The Ballpark at Harbor Yard is a comfortable enough venue to watch the Bluefish take on the Atlantic League, which often includes a former major leaguer or two.
Year Opened: 1998
Capacity: 5,300 + 200 standing room
Original Price: $19 million
Dimensions: 325L, 405C, 405R
Playing Surface: Grass
League: Atlantic League
Parking: $4 in the surface lots that run across the street on the first-base side of the ballpark. There’s also a parking garage near the next door arena. All parking has easy access to I-95 and the Rt. 8/25 connector.
Address/Directions: Exit 27 off I-95 or exit 1 off the 8/25 connector. Interstate 95 practically encircles the ballpark, so it’s tough to miss. There’s plenty of signage, though some of it is conflicting.
Written by: Mike Pastore
Photos by: Steve Kapsinow
You’ve probably heard of Bridgeport, Conn., even if you don’t realize it. It was once the largest city in the country led by an elected Socialist. In the 1980s another mayor tried to declare the city bankrupt. The last mayor is serving time in federal prison for corruption. The current mayor admitted last year he’s had some trouble with illegal drugs (i.e., he used them). But Bridgeport, still the largest city in Connecticut, was once a thriving center of industry. During both World Wars it was home to some of the nation’s largest factories and produced, among many other items, munitions to supply Allied armies. You can probably guess what’s happened since. Bridgeport is a little bit of the rust belt sitting among some of the wealthiest communities in the country along Connecticut’s “Gold Coast.”
The schemes to bring Bridgeport back to some prominence and people back to Bridgeport over the years are too numerous to mention here. Most of them center around large-scale waterfront developments, casinos, and sports teams. The latter dream is one that actually came true, and some of the credit goes to former mayor Joseph Ganim (he’s the current guest of the government if you’re keeping track), who ran the city when The Ballpark at Harbor Yard was built and when its sister venue, The Arena at Harbor Yard, came along a few years later. (The Arena, by the way hosts concerts, college basketball, and has a regular winter tenant in hockey’s Bridgeport Sound Tigers, the AHL affiliate of the New York Islanders.)
The current site of the Harbor Yard complex was once home to a housing project and the Jenkins Valve Company. It’s right off Interstate 95 and sits at the terminus of the Rt. 8/25 connector, which feeds northern Fairfield County and the Naugatuck River Valley. And that’s part of the problem. If you’re going to build a ballpark to help revitalize a city, putting it in such a convenient location practically guarantees no one stays in the city or comes early to spend time in the city. There isn’t much in the way of restaurants or bars within walking distance, at least until some of the planned developments downtown take root; instead Harbor Yard is surrounded by highways and, well, the harbor. Yet somehow they managed to build the ballpark without much of a water view.
Bridgeport’s harbor is a natural deep-water port, something that’s quite rare on the Long Island Sound, so there is commercial shipping and a ferry runs several times daily to Port Jefferson, Long Island, but you won’t confuse this harbor with Baltimore (whose Oriole Park at Camden Yards inspired the name for The Ballpark at Harbor Yard). A large coal-fired power plant (as shown above) looms over right field in Bridgeport. So if you’re looking for charm, there isn’t much. In addition to the power plant, the outfield is almost ringed by the railroad tracks of the Northeast Corridor line. Metro-North and Amtrak trains run back and forth throughout games, sometimes with an unavoidable metal-on-metal squeal due to the sharp curve in the tracks. One Metro-North engineer regularly pulls his diesel train to a stop in right field to take in a few innings and comment with his horn before beginning his evening run. Bridgeport’s history is gritty and industrial, and you have to wonder if they could have incorporated some of that feel into the design of the ballpark itself and not just its environs.
There is some baseball history to Bridgeport that deserves mentioning. The home of Jim O’Rourke, one of baseball’s earliest stars, a Hall of Famer, and the first person to get a hit in the National League, is in Bridgeport. He died in the city in 1919. There’s an effort to move his home from its current site, where it stands in the way of another potential development near the waterfront. If you leave Harbor Yard and head north on I-95 toward New Haven, you’ll see a large tract of cleared land on your right with a solitary, dilapidated old home in the middle of nowhere. That’s O’Rourke’s home, and you can learn more about O’Rourke himself and the effort to move it at www.thefirsthit.org.
You won’t find O’Rourke mentioned prominently in The Ballpark at Harbor Yard, although the Bluefish did retire the number 21 in honor of Roberto Clemente, who is beloved among the city’s thriving Puerto Rican community. The Bluefish, however, have set about building a solid history of their own. They own the best record over the 10 years the Atlantic League has been in existence, and they’ve played in the league championship three times.
The Ballpark at Harbor Yard is a comfortable enough venue to watch the Bluefish take on the Atlantic League, which often includes a former major leaguer or two. Rickey Henderson has spent time in the Atlantic League, and Tommy John (he of 288 major league wins and the famous surgery) spent several seasons as manager.
There isn’t a bad seat in the house for watching the game, there’s luxury boxes and a picnic area for large groups, and a play area for the kids. The food is inexpensive and edible, with nothing on the menu setting you back more than $5.25. At $6 for a reserved seat in the bleachers down the lines, it’s an affordable night at the ballpark for those who don’t want to travel into New York and pay big league prices to bring the kids to a game. If your little one falls apart in the fifth inning, you can go home knowing you got your money’s worth.
Like most new ballparks built in the late 20th or early 21st centuries, The Ballpark at Harbor Yard has a wide, covered concourse, The wind can whip up off the water at night, so a little shelter or a sweatshirt is probably a good idea. You’re free to wander around for closer looks at the arena beyond left field, the power plant in right, or just to visit the concessions or the team store to buy something teal. There’s a nice big scoreboard in center field that’s visible from everywhere in the stadium, and the dimensions are big enough to make things interesting and cozy enough to invite home runs, like the three-run home run and grand slam we saw in the home second inning during our visit.
Is Bridgeport’s ballpark at Harbor Yard worth a special trip? Not really, unless you’re trying to see all of the Atlantic League ballparks, or you’re doing a road trip that takes you through the area, which is convenient if you’re headed from New York to Boston or to some Eastern League spots like New Britain or Norwich. Traffic on I-95 in this part of the country is bad — historically bad during rush hours — so Bridgeport is a good stop along the way to break up a trip.
Here’s an idea for an interesting Atlantic League road trip: take in a Bluefish game then hop on the aforementioned Port Jefferson Ferry beyond the outfield fence and head to Long Island to see the Atlantic League’s Long Island Ducks. You can bring your car on the ferry (advanced reservations suggested, see bpjferry.com) and it sure beats the traffic around New York and out to the Island.
Nothing is expensive, but nothing really stands out either. Hot dogs, burgers, ice cream, fries, cotton candy, pizza, and popcorn are all accounted for, so your ballpark food groups are covered. Given that Bridgeport has a large immigrant community, especially from Latin America, an ethnic flair or signature food would be a nice touch, but it’s not to be found. There is premium draft beer, but pay attention to which concession stand you’re using. At one it might be Heineken, at another it could be Red Hook, so look at the taps if you have a preference.
Where to Stay
There is a Holiday Inn in downtown Bridgeport, but the city itself lacks much in the way of accommodations. There’s a Marriott in nearby Trumbull, a short ride on Rt. 8 from the ballpark, and there are other major chains in surrounding towns like Shelton and Fairfield. If you’re making a trip to the Connecticut casinos, you’re more than an hour away on one of the nation’s busiest highways, but if you’re making that trip from New York you’ll practically drive through left field on your way east.
For the Kids
There is a play area down the right field line with baseball-themed games. There’s B.B., the Bluefish mascot, who runs around playing with (or scaring) kids, and plenty of rubber ball and T-shirt giveaways and races of all kinds. The environment for kids can’t be beat, especially if they don’t care about what’s happening on the field.
Before the Game
The Barnum Museum is not far from the ballpark in downtown Bridgeport. It’s devoted to the life of P.T. Barnum, the circus owner and consummate showman who called Bridgeport home. Every summer The Barnum Festival pays tribute to Barnum’s lovable lunacy, and his circus makes an annual stop at The Arena at Harbor Yard. If you’re looking for more culture, New Haven is about 25 minutes away with more museums and a place called Yale. If you’re coming from the New York area, there’s the Maritime Aquarium, also located right off I-95, in Norwalk, also about 20 minutes away depending on the traffic. If you’re looking for something beyond the usual ballpark hot dog, Super Duper Weenie off I-95’s exit 24 in nearby Fairfield is worth the short trip. You’ll never look at a hot dog the same way again.