With the Yard Goats' home opener set for next week, it's time to think about that high honor that's been the subject of behind-the-scenes jostling since then-Mayor Pedro Segarra announced the "done deal" nearly three years ago.
Who's going to throw the ceremonial first pitch?
The team isn't saying. I. Charles Mathews, chairman of the stadium authority, said we could see as many as 20 first-pitchers, perhaps all at the same time. Here's a suggested list of honorees, some worthy, some more likely to win the Nobel Prize for sports management.
Pedro Segarra: The former mayor started pushing for that first-pitch honor at the groundbreaking 26 months ago. He's still lobbying for it, making no apologies for the financing deal or construction issues. And he embraces the multi-first-pich concept. "Anybody that throws a first pitch or a second pitch or a third pitch and does it in the spirit of seeing our city prosper, is welcome," Segarra said. Grumble all you want, he's the guy who brought the team to Hartford. He expects to have that ball in his hand, and should. And he will not drop it.
Anne Goshdigian: She's a baseball fan and played a lot of softball in her younger days but the semiretired writer and editor is better known for opposing the stadium deal at every turn from the start. She credits the issue with awakening her inner activist. At the first public meeting, she sang a ditty called "Take Us Out of The Ballgame" that brought the place to laughter. Segarra declared she should sing the national anthem. How about the first pitch instead? Alas, Goshdigian said she'll boycott the Yard Goats, at least this year. "I was a catcher ... I never had a good arm for pitching."
Emma Faye Rudkin: Speaking of the national anthem, if Miss South Florida Brooke Eden can sing it on opening night, why not let Miss South Texas throw out the first pitch? Rudkin, from San Antonio, shares that title with two other pageant winners and she'd be great for the task. Legally deaf, she founded a nonprofit to help deaf people, tying her to Hartford history. Besides, San Antonio is the only Double A baseball market that's larger than metro Hartford in economic size. Fly her in!
Luke Bronin: The Hartford mayor, who inherited the stadium and fired the builder, has said he plans to be at opening night with his family. He's not pushing to throw that first pitch. But he represents city workers who saw the project through, headed by Mike Looney, the project manager in both administrations, and Sean Fitzpatrick, Bronin's development director. Give the boss a ball, a hot dog and two aspirin.
Erin Stewart: The New Britain mayor was jilted and jolted by the Rock Cats' secret deal with Hartford. She'll throw out the first pitch for the New Britain Bees in the independent Atlantic League on April 21. Yard Goats? "We'll see if Mayor Bronin invites us to a game this year. I might go." Stewart appears to have higher political aspirations; why not make it happen at the Dunkin' Donuts Park opener?
Jay Redd: As bands played and golden shovels hit the ground in a celebration of the $56 million project, the money was still not in place. Redd, Hartford's bond consultant, sat hundreds of miles away in Baltimore, sweating out a complex deal for taxable and tax-free debt as Wall Street balked. The deal was done by the end of that day, an extra-innings, come-from-behind coup. He can throw out a borrowed ball.
Karen Lynch: Among the major corporate sponsors, The Hartford has its stag at the ballpark and Travelers has its red umbrella. Aetna is in the ballpark too, and that's the company headquarters we're most worried about exiting Hartford, perhaps for Boston. We know CEO Mark Bertolini doesn't love the capital city. But maybe a first-pitch honor for Lynch, the Aetna president, would help the cause. She has very close Boston ties but also sits on The Bushnell board here.
Larry Deutsch: If Goshdigian was the chief outside opponent, Deutsch, a city council member, was the stadium project's thorn inside city hall. Just last month he pushed to sell the ballpark, somehow thinking a venue that brings in less than $1 million a year could fetch $78 million. If asked, he will throw. "It's sold out and I don't know if they are holding tickets for incidental politicians," the retired physician said. "Maybe I should get my arm in shape." Or put batteries in the radio at home.
The Four Trespassers: These guys threw the first pitch last May, so they might as well take a bow on opening night. Michael Cowee, Theodore Swanson, Brandon Herrick, and Austin Kelly snuck into Dunkin' Donuts Park for a nighttime toss and ended up charged with trespassing. Kelly worked for the construction company. Hey, they're all in their 20s; isn't the ballpark supposed to attract 20-somethings?
The Mayor Mike Peters Little League 12-Year-Old All-Stars: This Hartford team of 11 youths won the district title last year, a first since 1971 for the capital city. They'll be at the game anyway, as Arch Insurance, which financed the stadium completion, gave the league 50 free tickets. The league was named for the mayor who pushed harder than anyone for pro baseball in Hartford before he died. Now league President David McKinley sees the Yard Goats as part of the sport's urban revival for kids. Who better than these boys to open the festivities?
I. Charles Mathews — The emotional moment for the stadium authority chairman came on Tuesday, when the city issued a temporary certificate of occupancy. "Now the ballpark is done," he said. "You can't imagine how I felt seeing that TCO …We made a commitment to the city that we would have the ballpark ready in May of 2016. We didn't fulfill that commitment. It's been a lot of heartache and a lot of anxiety." As for the first pitch, the political veteran said he'd do it if asked but won't be upset if he's not. He'll be there, of course, helping his wheelchair-bound brother on opening night.