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Yard Goats' Pitcher: I Am Lucky To Call Hartford Home

When I found out I was going to be playing Double A baseball in Connecticut this season, I had no idea what to expect. Growing up in Virginia, you might think I had frequently visited the Northeast, but aside from a couple of trips to New York I hadn't spent much time this far north.

All that I heard about Hartford coming into the season was that April was cold and the new stadium built for the Yard Goats was immaculate. Both of those things turned out to be true, but that is common knowledge at this point. What I want to share is my story of how an extremely unfamiliar place turned out to be a place of comfort and contentment — a place I've been lucky to call home for the last five months.

The first few days in Hartford before we left for Richmond to start the season were awkward. We were living in a hotel, trying to get used to our new teammates and surroundings, and we were practicing in this giant empty stadium. It was so clean and new that I didn't really feel like it was ours. Although my name was above my locker, I just didn't feel like I was at home.

That all started to change when we got back from Richmond for our first home game on April 13. We were greeted by what would be the first of many sellout crowds. Obviously, the first game played in Hartford was going to attract a lot of fans, but even when we were down by five runs in the ninth inning the crowd was cheering like it was game seven of the World Series. We were looking around at each other wondering why people were cheering so loud when we were down by so much. This was when I realized that the excitement surrounding our club and our new stadium was legitimate, and it has not tapered off since Opening Day

I remember thinking in my first start how awesome it is that we get to play in front of so many people, but at the same time wishing I had more of a connection with the community that clearly cares about us. Little did I know that in the following five months I would be able to make that connection, and it made me view minor league baseball as much more than a stepping stone to the big leagues.

The Yard Goats have given us the opportunity to connect with this community in a plethora of ways both in and out of Dunkin' Donuts park. I feel that they have done everything they can to give the fans a good idea of who we are as people, which makes us feel closer to them and hopefully makes them feel closer to us.

At the same time, the Yard Goats offer us opportunities to go out into the community and do different things based on our interests. For me, I love helping kids and I am also a dog person. So, by getting involved with baseball camps, the Connecticut Children's Medical Center and the Connecticut Humane Society, I have been able to meet some pretty incredible people who have shown nothing but support for our team.

On top of that, I have had a great time in Connecticut outside of being a Yard Goat. About a month into the season, I linked up with Jack and Patty Stoddard. They are the parents of a friend from University of South Carolina, where I went to college, who happen to live just a few miles away. They have been unbelievably generous to not only me but to many of my teammates and have become my Connecticut family and support system.

Relationships like this have been part of the reason why this year has been my favorite of any of my professional seasons thus far. Being able to play in a place with so much support and positivity fuels me every time I take the mound. What started as an awkward few days in a quiet stadium turned into months of excitement because of how much baseball means to my team and to Hartford.

Having what we have in this city is special and I feel extremely blessed to have been a part of this inaugural season. I want to thank everyone for their support and for making us feel at home. We can't wait to take the field for you again next April.

Jack Wynkoop is a left-handed pitcher for the Hartford Yard Goats, the Double A affiliate of the Colorado Rockies.

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