The new Hartford Rail Line hit a home run when the Capital City played host to the NCAA basketball tournament in March, and officials hope it's about to happen again with baseball season.
“It was tremendous numbers that were riding the rail,” explained Vicki Shotland, Executive Director of The Greater Hartford Transit District.
It opened at the end of last baseball season. So, Thursday’s home opener for the Hartford Yard Goats at Dunkin’ Donuts Park will be the first test of the New Haven to Springfield schedule. Just a 10-minute walk from Union Station to the ballpark, Shotland said the new line promises to be a popular way to get to the games this season.
“Kids love taking the train and the Yard Goats are such a draw for families,” she stated.
With parking at a premium around the ballpark and timing of games at the end of the workday causing extra congestion, Hartford police and area officials urge Yard Goats fans to take public transportation when possible.
“Obviously, rush hour downtown has always been a little bit challenging to say the least,” said Lt. Paul Cicero.
Season ticket holder Matt Necci of Glastonbury wishes he could hop on the bus, to “fastrak” his way into the city.
“If the state would invest in bringing that east of the river to Glastonbury I would absolutely do that. That’s something I think we could improve on but we don’t have that access in Glastonbury,” he said.
Necci referring to the CTFastrak buses that some people have used in the past to get to games.
Fans who drive down will have to cross a busy street to get into the ballpark once they park.
“The traffic division officers as well as the officers that are working the event will actually control the traffic signals,” said Cicero.
With crowds contained to the park, Cicero said it’s easier to secure a Yard Goats game than other public events like parades. Still, the city spent $246,000 on overtime pay for police officers working security at home games during the last fiscal year, according to a city spokesperson.
“There are police officers in the stadium, outside the stadium, around the parking lots as well as the patrol officers who are doing their typical duties at that time,” he explained.
The Yard Goats have played seven away games and are in last place in the eastern division of the Eastern league with a 1-6 record. However, both the fans and area businesses say just being here in downtown Hartford is a win for the local economy.
“They’re bringing back energy to downtown Hartford,” said Adam McLaughlin of South Windsor.
He and Necci have held season tickets to Yard Goats games since the first season three years ago. Both work in Hartford and have noticed how downtown swells with people on game day.
“It has brought a ton of foot traffic downtown that was not there before,” Necci said. “We didn’t necessarily go to games when they weren’t in Hartford, and the fact that it’s helped revitalized the area and gotten people to come and fill restaurants and bars like this has been a really good thing.”
It’s a phenomenon that area restaurants and bars hope to take to the bank.
“It’s cool because you get to see some of the excitement in Hartford again which is nice,” said Jason Ornek, manager of the Irish pub and restaurant, Vaughn’s Public House.
Ornek said the summer months tend to be slower for his establishment with most people choosing outdoor activities over inside amusements, but when the Yard Goats are in town, specials draw the office crowds in before weeknight games and families on weekends.
“We’re definitely looking forward to the crowd that comes and hangs out with us before the games and after the games. It’s definitely a cool vibe to have,” said Ornek.
“If you look at downtown Hartford on game day you see the difference and the level of excitement that’s happening in the city,” Erik Johnson, Hartford’s Director of Economic Development Services said.
Despite 40 sold out dates in 2018 and shattered attendance records, the city has not made back what it borrowed to build the stadium. A lawsuit between the city and the original developer have put plans to put housing, shops, and restaurants around the park on hold.
Still, the Yard Goats seem to be attracting people back into downtown Hartford.
“I think a lot of families have gone which is one of the reasons why it’s really appealing to have in this area,” said Susan Frassinelli of West Hartford.
“I think it’s not just good for the residents and the city and the businesses I also think it is a good feeling,” added Johnson.
The franchise operates with 40 employees in the front offices during the off season, a number that swells to 300 in April.
“We’re pretty proud to boast that about 60 percent of the folks who work at the ballpark are Hartford residents,” Yard Goats General Manager Mike Abramson.
McLaughlin believes Donuts ballpark may be the most important part of downtown Hartford’s revitalization.
“The Yard Goats have really kind of been a centerpiece for what is coming and what will come,” he said.