Senator Thomas J. Dodd Stadium has been on my “to visit list” for a while. The former home of the Norwich Navigators, Connecticut Defenders, Connecticut Tigers, and now home to the Norwich Sea Unicorns, Dodd Stadium has been around for a while. Originally built in 1994 for the Navigators, Dodd was a perfectly serviceable single-A stadium. Now, the Navigators turned Defenders, turned Tigers turned angry narwhals are no longer a single-A team. The team, somewhat infamously, was dropped by the Detroit Tigers as their New York-Penn League affiliate via social media post in December 2020. The team scrambled, and found themselves planted in the Futures Collegiate Baseball League, which has been a refuge for cast-off teams. The Sea Unicorns joined the Brockton Rox (ex-Can-Am) and New Britain Bees (ex-Atlantic League) as formerly-professional clubs that now play summer college in the Futures. Dodd joins a bus load of stadiums in the Futures that have in their history hosted professional minor league teams, the Futures has done a good job of keeping a handful of former Can-Am League. Campinelli Stadium (Brockton), Holman Stadium (Nashua), Wahconah Park (Pittsfield), New Britain Stadium (New Britain), and Fitton Field (Worcester) all saw Can-Am League action at some point in the mid-oughts to early teens. In fact, Westfield’s Bullens Field, Dodd & Vermont’s Centennial Field are the only non-Can-Am stadiums in the Futures right now. And Centennial hosted Eastern League action with the Vermont Reds/Mariners (plus, the current team, the Vermont Lake Monsters are a New York-Penn alum, like our Sea Unicorns).
I mention all that, because I like the idea of these former pro ballparks continuing to stay open.
Back to Dodd; our “perfectly serviceable single-A stadium.. The facility, which sits in the middle of an industrial park, is a typical single-A stadium from the early/mid 90s. Single entry point leading directly into the back of the luxury/press box structure that sits directly behind home plate. As has become industry standard, the current league standings & the night’s line-ups are presented on back-lit signage. The concourse runs – at street level – all the way around the single-level seating bowl. A couple concession stand are built-in with a small team store (with a woefully slim selection of merch), a couple generic food stands, a local pizza shop & an ice cream shop featured. All the way up the third base side is an unused picnic pavilion, and it’s mirror on the first base side is a food truck and a beer shanty. On this night, the first base side also had a band, Branded…Country That Rocks, playing late 90s covers.
They were neither country (which I hate passionately), nor were they rock (which I enjoy), and they did not, in anyway rock in anyway. It was brutal, listening to them hack their way through songs that I, until that moment, enjoyed.
The public address announcer was also grating on the ears. He over annunciated nearly every word, particularly words like “Hit-ter”, and the uncomfortable pause as you could tell he was coming across a word or a name that he didn’t bother to prep for was – as a former public address announcer – frustrating.
Amanda and I had seats in the front row, just next to the visitor’s dugout on the third base side. We were sitting directly behind the ad hoc on deck circle. But the seat that I originally sat in was broken. So, thankfully, since almost nobody else was sat in our entire section, I was able to move down and sit comfortably.
Once sat in our seats, I noticed that the small video board in right-center field was off (later I heard it has been broken for a while), and that the outfield is pretty short. Only 401 to dead center as marked. The early innings were marred slightly by a woman sitting in a luxury box who sounded like she showed up hammered off her ass. She was heckling in the most annoying way possible, and at one point went off on a tangent supporting Nikki Haley. I mean, who has ever been that excited about Nikki Haley? Regardless, during the mid-3rd break in play, the game host (who showed up only 3-4 times) appeared in her particular luxury box so that her boyfriend could ask her to marry him.
Host: Hey there, Ken, I hear you’ve got a question to ask.
Ken: Yeah… Mary Ellen, will you marry me?
Mary Ellen: Yeah.
She was, shockingly, and thankfully quiet after that. I’m assuming its because she had a shiny thing to distract herself with. And Ken, you are a hero for jumping on that grenade, sir.
The game itself was uneventful. Short of the Westfield Spitfires complaining occasionally that the balls seemed to be soft. It did seem that well struck balls seemed to die in the air, and considering the short field, I would have thought that the outfielders would have had to backtrack on balls two or three times, but no. Everything fell in front of the outfield corps. And the Spitfires had two or three bats turned into kindling. Sawed off at the handles.
We left the game early, after the 7th, and went to 37 Town & Tap, which is a surprisingly good little bar/restaurant in a strip mall. They close fairly early, and there was nobody there when we showed up. But the food was good, and our waitress, Chiara was a delight.
Not that a really good French dip sandwich and patter with Chiara salvaged the night, but it was the bright spot in an otherwise “meh” baseball experience.
Overall, Dodd Stadium is not a “must see”, unless you treat your stadiums like Pokemon and you “gotta catch ’em all”. And, honestly, there is talk of renovating the stadium, which I feel is more likely replacing the stadium, with something that isn’t a stadium. If that’s true, I’m glad I got to see Dodd, but I won’t be sad if/when it’s gone.