Before a packed house last Thursday night, the Hartford Yard Goats (Class AA; Eastern League) christened their home, Dunkin’ Donuts Park. The event brought not only the end to a long road to the Yard Goats’ debut in Hartford, but also the opening of a fine ballpark that is Minor League Baseball’s only new facility in 2017.
Most news stories concerning the Yard Goats and Dunkin’ Donuts Park have revolved around the uncertain status of the ballpark. Delays prevented it from opening as originally scheduled last year, and disputes have arisen over the termination of Dunkin’ Donuts Park’s original developer.
On opening night, however, the focus shifted to baseball, something that was welcomed by the crowd of 6,850. The night ultimately gave the Yard Goats a chance to showcase Dunkin’ Donuts Park, which made a strong impression in its debut.
Similar to many of the ballparks that are being constructed today, Dunkin’ Donuts Park welcomes the social aspect of attending a game, something that is reflected in the seating choices available to fans. The ballpark contains numerous options for spectators who want to wander and take in multiple angles, and these spaces provided some excellent perspectives on the action.
Spanning a stretch that includes right field to center field, the upper level area contains both traditional fold-down seating as well as drink rails There is also a bar area in centerfield, along with a terrace in right field.
The trend of flexibility on the upper level is perhaps more pronounced in the main seating bowl, which includes numerous options. Drink rails line the concourse, leading out to more social spaces in the outfield and down the left field line.
On opening night, one of the more desirable spaces seemed to be the Bear’s Smokehouse BBQ area. Located down the left field line, the space features a BBQ concession stand and standing room space above the warning track. This perspective is one that should resonate with fans, as it not only provides a good perspective on the action but also offers what might be Dunkin’ Donuts Park’s best view of downtown Hartford.
The Connecticare Picnic Pavilion is one of the main group areas in Dunkin’ Donuts Park, and serves as a flexible space that can accommodate groups. It also offers solid sightlines for the action, continuing the ballpark’s theme of social spaces that can not only give fans more options in choosing where to take in the game, but also keep them close to the action.
That may very well be the strength of Dunkin’ Donuts, and it is a design trend that allows it to fit in with similar ballparks that have opened in recent years. However, there are more than a few features that fans will notice.
Premium spaces come in a few forms, including the suites next to both dugouts and the YG Club. The YG Club gives the Yard Goats and Dunkin’ Donuts Park some versatility in how they accommodate patrons for both baseball and other events. Its location behind home plate and access to a full-service bar make it a destination for select ticket holders on game days, and its spacious 7,000-square-foot size allows it to accommodate non-baseball events on a year-round basis.
On the main concourse, Dunkin’ Donuts Park offers a few unique features. The Yard Goats have placed a heavy emphasis on the team’s branding, with the Yard Goats logo featured on signage, the back of the drink rail seats, and other locations. It also ties into some of the concession offerings at Dunkin’ Donuts Park, such as The Grazin’ Goat.
The naming rights partnership with Dunkin’ Donuts has also led to some creative tie-ins. Dunkin’ Donuts logo is prominently feature on the main entrance of the ballpark, and its branding is on a large coffee cup mounted above the scoreboard that steams whenever a Yard Goat hits a home run. Furthermore, Dunkin’ Donuts has its own stand in the ballpark that serves donuts along with several different coffee and drink options.
There are also a few other unique features that are tied to sponsorships. The Travelers Fun Zone is visible from around the ballpark, thanks to its large red umbrella that is inspired by the Travelers Insurance logo. The Hartford also has a prominent place in the ballpark, with a statue replica of its stag logo perched above The Hartford Terrace down the right field line.
Dunkin’ Donuts Park’s opening was significant in several respects. It brought the end to the question of when the Yard Goats would finally debut in front of their home fans, who ultimately responded to the team’s arrival by helping to create a high-energy atmosphere that was one of the highlights of the ballpark’s opening.
For the Eastern League it marks the first new ballpark in some time. Dunkin’ Donuts Park is the first brand new venue to open for the circuit since Northeast Delta Dental Stadium—home of the New Hampshire Fisher Cats—opened its doors in 2005, and it is perhaps the biggest change to the league’s facility landscape since the extensive multi-phase renovation to the Harrisburg Senators’ FNB Field was completed prior to the 2010 season.
The Yard Goats have finally arrived home and, as a modern ballpark that provides fans the flexibility and amenities to enjoy the game, Dunkin’ Donuts Park is a fitting venue for Hartford’s newest team.