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Official Review by Paul Baker, Stadium Journey Regional Correspondent
The Mystic Schooners, despite their modest four seasons in New London County, are one of the two oldest franchises in the New England Collegiate Baseball League. Before settling in Groton, a town adjacent to Mystic, the team played in Willimantic, CT, Hinsdale, MA, Pittsfield, MA, and Bristol, CT.
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The Schooners operate a pop up tent next to the press box where fans can select from a very limited menu. The only hot item on the menu is hot dogs, which can be purchased for a reasonable two dollars. A variety of chips, candy, popcorn, and snacks are available here, with no item priced at over two dollars. A highlight of the menu is the Schooner Soda, bottled by a local company and featuring the Schooners logo on the bottle. Unfortunately, the team recycles the bottle, so you can't keep it as a souvenir. Add a scoop of ice cream to your sarsaparilla and you have a "Schooner Float," sold for three dollars.
Next to the concession table is a table selling assorted Schooners items. In addition to the usual selection of hats and t-shirts, fans can purchase a pint glass with the Schooners logo featured prominently on it. It's a novelty item not seen at most college summer league parks.
With the small crowd and large dimensions at Fitch High School, there isn't a whole lot of buzz in the stands at a Schooners game. The team does a couple of raffles during the game, but there isn't a whole lot extra going on to keep your attention. Ballpark purists will undoubtedly enjoy the fact that you can hear the chatter in the infield and instructions from the dugout, but there is something missing here that you get at other summer college ballparks. There are the requisite children playing their own games of catch in the large grassy area and who chase every foul ball like their lives depended on its retrieval beyond the third base bleachers, but they are far from the field and totally out of sight.
The baseball field where the Mystic Schooners play their game is located behind Robert E. Fitch High School in neighboring Groton, CT. The school is located on Groton Long Point Road, otherwise known as Route 215. Despite its location just off of Route 1, there is little in the immediate area to attract any visiting fans.
If visiting the area from out of town, the historic Mystic Seaport is located just over three miles away from Fitch High School on Route 1 North. Once in Mystic, fans will find some great seafood restaurants, and tons of shopping. The iconic Mystic Pizza of movie fame is located not too far from Fitch High School. Attractions such as Mystic Seaport and Mystic Aquarium are located here as well. In addition, the twin Connecticut casinos, Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun, are located less than a half hour's drive away.
Mystic averages about 200 fans per game at Fitch High School, ranking them at or near the bottom of the NECBL listings annually. The fans that do trek out to Fitch Field are very dedicated and knowledgeable about their team, and are very involved in the action on the field. It is wonderful to see a great deal of interaction between the players and fans throughout the game. Unfortunately, with so few fans, it leaves the experience sort of flat overall.
Fitch High School is located just off of Route 1, which hugs the Connecticut shoreline and is the primary business thoroughfare on the south coast of the state. It is easily accessible from Interstate 95. If driving to Groton, take exit 88 (Route 117) off of I-95, follow it to the end, take a left onto Route 1, and follow it to Route 217. Fitch High School will immediately be on your right. The baseball field is located behind the school.
Once at the ball field, there are paved paths leading from the parking lot to the large, new set of bleachers located on the third base side of the field. Fans needing accessible seating will be very happy with these bleachers, which have been built to meet all the newest ADA standards. Just beware, they are metal, and don't have backs, so bring a cushion, both to protect your backside from the metal and from the heat. There are no permanent restroom facilities here, just two port-a-johns for use.
There is no seating on the first base side of the field, but just beyond the press box is perhaps the smallest set of bleachers ever created. Consisting of three short rows of benches, they will seat perhaps nine people if they squeeze together really closely. Fans not wishing to sit in the bleachers will find plenty of room to spread out lawn chairs or blankets.
Admission to a Schooners game costs $5 for general admission seating. It feels a little on the high side for this park, but it is not out of line with prices in the NECBL. Many veteran Schooners fans (or should we call them freeloaders?) forego the price of admission by simply bringing their own lawn chairs or blankets and sitting on the hill beyond the outfield fence. By doing this, they are not charged admission, and they enjoy a great view of the action. To me, this seems like a rotten thing to do. The Schooners are not charging an exorbitant price for tickets, and the cost of admission goes entirely towards the running of the team (paying for gas and busses to away games, getting players home after the season, etc.). When your attendance is under 200 fans and there are 50 more sitting in the outfield for free, you are depriving the team of a substantial portion of their budget. This may be the only time you hear a rant from me against looking for the best bargain.
Parking is free in the lot located beyond the outfield fence. In the event of a larger crowd, more spaces are available on the opposite side of the school. Food prices are also very low, so going to a Schooners game is a very affordable entertainment option for families in the Mystic area.
The Mystic Schooners game day experience is a pretty bare bones one, even by summer collegiate league standards. The team runs a couple of raffles, one for a t-shirt, and the familiar 50/50 raffle. Disappointingly, the players do not participate in these raffles as they do in most other places, and the beleaguered intern running the raffles didn't start the 50/50 raffle until the 6th inning, not leaving him a whole lot of time to collect money. Fortunately for him, with the small crowds regularly in attendance, it doesn't take long to circle the park.
The league had a great idea in placing a team in historic and scenic Mystic. Unfortunately, by having the team play in neighboring Groton in an out of the way field, they lose any of the benefits that playing in such a tourist mecca would gain them. Other teams play in high school fields similar to Fitch High School, but those facilities generally have a better location or permanent facilities. Fitch High School has some catching up to do in order to match up with other NECBL facilities. For a team that has played in former minor league ballparks such as Muzzy Field and Waconah Park, this is a huge step backwards.
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