The Hartford Yard Goats' first games in Connecticut did not exactly go as planned. The return to Hartford is still a few weeks away but the Yard Goats got to play games in front of a home crowd this week and promptly lost five games in a row. In fact, they went just 1-6 last week, losing their grip on first place in the Eastern League East division. After Monday night's loss to the Western Division-leading Akron Rubberducks at Dodd Stadium in Norwich, the Yard Goats are now looking up at the Reading Fightin Phils, one game behind. Apparently 40 miles isn't quite close enough to the comforts of home.
Jeremiah Rufini of Bleating Hartford made the trek to the first "home" game in franchise history (the Yard Goats owners are treating the team record book as though they were an expansion team) and published an excellent first-person account of the experience and the strange act of following minor league baseball in general.
News and Notes, May 10 - May 23
|May 10||@||Bowie||L 3-6||May 17||v||Akron||4:05 pm|
|May 11||@||Bowie||W 6-4||May 18||v||Akron||10:35 am|
|May 12||v||New Hampshire||L 3-5||May 19||Off Day|
|May 14||v||New Hampshire||L 2-4||May 20||@||New Hampshire||4:35 pm|
|May 14||v||New Hampshire||L 0-1||May 21||@||New Hampshire||4:05 pm|
|May 15||v||New Hampshire||L 2-4||May 22||@||New Hampshire||11:35 am|
|May 16||v||Akron||L 3-9||May 23||v||Bowie||4:05 pm
David Dahl (no. 2 PuRP) has been slumping. Following his "Spotlight On" feature in this column last week, Dahl has managed just four hits in his past seven games, none for extra bases. His .269/.362/.552 line is still excellent, for sure, but it is interesting that the team has won just once during this slump.
Ryan McMahon (No. 5 PuRP) played first base a few times last week, as the Rockies continue to try to develop him into a more versatile defender. Unfortunately he continues to struggle at the plate. It's almost axiomatic that the jump to Double-A is difficult, but few in Rockies country predicted that McMahon would be hitting .216/.319/.310 through 33 games.
Don't look now, but Raimel Tapia (No. 6 PuRP) now leads the team with a .285 batting average. On May 3, Tapia was hitting .202/.260/.309. Since then, he has been on a 12 game hitting streak, and he has multi-hit efforts in all but three of those games and now boasts a line of .285/.335/.451.
Kyle Freeland (No. 8 PuRP) had two uneven starts last week, allowing seven earned runs in 13 innings, striking out nine but walking six. Obviously Freeland wasn't going to maintain a 1.42 ERA all season, and his current 2.29 ERA seems a little more likely to his FIP, which sat at 3.11 entering Monday's start. Now we get to see how he will respond to a (short) string of tough outings.
Just when you thought this team couldn't get any more talented, Tyler Anderson (no. 17 PuRP) joined the rotation last week. Anderson, who has struggled to stay on the field in his pro career, was fantastic. While this surely means good things for the Yard Goats, it's an even greater relief to see Anderson have success on the mound again.
Harrison Musgrave (No. 23 PuRP) had a short outing on Sunday, throwing 102 pitches in 5.2 innings of work. The Hartford Courant offered a great profile about his journey from Tommy John surgery in 2012 to a near perfect game this season. Alas, no mention of Anna Kenrick (#GetAKtotheYGs).
German Marquez had his worst outing of the season in the first game of the double header on Saturday. He allowed four runs on seven hits in just 4.2 innings pitched. He did manage to strike out eight, but it pushed his pitch count to 97 before he could even get out of the fifth inning.
Matt Carasiti has only thrown two innings in the past week, the curse of being a closer during a losing streak. He allowed one run, one hit, one walk, and struck out two. He continues to lead the Eastern League with ten saves.
Spotlight On: Yard Goats in Connecticut
While the return to Hartford is still a few weeks away, the "homestand" in Norwich portends a full-time return to baseball in Connecticut.
The games in Connecticut serve as a mini-milestone for some players, like Hartford-area native Matt Carasiti. "We’re going to Norwich so I’ll be staying at home there, but once the stadium opens [in Hartford] it’s going to be awesome," he told Purple Row's Isaac Marks in Bowie last week. But Norwich is just a stepping stone for Matt, who has been looking forward to playing in his home state for years.
"I was in Miami when they announced they were going to New Britain [referring to the Rockies new contract and leaving Tulsa] so I was excited about that," said Carasiti. My fiancee called me and told me about it and obviously I wanted to get there [Double-A] last year, but being in Hartford and a new stadium this year will be pretty cool once we get there."
For other players, the games in Norwich are just another stop on the long road trip. "We’re still kind of on the road there unless you already have your apartment," said David Dahl. "I’m just going to stay in the hotel and figure stuff out later. We’re excited to get into our new stadium here in a couple weeks if it’s ready." Echoed manager Darin Everson to the Hartford Courant, "It's great to be in Connecticut, but we're looking to get into that new stadium."
Ah, yes, the new stadium. Were it not for delays to Dunkin Donuts Park the team would already be in Hartford. The process has been tumultuous, to say the least, and there is still no guarantee when the Yard Goats will play in Hartford. The city has waited over 64 years for professional baseball, since the Hartford Chiefs folded up shop in 1952. What's another couple of months among friends, right?
"Obviously, it's nicer to get them home, but until the first pitch is thrown at Dunkin' Donuts Park, I probably won't be relieved." Hartford General Manager Tim Restall has had plenty of details to keep straight, so you can forgive his caution. Traveling 3,018 miles in 35 days to play 31 games can be stressful. In his feature for the Hartford Courant he seemed excited about the new stadium, but sounds more focused on what's happening now. "I just want to make sure our players are happy, the visiting team is happy, the umpires are happy and watch some baseball. But I will be antsy."
Others have the luxury of taking a more big-picture view of the situation. There have been many challenges, but Rockies Director of Player Development Zach Wilson, speaking with John Altavilla of the Hartford Courant, focused on the positives. "Quite honestly, it's a challenge that I invite because I think this is one of those many situations in professional baseball that increases the rate of growth for your players."
If their record is any indication, that growth has been quite positive for the Yard Goats, perhaps making the complexities of such a long road trip a little easier to handle. "It's been, knock on wood, a fairly easy process," continued Wilson. "I'm not sure six months ago I would have used that term. I am pleasantly surprised. It's a credit to the staff, the players and front office of the Yard Goats."
While the season has gone perhaps better than expected to this point, no doubt everyone involved is truly looking forward to when the bunting goes up at Dunkin Donuts Park and the umpire
Dunkin Donuts Park Update
Countdown to Opening Day: 14 Days (?)
There's a lot of hand-wringing going on in Connecticut these days. While construction crews work to beat the clock, local politicians and citizens are preparing for the worst if Dunkin Donuts Park isn't completed in time. The developers and those close to the team are still optimistic about making the "substantial completion" deadline of May 17th. If they do make it, the #RoadGoats would finally be able to make their official home opener on May 31st against the Trenton Thunder. If they don't, well, things will get even more complicated (and expensive).
A few players took the opportunity on Monday to tour the new facility. Dillon Thomas, Correll Prime, Matt Pierpont and Ashley Graeter got up early to take an exclusive behind the scenes look at the place they hope to call home very soon. Said GM Tim Restall on Monday, ""As we know, the 'substantial completion' date is tomorrow. We're hopeful they will hit it. We'll just have to see what May 17 brings."
Looking Ahead, Helpful Links, and Twitter
There is a lot to look forward to both on and off the field this week for Hartford. The Yard Goats continue their four-game set with the Akron Rubberducks, the Eastern League affiliate for Cleveland. It is still very early in the season but this could be a preview of the Eastern League championship.
Perhaps more important to the future of the team is the anticipated announcement on the progress of Dunkin Donuts Park. The developers have until May 17th to achieve "substantial completion" and turn over the park to the Yard Goats, or otherwise face stiff penalties, and put the first Hartford home game in question.
For more Yard Goats news, links, coverage and Twitter, check out the links below. If you have any questions or requests of what you'd like to see in this column, drop me a line in the comments, on Twitter (@playerTBNL), or via email (email@example.com).
Hartford Yard Goats