Dunkin’ Donuts Park – Hartford Yard Goats
A New Yard for the Goats
Even though the distance between Dunkin’ Donuts Park and New Britain Stadium is a mere 13 miles, the trip to downtown Hartford from the suburbs couldn’t have been longer or more difficult for the Yard Goats.
In 2014 New Britain Rock Cats owner Josh Solomon, who had purchased the team two years earlier, announced that he would be moving the team to a new ballpark in downtown Hartford for the 2016 season. Several firms were contracted to build the new ballpark. Pendulum, out of Kansas City, was chosen to design the park. Centerplan, out of nearby North Haven, was chosen to do the construction. Centerplan had been involved in many local projects before, including shopping centers, stores, plazas and office buildings, but never a ballpark.
Ground was broken on a vacant property on the northern edge of downtown. With the project beginning on February 17, 2015, Centerplan had only 14 months to complete construction. As the project progressed, changes were made in the original design to reduce costs. These changes initially seemed to be no big deal, as “value engineering” such as this is common on big projects. However, in December, Centerplan announced that the project was $10 million over budget and falling further and further behind schedule. The developers blamed city and team officials for numerous changes in the design of the ballpark. The city shot back by stating that they felt Centerplan was in over their heads.
Construction delays continued through the winter, and it soon became clear that the ballpark would not be ready for opening day 2016. The Eastern League announced that the Yard Goats would play the first seven weeks of their schedule on the road while construction was completed. When this May 17 deadline was not met, Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin fired Centerplan, effectively halting all construction. The team was forced to spend the entire 2016 season on the road.
While Centerplan and Hartford filed lawsuits against each other and fought in the press, noted construction firm Whiting-Turner was brought in in October to complete the ballpark. By April Dunkin’ Donuts Park was ready for baseball, a year late and $11 million over budget. After 65 years without professional baseball, Hartford had a team again. But was the finished product worth the all the public drama, construction delays and cost overruns?
Food & Beverage 5
As is the case in most new facilities, a unique and varied concession experience is at the forefront of the ballpark experience. In this area, Dunkin’ Donuts Park does not disappoint.
Ballpark sponsor Dunkin’ Donuts gets into the act with a couple of unique items, including the BLTDD (a bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwich with two glazed Dunkin’ doughnuts serving as the “bread”) and the Dunkin’ and Chicken skewers, which features Munchkin doughnut holes threaded kebab-style with boneless barbeque chicken wings.
Local restaurants are featured throughout the ballpark. The ballpark’s most popular concession stand is operated by Bear’s Smokehouse. Located in left field, they serve pulled pork, brisket and the “Bear Attack” (meat topping a mound of macaroni and cheese and cornbread). Bear’s also offers hot dogs topped with pork, brisket or chopped meat, cheese sauce and barbeque sauce.
There’s a Steakadelphia grill cart in right field serving cheesesteaks and bratwursts. The park’s signature burger features arugula, caramelized onions, bacon and naturally, goat cheese. The U.S.S. Chowder Pot’s popular clam chowder is sold at several concession stands. Scott’s Jamaican Bakery operates the “Reggae in Right” stand, which sells Caribbean jerk chicken sandwiches and Yucca fries with spicy banana ketchup and Jamaican beef patties.
The Hartford Neighborhood Flavors stand will feature a rotating lineup of local restaurants, including BK’s Chicken and Waffles, Comerio, Caribbean Food Concepts, Southern Bell Soul Food, Mercado Food Truck and The Whey Station.
Fans looking for adult beverages will find plenty of choices, with local breweries Thomas Hooker and City Steam offering craft brews alongside national brands such as Budweiser, Heineken and Sam Adams. For fans seeking non-alcoholic beverages, Pepsi products are featured at Dunkin’ Donuts Park. As is the case in all Connecticut ballparks and arenas, sodas are sold only in bottles, not in fountain varieties.
The best way to describe the gameday atmosphere at Dunkin’ Donuts Park is “organized chaos.” Going to a Yard Goats game is an all-out attack on the senses. As early as an hour before first pitch you will find several groups on the field doing their thing. You are likely to see school bands performing, choruses singing and karate demonstrations all happening simultaneously, as it seems that half the crowd in attendance on any given night gets to go on the field for one reason or another. Throw in countless birthday parties, first pitches, kids on the field to high-five the players or unfurl a giant American flag in center field, and you have a baseball purist’s ultimate nightmare.
There is a giant video scoreboard in left field, which is put to great use with game stats, replays, between inning entertainment, movie clips and sponsor ads. This scoreboard is so large that its brightness had to be adjusted after the first few games because it was distracting to the players.
As you may expect, much of the gameday presentation is geared to the younger fans in attendance. The team employs two mascots, Chompers and Chew Chew, who can be spotted roaming the grounds and interacting with fans. Beyond the center field batter’s eye is the Traveler’s Kids Fun Zone, an inflatable park with slides, bounce houses and speed pitch booths. Unfortunately, there is a charge for young fans to play here and burn off some energy.
Downtown Hartford is dissected by a pair of interstates, I-84 and I-91, which meet right at the banks of the Connecticut River a long fly ball’s distance from the ballpark. Downtown Hartford, the state capital, the XL Center and virtually all of Hartford’s skyscrapers, restaurants and tourist attractions, are located to the southwest of this intersection. Dunkin’ Donuts Park is located on the other side of I-84 in an underdeveloped parcel of land in a long neglected neighborhood.
The ballpark is to be the centerpiece of a larger development plan called Downtown North (DoNo). Housing, retail space, restaurants, a brewery, a supermarket and a Hard Rock Hotel are all to be part of the development. At the moment, Dunkin’ Donuts Park is the first piece of this development to be put into place. While the area surrounding the ballpark may look quite different in a few years, at the moment there is nothing to draw visiting fans to the immediate area.
While the restaurants and hotels of downtown Hartford are only a few blocks from Dunkin’ Donuts Park, Interstate 84 serves as a physical and psychological barrier separating the ballpark from the downtown region. While the area is safe, downtown Hartford’s reputation as a place to avoid keeps many visiting fans from exploring the area. This is unfortunate, as there is much to do and see a short walk from the ballpark.
A detailed map of downtown Hartford’s dining and lodging options can be found here.
The Yard Goats averaged just under 5,800 fans per game in 2017, good for third best in the Eastern League. In comparison, during the franchise’s final season in New Britain, they averaged just over 4,000 fans per game. The team ended up selling out 41 of their 68 home games in their inaugural season, drawing close to 400,000 for the year. The Yard Goats’ affiliation with the distant Colorado Rockies doesn’t help to draw fans in this city firmly situated on the border of Red Sox and Yankees country, making these figures even more impressive.
The fanbase here in Hartford is similar to those you will find across the country at any minor league ballpark. The team aggressively markets to groups and families, and you will find plenty of both mixed in alongside the hardcore, longtime fan.
Despite Dunkin’ Donuts Park’s location right near the intersections of Interstates 84 and 91, Hartford’s constant heavy traffic means that visiting fans should allot some extra time to get to the ballpark. If traveling from the east or west, Exit 50 will drop you off a block from the park. If coming from the north or south, Exit 32 will lead you to Dunkin’ Donuts Park. Detailed directions can be found here. Parking is located in a pair of unpaved lots adjacent to the ballpark.
Dunkin’ Donuts Park was shoehorned into a small footprint, necessitating some creative seating areas and unfortunately, some cramped quarters. On the plus side, there is an incredible variety of seating options for visiting fans and excellent views from most points around the ballpark.
Most fans will enter Dunkin’ Donuts Park via the main entrance located in right field. Visitors enter onto a narrow concourse which completely encircles the field and offers views of the field from most points. Due to the park’s small footprint, the seating bowl is smaller and steeper than you see at most ballparks at this level, and seating areas are located all around the ballpark, rather than just from foul pole to foul pole. This 360-degree seating gives Dunkin’ Donuts Park a far more intimate feel than other parks in the Eastern League.
Fans may immediately notice the double-decked seating in right field. Unfortunately, a construction error placed these right field stands too close to home plate. With the foul pole located just 305 feet from home, the decision was made to place a net over the lower level seats and make this net in play. It has already led to some misplays as outfielders get used to this unique feature. Unfortunately, this has made the lower level seats in right field among the least desirable seats in the building. If you choose to sit in right field, go for the upper level. It’s a great view, there is no net obstructing your view, and you get a nice breeze most nights as well. The view from these seats as the sun sets behind the third baseline is spectacular.
Swivel chair seating is located at the top of the seating bowl at almost every point in the ballpark. While these seats offer excellent views for ticket holders, they limit standing room options severely. For the best standing room spots (as well as best views of the Hartford skyline), stake out a spot in left field in front of Bear’s Barbeque stand. For more great views of the ballpark and Connecticut sunsets, check out the Centerfield Sky Bar on the upper level.
As a testament to Dunkin’ Donuts Park’s small footprint and cozy quarters, a complete lap around the concourse is 1600 feet, a good 160 feet less than the standard 1/3 mile that most concourses stretch at new ballparks.
Return on Investment 4
With the great variety in seating options available at Dunkin’ Donuts Park, there is a great variety in prices. Fortunately, even the most expensive seats at the ballpark are affordable.
Surprisingly, the most expensive seats in the ballpark are not those closest to the field. The high-top swivel seats that line virtually the entire seating bowl top the price list, ranging from $18 for infield seats to $14 for those in the outfield. Field box seats cost $14, with right field porch seats costing $12 (lower level) and $10 (upper level). Left field grandstand seats are the most affordable seats, coming in at eight dollars per seat. Purchasing seats on game day will cost you an additional two dollars. Active members of the military enjoy a two dollar discount.
For the best bang for your buck, we recommend purchasing tickets in the Hartford Terrace. Tickets in this section cost $17 (just three dollars more than box seats), and come with unlimited access to all club-level amenities, as well as a great view of the game.
Parking in the lots across the street from the Dunkin’ Donuts Center costs just five dollars. Concession prices are in line with other minor league venues in the area. Ballpark staples are quite reasonably priced, with specialty items a bit pricier.
A pair of extra points are awarded for the awesomely tongue in cheek way the team has used its unique name to promote itself, through varied merchandise and outstanding social media channels. The goat theme runs throughout the ballpark, too, with goat-themed products, stands (i.e. The Screaming Goat) and the like. There are even actual live goats at the ballpark on Sunday afternoons.
Historical banners located throughout Dunkin’ Donuts Park earn an extra point. A giant team photo of the Hartford Chiefs greets fans as they enter the ballpark in right field. Plaques detailing Hartford’s baseball history along with other notable Hartford sports teams line the concourse. Concession stands such as The Dark Blues Diner and Huck’s Hot Corner give a nod to Hartford’s baseball past.
While it has become a cliché in Connecticut to tie a sports team in with the long-departed Hartford Whalers, the Yard Goats deserve an extra point for their unique efforts. From the blue and green color scheme to the hockey style jerseys and alternate logos used for “Whalers Weekend,” the baseball team pays homage to the city’s hockey heritage without hitting fans over the head with it. A great tidbit of trivia: Dunkin’ Donuts Park opened twenty years to the day of the Whalers’ final game.
While many baseball fans in the Hartford area were initially critical of the Rock Cats’ move from the suburbs, and became increasingly vocal as the ballpark’s construction was delayed and cost overruns mounted, they have come out in solid numbers for the Yard Goats. Dunkin’ Donuts Park has the feeling of a venue that has tried too hard to incorporate as many features as possible into one place. Baseball almost feels like an afterthought here. Time will tell if this ballpark will age gracefully, but for now, it appears to be a venue well worth the wait for Hartford baseball fans.
Follow Paul Baker’s stadium journeys on Twitter @PuckmanRI.
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Latest Crowd Reviews
Visited 8/12/18. Not much to do around the park, but it&#039s easy to get in and out. Game was called after 5 innings due to rain, so the park wasn&#039t full. Good variety of food, but pricey (8 for a Donut Dog, which wasn&#039t great - 2 hot dogs inside a jelly donut with bacon). It looks like there are a lot of cool seats, but we sat in the second row down the left field line, and the seats faced straight towards center field. The real goat pen was a nice touch.