The Hartford Yard Goats were an entertainment success in their first year in the capital city -- selling out 41 of 70 home games this season, including the final 21.
Barbara Breu was a New Britain Rock Cats season ticket holder for 13 years. And even though seeing a game in Hartford meant a longer drive from her home in Wallingford, she followed the team when it moved.
“This is a massively awesome park,” Breu said at one of the team’s last games this season. “Parking is actually easier than it was at the Rock Cats [stadium].”
According to Breu, the amenities are better at Dunkin’ Donuts Park. And her friend, Sean Hanlon, agreed. It’s why he can stomach the fact that he paid to watch a team that didn’t win half of the games it played this season.
“As somebody that has attended minor league games for many years that really doesn’t affect me much,” Hanlon said. “When you watch a lot of minor league baseball, you realize that it is all about player development.”
But while the team may be a short-term success for fans, the question that’ll take years to answer is whether it’ll be a long-term benefit for the city of Hartford -- the nearly bankrupt capital city that’s on the hook for the $71 million ballpark.
One gauge? Foot traffic. It’s a big deal for owners of area restaurants and bars who hope that if the Yard Goats do well, they’ll do well, too.
Nick Lorusso is the general manager of the Hilton Hotel -- just three blocks away from the park. He said that business is going well, so he can’t tell if the Yard Goats are helping, but he’s noticed a spike in business at the hotel’s restaurant, particularly during day games.
And a simple ride up the elevator will boost his hotel’s chances to sell a block of hotel rooms to potential clients.
“They can see the stadium right there from our 22nd floor,” Lorusso said. “And so the first thing that comes up—‘what is that?’ [I say] ‘That’s the Yard Goats!”
But not all area businesses experienced the same thing and that could be part of a larger problem that the city faces.
Wilma Rohena owns the restaurant Aqui Me Quedo with her husband Joel. When she drove past the stadium during home games, she saw how packed the area was. But it didn’t translate into more revenue for the restaurant located a few blocks up Albany Avenue from the stadium -- away from downtown.
“We do not get a lot of customers from the stadium,” Rohena said. “Before the stadium came, we were expecting to have more business. But, unfortunately, that did not happen.”
The jury’s still out on what may be the biggest measure of success – development around the ballpark itself. Because of lawsuits between the city and its initial developer, those plans haven’t materialized.