as I wanted to make my first trip to New Britain Stadium, I was dead set against the two hour drive.

I saw that the Connecticut Tigers were at home and playing at 7:00pm, another place where I had yet to venture. I decided to plug in the stadium's address on Mapquest, which informed me that it was an hour and forty-five minutes from my door to Dodd’s…I knew that was no more than an hour and thirty on my terms, so I ordered myself up an $8 ticket, printed it and was on my way (after folding one last load of laundry).

I’ve heard in the past that Dodd Stadium wasn’t the grandest of venues and that it was oft times barren of souls, so I wasn’t quite sure what to expect heading in. The ride was plenty easy enough, a straight shot down 393 South after a brief interlude on the Mass Pike, then a spin through a well kept rural neighborhood, and just past that the stadium lies in the heart of an industrial park.

I instantly felt the Minor League-iness of the facility as I pulled into the gravel lined parking lot and made the walk up to the wrought iron-gated entrance. I surveyed the layout and headed left down the third base concourse, pulling up to the seat I purchased in section 20. The last 10 or so rows of each section are long, backed bleachers, then the next 10 or so rows up are individual red plastic seats, followed by the 5 or so rows closest to the field, which are gray, padded plastic seats with cup holders in front of each. Not one of which is uncomfortable by any means and all close enough to hear the on-field chatter.

The early evening sun shone brightly across the beautifully manicured field as it dipped towards the backside of the first base boxes perched above the small, but ample concourse. The crowd slowly trickled in, kids pounded on wooden projects provided by Lowes, the Batavia Muckdogs players signed autographs and warmed up down the third base line and another perfect summer night was unfolding all around.

A capacity crowd at Dodd Stadium is listed at 6,270, but unfortunately they do seem to have a tough time with filling this place. The announced paid crowd of 2,059 may have even fallen a bit short of that number, but those in attendance were truly diehard, passionate and extremely knowledgeable…the kind of crowd you like to be sitting amongst. The facilities were clean and the employees extremely friendly and helpful. On top of all of that, the game itself turned out to be a good one, ending in the bottom of the 12th inning on the back of Tyler Collins’ second home run of the evening.

I was more than pleasantly surprised with my experience at Dodd Stadium and I’m already pecking up-and-down their schedule to try and fit it another trip before they wrap things up for the season. This would be the perfect little Minor League park when filled to capacity. A little more life in this place would be just the shot in the arm that it needs and would be quite the site to behold. You know it’s a tad bit empty when one kid gets 12 baseballs from players throwing them into the stands AND gets to be the one to race the mascot.

This is a team that is only in its second season after moving from Oneonta. The organization is working diligently to build their identity with a fanbase that recently had the rug pulled out from under them when former Dodd Stadium tenants, the Connecticut Defenders, moved to Virginia. I implore anyone within the region to check out this perfect little slice of baseball so that we can ensure that it stays alive. A few more souls could go a long way in bringing this region back to baseball prominence.

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