Yard Goats: Home, Sweet Home — Finally!

For those players who endured last season with the Hartford Yard Goats, one spent living out of a suitcase, walking into Dunkin' Donuts Park for the first time this week was a revelation.

There is something special about a new ballpark and for those who spent last year riding the buses without a home to call their own, every nook and cranny about Dunkin' Donuts Park seemed to excite them.

That is why many immediately pulled out their cellphones to take pictures of the place to send home.

"We took some visits here during the process of [last] season and it's wonderful to see all the changes, the construction is almost done," Yard Goats infielder Ashley Graeter said. "It's exciting to think about being able to play in such a nice stadium."

"To finally see the stadium finished; it's a beautiful ballpark and we're ready to go and excited to be a part of having baseball back in Hartford again," outfielder Dillon Thomas said.

When the ballpark opens April 13, the Yard Goats players are going to have access to one of the most beautiful minor league ballparks in the United States. But along with its good looks, the ballpark will provide a functionality specifically designed to help the players better achieve their goals.

"As a baseball player, I feel the most important thing to have going in your favor is your routine. Being able to have a ballpark like this, with a batting cage right near the tunnel, it's a lot easier to get into a routine," Thomas said. "You know what time every day you are going to hit in the cage, what time you might be able to get a lift in and then head out to batting practice and get ready for the game.

"Just having all that available to you, having that consistency, is definitely important in terms of development. It plays a big role in all of our careers. Last year was very difficult in terms of getting into a routine. But we dealt with what was given to us and tried to make the most of it. Complaining wasn't going to do anything for us. You just make the most of the opportunities that you do have."

The opening of the ballpark also means the Yard Goats players will be able to settle into new living situations. Many of them have accommodations within a half-mile of Dunkin' Donuts Park, which means they will be able to walk to and from the stadium on game days.

"I'm definitely looking forward to getting out of a hotel. It's going to be nice," pitcher Konner Wade said.

Many of the players said the dimensions of the park and the novelties of its architectural design help give them the feeling of playing in a special place.

"We're happy to finally be here and take advantage of the incredible amenities they have here for us," Wade said. "A place like this prepares us all more for the big leagues. When you start in rookie ball, the stadiums are all pretty small and generic. Once you start to get to the higher levels [of organized baseball] the stadiums literally have more levels to them and it adds to the excitement that you have for the game."

Said Thomas: "You don't see stands with a second tier in minor league baseball. That has a big league feel. And just to play in a place like it gives you the feeling that you're on your way to becoming a big leaguer. It's a great reminder that we are close."

Even the playing surface, which has been carefully manicured by the stadium's ground crew, is receiving early praise.

"The infield dirt was pretty good, not a lot of bad hops from what I can tell," infielder Ryan McMahon said. "Everything is so fresh and it's cool to know you're going to be a part of a team that plays the first game on it. And from the looks of the park, there is some potential to put up some numbers and hit some balls out.

"It's top notch, It's pretty cool. It's just nice to have a home and a place to kick your feet up for seven days [on a homestand] instead of being on a bus."

Hartford, QuinnipiacSet For April 11

The first game played at Dunkin' Donuts Park will be a Division I college matchup between Hartford and Quinnipiac on April 11 at 7:15 p.m.

The team is calling it a "soft launch" of the stadium before the Rockies' Double-A team plays its home opener on April 13 against New Hampshire. Tickets will go on sale on Wednesday at 10 a.m. and are $6 in advance and $10 on the day of the game.

The team hopes the college game will give the Yard Goats' employees a chance to get familiar with a game day at the Park.

For information or to purchase tickets go to yardgoatsbaseball.com or call 860-246-4628.

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