The New Britain Rock Cats franchise has a long history in the Eastern League, and the team’s roots in Connecticut began ten miles away in nearby Bristol. That’s where the Red Sox farm team played in the 1970s and early 80s, at quaint and venerable Muzzy Field. Ownership then moved the team to New Britain in 1983 to a new ballpark called Beehive Field. Remarkably, this ‘new’ stadium was an ugly, bare-bones ballpark that turned out to be quite an eyesore and downgrade from Muzzy. After only 12 years, the ballpark was obsolete and a new one was needed, which is where New Britain Stadium comes in.
The field was completed in 1996 right next door to The Beehive, and the new stadium certainly fit the mold of the retro ballpark design era. As for the Red Sox, they wanted to move their franchise closer to home base in Massachusetts and after owner Joe Buzas became a bit of a local hero by saying no, the Red Sox took their team to Trenton, while Minnesota came in as the affiliate. This is a partnership that is now approaching two decades, and in a state that has torn allegiances to Major League teams, there is another team in the Twins that folks in Central Connecticut also keep an eye on. As for the stadium experience, they are doing some good things in Hardware City, and though the ballpark is not the top of the class in the Eastern League, it is very much a worthy place to visit.
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Each area is rated from 0 to 5 stars with 5 being the best. The overall composite score is the "FANFARE Score".
New Britain Stadium has recently added to their food selection, and one of the new highlights is the Burger Bar at the Legends Diner stand. Three former players have their own burger, and each one featuring Joe Mauer, Torii Hunter and David Ortiz is quite unique. While you are waiting in line, look up to the beautiful mural, which includes pictures of these guys in their old Rock Cats uniform. Overall, there is a decent selection, but nothing really out of the ordinary or described as a must-have. On the first base side, barbecue items like pulled pork ($7.50) or pulled chicken are a good choice, while healthier options like wraps featuring cold cuts can be found on the other side. Hot dogs ($3.00) are made by Kayem, and there is a foot-long ($4.75) for those who are really hungry.
On the sweet side of things, dessert items are plentiful in a ballpark geared towards families, with many varieties of ice cream and candy. The fried dough stand is very popular, and though the cost ($5.25) is pricey, it is quite delicious. I found one of their options to be peculiar, as they asked if I wanted sauce on my fried dough. Not knowing what kind of sauce this could be, I was hoping for something special when I said yes, but then was completely dismayed (and disappointed) when I saw it to be a type of marinara sauce. I've been to many ballparks, but this was a first, so beware of what you are getting if you ask for sauce with your fried dough.
As for drinks, Pepsi is the cola provider, while there are many other choices, like Gatorade, Sobe, Ocean Spray, coffee and cocoa. These are all generally between $3 - $4. Beers are $6 - $7 and beyond the usual Bud offerings, the team has added varieties of Long Trail and Goose Island, both pretty good choices to accompany a game.
The ballpark has a look very reminiscent of the mid-90s retro era with lots of external brick combined with green awnings, while inside features the same green color for the seats. Yet, there are some qualities that make it feel a little older and that give the park a bit of charm. The concourse best exemplifies that, as even though it does not provide a view of the field, the enclosed area has a lot of room and good visuals. The Rock Cats display many of their various team and individual accomplishments in the concourse, and this makes the area more vibrant. Curiously, the walls are blue and red here, which is odd since it doesn't match with the rest of the park. Could this be a nod to their current parent team, Minnesota?
Inside, New Britain Stadium has a split-level seating bowl with a wide walkway in the middle. The design is more angled than rounded, which leads to some spots where seats aren't facing directly toward the field, but it is not all that noticeable. Seat types range from low-level folding seats with cup holders, to bucket seats and then finally bleachers in the last upper side sections. Third base is likely the best side is to sit, as toward first base the sun can shine in your eyes from the left field corner during evening games.
There is a small roof that provides a little cover, with a limited number of suites under that roof. Specialty picnic areas can be found in four spots, all of which are just past the seating bowl on either side and level. The best is the Sam Adams Rooftop & Grill, where the bar setting is a great hangout and place to watch the game.
The atmosphere is standard for minor league baseball, with typical on-field promotions that thankfully aren't excessive. Mascots make the rounds, and there is also a kids fun zone beyond the concourse for $5.
New Britain is known as Hardware City for its manufacturing industry and past, but there is another feature that makes the city stand out. New Britain features a large Polish community, and along Broad Street, one will find Little Poland, where the language is common and restaurants are plentiful. It is definitely worth a visit to this area for a pre or post-game meal that will make you feel as if you are in Eastern Europe. A couple of the best places include Cracovia and Staropolska. If it is daunting to try a huge plate of new food, then stop into one of the many delicatessens or cafes to try a small bite. I visited during the city's Polish Festival and was lucky enough to sample many different unique and delicious Polish delicacies. For fans looking for classic American, be sure to stop by Capitol Lunch, a staple in New Britain that is on Main Street, which is close to Broad. Their meat sauce is famous, and they sell it by the pint.
This section of the city is about a 5-10 minute drive from the ballpark, which sits to the south. Otherwise, the stadium really lacks a good neighborhood, as it sits in Willow Brook Park, behind the high school and across the street from car dealerships. There is certainly nothing within walking distance, nor really anything just right down the road worth checking out. One interesting note, however, is the group of neighbors of New Britain Stadium. The ballpark is part of a three-facility complex, with 8,500-seat Veterans Memorial Stadium sitting to the right and old Beehive Field to the left. The high school still uses Beehive, which is why the decrepit place still stands. Gazing upon the structure, it's amazing to think that this facility was built around the same time as other AA ballparks like Joe Davis Stadium or Metro Bank Park.
Families are the big focus of the team, and that seems to be the core genre for New Britain's fan base, as you can tell the marketing is highly geared towards them (which, of course, is quite common in AA ball). Those in attendance when I visited were mildly interested and cheered when appropriate, overall making for an average crowd. The stands were about half full at the start of the game, but by the mid-to-late innings, about a third of the fans left, which was disappointing on what was a gorgeous afternoon. As for how the team does in regards to the Eastern League, they are generally in the middle of the pack for attendance, and do a decent job of bringing in fans.
New Britain is pretty easy to get to, as major interstates come close to the area. I-84 runs east-west, while I-91 is the north-south artery in Connecticut. Both lead to Route 9, which is just a few minutes from the stadium, located off South Main Street. Despite the relatively open location, parking is an issue, as the number of spots is limited. The team does a good job with traffic flow, but it became quite evident that the lot was going to fill up soon on the day I attended, and I was at the game 40 minutes before first pitch. Makeshift lots around the South Main Street area are then used, and these are a bit of a walk from the ballpark.
Bathrooms aren't exactly plentiful or huge, as there are just a couple on either side of the concourse. Despite this, lines were never an issue when I visited.
Minor League Baseball as a whole is known for being affordable and that is the case here. Tickets average $10 - $15, which is a bit high for the Eastern League, but there are $6 seats in the general admission section. The highest priced seats are $20, which can be found in front of the Sam Adams bar. These seats come with a great view, and also have a countertop to place your food and drink. My lone issue here is the $5 charged for parking. It's not the Rock Cats' fault as the city owns the lot, but that's quite pricey for a stadium outside of downtown.
I feel the overall ranking doesn't completely give full justice to what is a fine ballpark to visit, so we'll add three here with extra points, which are all warranted:
Amongst the many concourse displays, I really liked checking out the "Road to the Show" and the "New Britain Sports Hall of Fame". One suggestion to the Rock Cats - it is probably not the best idea to put all of the food condiments in front of the display, as it was kind of hard to really look at it with ketchup and mustard flying about. Lastly, a point to the ushers, who not only were warm and friendly, but all had a spray bottle and towel in hand so they could wipe down your seat. Sometimes it's the little things that bring you back.
Follow all of Sean's journeys at Stadium & Arena Visits.
Though no Major League Baseball teams play anywhere near central Connecticut, that hasn't stopped the New Britain Rock Cats from bringing competitive baseball and a family atmosphere to southern New England.
New Britain Stadium was built in 1996 to house the Rock Cats, the Double-A affiliate of the Boston Red Sox. Currently, the Rock Cats are the Double-A affiliate of the Minnesota Twins.
The ballpark, which holds 7,489, is part of the Willow Brook Park athletic complex and is situated right next to a football field. The stadium complements the quaint town of New Britain nicely.
New Britain Stadium itself is a typical minor league ballpark with great fan amenities from the non-stop family entertainment activities to the affordable food and beverages. Trees abound beyond the left field fence, giving the ballpark a secluded feel, and adding a touch of New England to the overall experience.
Visiting New Britain Stadium may not be the same as going to a Major League stadium, but it definitely satisfies the baseball needs of those not wanting to travel to New York or Boston.
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