New Britain Mayor Erin Stewart says she’s heard from several independent and summer-collegiate leagues about a New Britain Stadium lease, potentially as soon as the 2016 season. The current lease between New Britain and the Rock Cats runs through the 2015 season, and we’re not aware of any options that could extend it another year — but if there are, look for the Rock Cats to seek an extension. MiLB encourages teams to maintain two leases during a ballpark move as an insurance policy against ballpark-construction issues. We’ve seen that insurance policy come in handy twice in recent years: the El Paso Chihuahuas (Class AAA; Pacific Coast League) started the 2014 season in Tuscon because of ballpark construction delays, and the Biloxi Shuckers (Class AA; Southern League) will play some games in Huntsville this season because of ballpark construction delays at MGM Park.
The larger issue, however, is what comes next, either in 2016 or 2017. Stewart says she’s been talking with the independent Atlantic League about putting a team in New Britain, per the Hartford Courant:
“I want good family-friendly baseball in New Britain and I’m going to do what I can to make sure that stays,” Stewart said.
The Atlantic League would instantly create an in-market rivalry with the Hartford Yard Goats, which will be the Rock Cats’ identity after they trade a New Britain address for a $56 million ballpark in Hartford in 12 months.
“It’s definitely on our radar screen,” said Frank Boulton, founder of the Atlantic League and co-owner of two of its teams, the Bridgeport Bluefish and the Long Island Ducks. “New Britain has a long history of baseball and is deserving of a look … I definitely plan to come out and visit.”
Generally speaking, it’s never a good practice for an independent baseball team to compete with an MiLB team in the same market, especially when the MiLB team is moving into a new ballpark and creating lots of excitement. (Most recently, the owners of the El Paso Diablos left the market for Joplin once the Pacific Coast League came to town.) Similarly, we can’t imagine the Can-Am League showing too much interest in the market: both independent leagues work best when they’re top dog in a market — Quebec City, Long Island, Winnipeg, — or when they’re sharing a very large market with an MLB team — St. Paul, Sugar Land, Kansas City. An indy team moving into a formerly affiliated ballpark works when the affiliated team has left the market — and in this case, the Hartford team is very much in the same market. And how to handle an additional team would be a challenge for the Atlantic League: there’s no other expansion on the horizon (quite the opposite: Texas efforts have stopped, and a developer is suing to get out from under a Virginia ballpark), and it’s hard to see an existing team moved to New Britain.
But summer-collegiate ball could be a better bet for New Britain. There are an abundance of leagues in the region — say, the Futures League — and summer-collegiate ball tends to be a different beast on the marketing and attendance front. Summer-collegiate ball has done well in former MiLB and indy venues in Brockton, Worcester, Lynn and Pittsfield, and with some TLC the 6,200-seat New Britain Stadium could be made more intimate for the college game.
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