“What most of us remember fondly is going to a ballpark with your father or grandfather,” Cole says. “So we spent a lot of time talking about what we could do with the design to evoke those kinds of sensations, those smells, those memories, and how to create new memories when we take our kids to the park.”
One way this is pulled off is through the park’s intimacy. While everyone makes the observation that it has the feel of a Big League stadium, almost in the same breath, they add how they love how close their seats are to the field. Even in the upper deck.
So let’s take a trek around the park to look at its features. Let’s start at the main entryway, which is not behind home plate like you might expect. It’s in the right-field corner. I think there were both design considerations and placement priorities for this. Behind home plate on the upper level is the huge YG Club as well as the team offices. That would’ve provided a claustrophobic entry to the park on the street level behind the plate. Much better to offer an outside plaza and an impressive open-to-the-sky introduction to the park when you enter, even if it’s in right field.
Further, it made sense for the park’s “front door” and its distinctive Dunkin’ Donuts sign to be at the very major intersection of Trumbull and Main.
|The first fans in line on Opening Night are about to be permitted into the plaza just inside the gates (above left). The shot on the right was taken looking down the main concourse toward home plate. The Yard Goats had provided a banner for fans to sign.|
So if you start your look around on the lower concourse at the main entryway and take a clockwise path, you’ll first encounter the team store and a series of concession stands on your left. That’s because the playing field is wonderfully visible on your right. The “open concourse” concept is well done here.
While the field box seats are wonderfully close to the action, it’s the two Dugout Suites (below) that command attention. Positioned behind the on-deck circles and butting up against the playing field, the two areas include an enclosed spot – its own luxury suite – behind two rows of countertops and three rows of seats that have you right on top of the action. Up to 40 guests can be accommodated in each of these suites. Unlike the comparable suites in Nashville’s new ballpark, these are on the home-plate side of each dugout, meaning you have a clear view into the dugout while at the same time you can hear the conversations between the batter and catcher. You’re that close.
The path you follow under the stands to get to the Dugout Suites isn’t just an afterthought. The hallways are well-lit and have beautiful signage to guide you. You also have a clear view of the batting cages that are under the stands. If you have the chance to explore this area, you’ll be quite impressed.
You’ll also be impressed with the view of the field from behind home plate on the main concourse — plus you have plenty of concession choices there, including the Dunkin’ Donuts stand. As you venture toward left field, you’ll pass Bear’s Smokehouse BBQ stand. It is positioned with great visibility from within the park, and it provides the distinctive smell of BBQ smoke that is noticeable throughout the stadium. It’s one of the experiences of attending a game here that Cole intended to be memorable.
The idea for the BBQ stand came out of a road trip taken by Solomon and Cole to visit other Minor League parks. They assessed the parks in Scranton-Wilkes Barre, El Paso, Reading, Charlotte, Winston-Salem and Lehigh Valley. The idea of having the smell of BBQ throughout the ballpark arose from that trip as they “ate as much good BBQ as we could put our hands on,” noted Solomon.
At the foul pole are the Left Field Grandstand seating sections (only $6 when purchased in advance) and behind them are swivel seats with countertops. And these aren’t just any chairs. Their backs show the Yard Goats’ logo. Really great touch. This Grandstand area gives you a great view of the Hartford skyline beyond the first-base side of the park.
The ConnectiCare Picnic Pavilion stretches across most of left field. This group area more or less surrounds the visitors’ bullpen (below left). Solomon said he hopes the fans there will heckle the opposing pitchers as they are warming up.
|Fans in the ConnectiCare Picnic Pavilion can easily heckle the opposing hurlers. On the right is the Travelers Fun Zone, complete with the insurance company’s symbol, a big red umbrella.|
Behind the batter’s eye in center field is the Travelers Fun Zone (above right) with inflatable attractions for the younger set. A special feature in this area is a pen for a real, live goat. I was told the goat will be appearing on Sundays throughout the season. It makes for a great photo opportunity. And that goat is noisy!
Between CF and the RF foul pole is the double-decked Right Field Porch, which is reminiscent of the two levels of seating in the Green Monster at JetBlue Park in Fort Myers. The lower level, which surrounds the home bullpen, was originally meant to be a place where home-run balls could be caught. The standards people at Minor League Baseball, fearing cheap home runs, rejected that notion, so now there is a screen in front of all of those seating sections (124 through 128), and a batted ball that hits that screen is still in play.
Let’s start our look at the upper level directly above these seats. This area of sections (224 through 230) is called the Home Run Porch, and unlike the rows directly underneath, a ball hit here is a home run. And if you look closely, you’ll notice a design element that’s a throwback to the outfield upper deck in old Tiger Stadium: the front of the upper deck extends slightly over the playing field below (below right). And the vantage point in this upper level gives you a wonderful view of the sun setting (below left), which occurs behind third base.
At the center-field end of this area is one of the ballpark’s many highlights: the Budweiser Sky Bar. As its name implies, you are high above the action, plus you have lots of company, because this is an extremely popular spot.
If you head around toward the first-base side of this upper level, you come to the area that is unofficially dubbed “the knuckle” and is officially called The Hartford Terrace (below). In this case, “Hartford” refers to the insurance company, not the City. There are several noteworthy aspects of this area (which might be why Cole cited this area when I asked him which design element of the park ended up working especially well). First, the vantage point – just to the foul side of the RF foul pole – gives you a wonderful, panoramic view of the playing field. Second, it has ornamentation unlike anything I’ve ever seen at a ballpark: an 1,800-pound statue of a stag (The Hartford’s symbol) is mounted on the stadium’s roof over this spot. Further, if you stand in just the right spot in the Home Run Porch, you can take a picture of this statue with the Hartford’s corporate office building way off in the distance behind it (below right — and remember, when you take that picture, you heard it here first). The seating sections at the front of “the knuckle” are numbered 201, 202 and 203.
Next you will encounter the Samuel Adams Party Deck, which is a group area that accommodates up to 125 fans. The view of the action from here is really good (are you noticing a theme here?). You can’t go here unless you can prove you’re part of the group that booked the deck for that game.
As you continue toward home plate, you will go through doors to seven of the luxury suites. These suites are quite large and are beautifully appointed. And the seats on the front of the suites gives you one of the best vantage points in the ballpark.
Through another set of doors is the massive 7,000-square-foot YG Club Presented by Frontier Communications. This occupies all of the area on the upper level behind home plate. This area has its own concession stand and, of course, bar. And its seats are astonishingly close to the plate, as the seating section is cantilevered very far out over the Field Boxes below.
As you head down the third-base line on the upper level, you’ll encounter the other 11 luxury suites and the other book-end party deck, sponsored by Heineken. It can hold up to 100 folks.
Now, I’ve mentioned several times that the vantage points in the upper level are thrust far out over the lower deck below. It’s true that you can “cantilever” upper level seats too far, impeding the view of the fans in the seats below. Note that in Nashville, the bottom of the club seats above the field boxes is so low and blocks so much light that they had to install fluorescent bulbs to the underneath side of the upper deck. Even then, if you’re in the lower level in a row far back from the field, you don’t have much chance of seeing a ball hit up in the air.
Not so in Hartford. That’s because the upper level is situated so much higher than the lower. Hence, you still have adequate head room above the Field Boxes. This is a smart arrangement.
But there is one aspect of the design, though, that I have to admit is awful. Almost no fan attending a game will care, but press box is really horrible. First, it’s not on the upper level where I think all press areas should be. Apparently, some early versions of the design had the press box there, but the desire to accommodate the huge YG Club behind home plate — and the luxury suites that radiate out from it — pushed it down to the main concourse behind third base.
|Dunkin’ Donuts Park’s one flaw: the awful press box|
Second, it is way too small. There are only two radio booths, but there will always be at least three broadcasts going on – home in English, home in Spanish and the visitors. This knocks one of the sets of broadcasters into the area normally reserved for the “working press” (writers, stats keepers, flunky ballpark reviewers like me) – and it wasn’t large enough to start with.
Third, when you’re sitting in the press box, you can’t see the majority of the field due to the shape of the windows and a large partition that runs through the middle of the space.
OK, that’s my only gripe about the design of the ballpark. Other than the ill-conceived press box – which should be enlarged and bigger windows installed in the next year or two – I wouldn’t change a thing. And that’s awfully high praise coming from someone who nitpicks the design of sports facilities to death.
Thankfully, the area for “production” – collecting the video feeds from around the park and running the best content on the video board – isn’t crammed into the same small shack as the press box. It’s opposite it on the first base concourse. And a la BB&T Ballpark in Winston-Salem, fans on the concourse can peer into the room through huge windows to watch what’s going on. It’s pretty interesting.
And it’s definitely true the park was built on a sloping site. The playing surface in the infield is about five feet below street level. In the outfield, it’s five feet above. As Cole mentioned earlier, this made for some fascinating seating arrangements for the fans – and for wonderful routes to take in walking around the park.
Finally, Cole made a point of reminding me that the signage inside a ballpark is part of its architecture – hence his firm (Pendulum) was responsible for the signs that point people to the area where they want to go and entertain them with photos of Hartford sports teams from decades long ago. The signage is really first rate. Extremely professional, helpful and attractive. And its fanciful nature fits in a ballpark that takes its name from a doughnut chain.
Before we dive into the gameday atmosphere, let’s talk about the team’s nickname. No, a “yard goat” isn’t an animal. It’s a phrase that describes a small locomotive that’s used around railyards to move cars from track to track. The name was submitted by fan Anthony Castora, and it was the winning name out of 6,000 entries. For his ingenuity, Castora was awarded lifetime season tickets. Nice prize!
The reason the nickname is appropriate for Hartford is because of the City’s storied past as a pivotal railroad center. I’m quite glad, though, that this didn’t carry over into the ballpark being designed with a railroad theme. Frankly, that’s been done quite enough in the Minors. In my mind, they broke the mold when North Little Rock debuted the wonderful Dickey-Stephens Park.
As we’ve seen, the “goat” references are used liberally around Dunkin’ Donuts Park – and why not? It’s not been done before, and I think the logo and the references appeal to a wide audience, especially kids.
As for whether it will cost you a reasonable amount to attend a game in Hartford – and whether you get a lot for your money – the answer to both is a resounding yes.
Until Phase Two is constructed, the surface lots that are adjacent to the stadium are convenient and cost you $5. There are two other surface lots within a three-minute walk that also charge $5.
You also have mass-transit options to get you to Yard Goats games. The CTfasttrack buses will get you to the XL Center, which is only about a three-block walk from the park, and many of the stations in surrounding communities let you park there for free. You can use CTtransit.com to plan your most convenient route.
My mind is still reeling from trying to digest all of the possible tickets prices for single games at Atlanta’s new SunTrust Park (there are 19 different categories of seats, each of which can have different prices depending on the opponent, day of the week, phases of the moon, etc.). Thankfully, the Yard Goats can fit their ticket prices on a pocket schedule (the Braves don’t even try). Easily. There are only six categories, and they are all $2 cheaper when purchased in advance.
As an aside, if there is an Academy Award for pocket schedules, the Yard Goats’ 2017 schedule would win. It has a tremendous amount of useful information, including easy-to-understand ticket costs.
Anyway, a tremendous bargain is the Left Field Grandstand (below left), where seats are only $6. And it’s a great view of both the game and the Hartford skyline. Plus you’re just a few steps away from Bear’s BBQ. Certainly one of the best buys in pro baseball.
Just behind these rows are Premium Swivel seats with your own countertop. These are also reserved seats and cost $12.
The double-decked seats in right field are $10 and the swivel seats at the rear of the sections are $12, while the really neat vantage point of The Hartford Terrace will cost you $15 per seat.
Field Box seats make up the vast majority of the seats in the infield. They are just $12. The swivel seats with the countertops at the rear of almost all of these sections are $16 … and believe it or not, those are the most expensive regular tickets you can buy for single games.
Again, these prices are all $2 higher when purchased on the day of the game.
Now, you can spend more if you want to include food. Tickets in the ConnectiCare Picnic Pavilion in left field include a buffet for $30 a person. Or you could get a group together (minimum 10) and enjoy the buffet and watch the game from either of the party decks at the ends of the upper level (that’s the picture at the top of this section). That’s $40 a person. Or you and 23 of your buddies can rent a luxury suite for a game for $1,000 or for $1,920, you can rent out one of the two dugout suites. They accommodate up to 40 folks.
Great idea: past and present members of the military get a $2 discount on their single-game tickets. Even better idea: in a section called the Dunkin’ Dugout near the left-field corner, 33 seats are free to charitable organizations that serve kids. It’s fitting that the seats are bright orange, since Dunkin’ Donuts sponsors this.
The Yard Goats also participate in a program that I’ve not heard of called “Assurance.” When you buy your tickets online and agree to spend an additional $3, if you end up not attending that game, you’ll have the right to trade-in that ticket for a future game.
Anyway, for a brand-new park at the Double-A level, the ticket prices are quite reasonable.
There’s also much to like in the team store. The shop is a perfect size – plus they devote space to a Connecticut Pride Corner (below left) with shirts and caps from UConn and, naturally, the Whalers.
The Yard Goats’ merchandise and apparel is both varied and wonderfully colorful. A lot of imagination went into designing the great souvenirs and clothing – though, of course, they had a whole year to get ready for opening day at the new park!
I was most amazed at the incredible variety of caps available. They make use of the team’s two primary colors (kelly green and royal blue) really well – plus lots of other colors and styles. Fitted caps for men (I counted five styles) cost $28, while ones with adjustable or “flex” bands cost $20, $25 or $28. Women’s caps – including a cute style that looks like a conductor’s cap to harken back to the Yard Goats’ railroad origination – cost $20. Kids’ caps run from $15 to $23.
Men’s t-shirts cost $22, although the Retro Brand shirts (a sponsor of the store) cost $25. Women’s T’s are $25.
I’m a fan of polo shirts, and there are lots of styles and colors for men. They are a reasonable $55. I kind of wish I would’ve bought one.
There is no shortage of kid’s shirts, of course. They run from $17 to $25, plus there are cute jersey tops for $55 and $60.
And I know you want to know about the concessions. In a word, they are fantastic. While they don’t quite measure up with some Triple-A heavyweights like El Paso and Charlotte, there isn’t better food at any Double-A park.
Naturally, there is a Dunkin’ Donuts stand serving donuts (did you doubt you’d find them there?) and their habit-forming donut holes called Munchkins.
And it’s products from Dunkin’ Donuts that help create the two most interesting food items at the park. One is the Dunkin’ and Chicken Skewers (below left) at the Grazin’ Goat food stand. It combines boneless BBQ wings with Munchkins for $10. Simply fantastic. The other is one that perhaps you’ve heard about on social media or the national news: the BLTDD (below center). This $10 delicacy is sold at the Dark Blue Diner stand, and it is something that you have to try at least once. It is bacon, lettuce and tomato with maple mayo sandwiched between two Dunkin’ glazed donuts. “And make no mistake,” says Austin Sagolla, VP of Operations for Professional Sports Catering. “It’s not one donut sliced in half sideways. No, it is two full glazed donuts acting as the bun.”
It is indescribably delicious.
There are several other “must try” food items at Dunkin’ Donuts Park. One is the Connecticut Lobster Roll (above right) for $13, which makes it a pretty expensive sandwich, but it is truly stuffed with a lot of high-quality lobster meat. It is delectable. Another is Scott’s Jamaican Beef Patty for $4 at the Raggae In Right food stand on the upper level of “the knuckle.” The patty is a delicious, empanada-like pastry stuffed with slightly spicy beef. Scott’s is a popular bakery in town, and it’s one of several examples of the Yard Goats’ food-service vendor working hard to incorporate local eateries within the ballpark.
But I can’t write about the concessions and not mention Bear’s Smokehouse BBQ. The line for it forms the minute the gates open, and stays long throughout the game. And believe me, it is worth the wait. “Everything has exceeded our expectations,” Matt Pease, who manages the events department of the three-restaurant business, told me. “We knew we’d be busy, but it went really crazy right from when the park opened.”
No wonder. The smell from the smoker behind the counter fills the ballpark (I suspect their stand was strategically located within the stadium so the aroma would reach every corner). They use the dry-rub method — which, as a Texan, I favor — and utilize hickory for the smoking. Pork butts smoke for 12 to 14 hours and the brisket for 16 to 18 hours.
It is time well spent.
Pease said the brisket sandwich is the most popular choice on their ballpark menu, but making a huge splash is the Mac Attack (mac & cheese on your choice of meat) and the Bear Attack (crumbled cornbread and mac & cheese on your choice of meat). Either is $12. A popular side is “cracklins,” which are pork rinds tossed in the spices in their beef rub.
And in case you were wondering, in addition to food, baseball is also served at Dunkin’ Donuts Park.
Enhancing the experience of watching the game is the exceptional sound system installed by TDG and the stunning high-resolution video screen in left field. The board is made by Panasonic and it weighs in at 40 feet tall and 80 feet wide.
On top of the video board is a huge cup of Dunkin’ Donuts’ famous coffee. Although it didn’t work during the first two games at the new park, I’m told that steam spews out the top of the cup whenever a Yard Goat hits a home run.
And even though the process of administering the game is being implemented by people who are new — many from the North End neighborhood — it is already in mid-season form. This includes the ushers (referred to as “goat-herders”), the between-innings entertainers, the production folks running the video boards, the PA, concession workers, etc. Of special note is the adorable young lady named Dana who acts as game hostess. She leads the contests and events between innings. She is a natural — and she’s a local from West Hartford.
And do I need to tell you that kids have a blast at Dunkin’ Donuts Park? The play area with inflatables is a hit, and on days when the live goat is on hand, it’s a magnet for youngsters. And the team did its homework on exactly how the goat-esque mascots should look. The blue, furry female is Chew Chew. She has green horns — and pink lipstick. Her male counterpart is Chompers. He is green and sports blue horns.
In fact, the park’s design is so superior and the gameday atmosphere so fantastic that I can forgive the lousy press box!
In an episode during the sixth season of Cheers, Norm was trying to recall the nickname of a college in Connecticut. “We’re just such big fans of their football team, you know, the Fighting Insurance Salesmen,” he quips.
In a city of insurance companies, how did a chain selling doughnuts wind up with the naming rights? “If we would’ve ended up with an insurance-company naming-rights sponsor, we knew we wouldn’t have been able to get the other insurers to do promotions or sponsorships with us,” Solomon explained. “We also wanted a national brand, and Dunkin’ Donuts gives us that. Besides, if you look in a Dunkin’ Donuts, you’ll see people from all walks of life, and it’s that kind of identity we wanted to convey.”
Plus it’s a fun name.
Solomon went on to explain that this ballpark isn’t just a sports facility. “We needed for this park to be an impetus for real growth in this part of the City, and it will do that. It will be a draw to bring people back to downtown.”
As will Phase Two of the project. Unfortunately, it’s stalled due to the fallout over the difficulties in getting the ballpark finished – namely lawsuits. An article in the April 9, 2017 Hartford Courant summed up the situation perfectly:
Future development was a crucial factor in the construction of Dunkin’ Donuts Park. The broader Downtown North, or “DoNo,” neighborhood was aimed at not only expanding the city’s tax base but paying for its sizable investment in the stadium.
|The Yard Goats’ GM is Tim Restall, and he was pivotal in keeping the ship afloat during the stormy seas of 2016, when the team was forced to play every game away from Hartford. Further, his influence is felt throughout the new park.|
Complicating the situation is that the developer who was fired after two missed deadlines on the ballpark still controls the land for Phase Two. Consequently, the hotel, brewery, grocery and apartments are on hold.
While it’s always possible that the City and the developer could mend fences and move forward with Phase Two, it sure doesn’t seem likely. The current Mayor told the Courant, “Needless to say, I don’t regard Centerplan as a trusted partner, and I think they failed terribly in meeting their obligations to the people of Hartford.“
But there are still reasons to be hopeful. The management of the Radisson Hotel across the street from the park said they were able to secure financing to convert nine floors into apartments because of the presence of the ballpark. The almost-finished Candlewood Suites has a similar story.
Officials with the City say other developers have been in touch with them about the DoNo area.
And keep in mind how long it took the Cardinals to bring the long-planned Ballpark Village across the street from Busch Stadium to life (answer: seven years). Today it is nothing short of spectacular. There are similar timelines in development around Coors Field in Denver and Minute Maid Park in Houston. None happened as quickly as their cities envisioned.
But it’s true that the delays and the resulting losses in tax revenue to the City have given the folks who oppose the ballpark reason to be vocal.
Minor League President Pat O’Conner (left), who traveled to Hartford to participate in the opening of the park, told me he’s seen this scenario play out in other cities that encountered delays in ballpark construction and development. He predicts that in Hartford, “there will be some angst and some gnashing of teeth, some wailing, and but by Memorial Day it will all be forgotten.”
He added that “there is so much community involvement in this, so much dedicated space here (in the park), that it will become a healing center without anyone walking around with a medical degree.”
When it comes to Dunkin’ Donuts Park acting as a bridge to the North End neighborhoods and as a catalyst for further development, O’Conner is optimistic. “I think this has a chance to be a shining example of what we can do. And I’m just as excited about the social doings here as the athletic.
“Remember the old adage: Good things come to those who wait,” he added. “I think Hartford is going to get good things.”
And the good things started with the park’s opening on April 13.
Solomon pointed out that opening day fell on the 20th anniversary of the last game of the Hartford Whalers. “There were a lot of hurt feelings when they left, but it’s a great feeling to have a home team again in Hartford. In fact, we adopted their team colors as a nod to them.“
Yes, in many people’s view — including mine — the arrival of the new home team ends Hartford’s 20-year losing streak.
Please leave a comment below if you have something to say — or have a question — about Dunkin’ Donuts Park or this review.