Ballpark at Harbor Yard – Sacred Heart Pioneers
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Pioneers at Harbor Yard
Sacred Heart University is located in Fairfield, Connecticut. The Pioneers baseball team plays its home games in the neighboring city of Bridgeport at the Ballpark at Harbor Yard. The Ballpark, built for the professional Bridgeport Bluefish, won the 2009 Atlantic League Ballpark of the Year award.
Sacred Heart is a school with an enrollment of just over 6,000 students, which makes it the second largest Catholic University in New England. Over the past 20 years the school has made the transition from a small 12-sport Division II program into a full-fledged Division I school with 32 varsity sports. In 2013 the school made headlines by hiring ex-big league player and manager Bobby Valentine to serve as their athletic director.
Food & Beverage 0
Food is not sold at Harbor Yard during Sacred Heart games. Seeing all those concession stands unused may seem like a cruel trick, but fans are welcome to bring their own refreshments to enjoy while taking in the action.
When there are only a hundred or so people in a stadium that seats over 5,000, the place is going to look and feel very empty. That is the case at Pioneer games at Harbor Yard. While the fans that are in attendance are vocal and supportive, there is only so much noise that a crowd of this size can make.
Likewise, the game day presentation is a scaled down version of what Bluefish fans are used to. The video board in right-center field is not utilized. There is the obligatory walk-up music and PA announcements, but nothing else to distract fans’ attention from the action on the field. Trains pass by the ballpark throughout the game, and from some parts of the ballpark fans can also watch ferries arrive and depart to and from Long Island.
The Ballpark at Harbor Yard and its next door neighbor, the Webster Bank Arena, built in 1998 and 2001, respectively, are located in a small neighborhood wedged in between Interstate 95 and the Long Island Sound waterfront. It was hoped that their presence would spur development in the area adjacent to the sports complex. Several buildings were razed to make room for both the stadia and the planned development. Unfortunately, this development has never occurred, leaving only a couple of large unpaved lots adjacent to the ballpark that are now used for parking.
Downtown Bridgeport is located on the opposite side of I-95, easily accessible through several underpasses. This area carries a long-standing reputation as an area to avoid, particularly at night. As is the case in many cities, local leaders have worked hard to reverse this reputation, and several businesses have taken up residence in the area near the sports complex. Unfortunately, the area has not totally reached its potential, and many fans come to Harbor Yard solely for the events at the ballpark or arena and leave immediately afterwards. Fans willing to explore the area can find several fine restaurants and theaters in the area, as well as the Barnum and Bailey Museum.
The crowds at Sacred Heart baseball games can easily be classified as the “friends and family” type of crowd. Early season crowds generally top out at about 100 fans, and don’t get too much larger as the season wears on. Even though Harbor Yard is only five miles from campus, there is no presence from the student body.
Ballparks don’t get much easier to find than The Ballpark at Harbor Yard. Located directly off Interstate 95, all one has to do to get to the field is take exit 27A (whether traveling northbound or southbound), follow the signs for a block, and you are there. Parking is available in a small lot behind the ballpark which is used by the Bluefish during their season. This lot is small, but sufficient for Pioneer games. There is a surface lot across the street from the ballpark and a parking garage next to the hockey arena should crowds ever grow large enough to require that much parking. Additional free parking can be found within a short walk of the ballpark. Despite downtown Bridgeport’s less than sparkling reputation, the area around the ballpark is safe.
Getting to Bridgeport is a snap, as Interstate 95 passes directly through downtown. The city is located 60 miles northeast of New York City, an hour’s drive south of Hartford, and 20 minutes from New Haven. Amtrak’s northeast corridor trains pass directly behind Harbor Yard, with the station only a couple of city blocks from the ballpark.
With the small crowds present at Pioneer games, fans will have no problem getting around the ballpark. While the concession stands are not open, the bathrooms are. But beware, they need a little TLC to bring them up to regular season standards.
Return on Investment 4
There is no charge for admission or parking for Pioneer games at Harbor Yard. Although the Northeast Conference will never be rated alongside the nation’s powerhouses, the level of play is good, and you can’t beat the price.
Although they have nothing to do with Sacred Heart, the Ballpark at Harbor Yard has a couple of touches that are worth checking out. In the plaza outside of the ballpark is a statue of baseball Hall of Famer and Bridgeport resident James O’Rourke, who is credited with getting the first hit in National League history. Located behind the press box is a mural of several area residents who made their way to the major leagues.
Another extra point is awarded for the unique, industrial background here at Harbor Yard. With the giant power plant looming beyond the right field fence and the frequent commuter trains passing by throughout the game, Harbor Yard boasts a most unique backdrop.
Partnerships between minor league baseball teams and universities in the Northeast have proven to be beneficial to all parties involved (Lowell, Tri-city, State College, etc.). The seasons do not overlap, and this arrangement allows for the ballpark to be in use for additional dates. However, with the lack of support shown for the Pioneers at Harbor Yard, one has to wonder if the team would be better served by playing on campus.
If you are planning a visit to southern Connecticut, remember that this is New England, and the weather can be very unpredictable at this time of year. Be sure to check with the team, as postponements, time changes, and even venue changes occur regularly in this part of the country.
Follow all of Paul Baker’s ballpark and stadium visits on Twitter @PuckmanRI
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