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Official Review by Paul Baker, Stadium Journey Regional Correspondent
The Bridgeport Bluefish are a charter member of the Atlantic League, considered by many to be the premier independent baseball league in the country. The team has won the most games in the history of the league, and has won one championship in their history, in 1999. In addition, the Bluefish have made four other appearances in the championship series.
The land that the Ballpark at Harbor Yard sits on was purchased by the city of Bridgeport from Donald Trump for $1 and the forgiveness of unpaid back taxes. Before the arrival of the Bluefish, the last professional team to call Bridgeport home was the Bridgeport Bees, who last played in the affiliated Colonial League in 1950.
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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".
A great deal of effort has been put into improving the concessions here in recent years, and the concessions at Harbor Yard are a pleasant surprise. All the ballpark staples are present here, along with cheesesteaks, sausage sandwiches, and pizza from local favorite Massimo's. Sam Adams American Grill is located down the right field line, and features burgers, grilled chicken, and foot long hot dogs.
For something different, check out Uncle G's Smoke Shack on the right field side of the ballpark, where hungry Bluefish fans can pick up pulled pork or chicken sandwiches, red hots, chili, as well as fixings such as watermelon and fried Oreos.
Harbor Yard has a good selection of beers for a park of its size, with choices ranging from domestic (Bud & Bud Light), to imported (Corona & Heineken), to craft beers (Two Roads). There is also a stand offering mixed drinks and wines. For fans looking for non-alcoholic options, Pepsi products are featured here.
The atmosphere at Harbor Yard is the typical minor league one, featuring music playing over the loudspeakers at every opportunity, games for the kids between innings, and contests throughout the game. There is an excellent emcee here who brings energy to the ballpark and keeps the crowd involved.
Longtime visitors to Harbor Yard will notice that the former play area in right field is gone, replaced by a beer garden that features railing seats right at field level. If you have kids who need to let out some steam, an inflatable play house is located at the end of the left field concourse.
The Ballpark at Harbor Yard and its next door neighbor, the Webster Bank Arena, built in 1998 and 2001, respectively, are located in a small neighborhood wedged in between Interstate 95 and the Long Island Sound waterfront. It was hoped that their presence would spur development in the area adjacent to the sports complex. Several buildings were razed to make room for both the stadia and the planned development. Unfortunately, this development has never occurred, leaving only a couple of large unpaved lots adjacent to the ballpark that are now used for parking.
Downtown Bridgeport is located on the opposite side of I-95, easily accessible through several underpasses. This area carries a long-standing reputation as an area to avoid, particularly at night. As is the case in many cities, local leaders have worked hard to reverse this reputation, and several businesses have taken up residence in the downtown area. Unfortunately, the area has not totally reached its potential, and many fans come to Harbor Yard solely for the events at the ballpark or arena and leave immediately afterwards. Fans willing to explore the area can find several fine restaurants and theaters, as well as the Barnum and Bailey Museum.
The Bluefish averaged just over 2,900 fans per game in 2015, which ranked them last in the 8-team Atlantic League. Crowds are larger on the weekends, where the team has scheduled fireworks shows and family days, but you should have your pick of seats no matter what day you visit. As with most minor league teams, the Bluefish market themselves to families, and the typical Bridgeport crowd does indeed consist mainly of families and groups.
Ballparks don't get much easier to find than The Ballpark at Harbor Yard. Located directly off Interstate 95, all one has to do to get to the field is take exit 27A (whether traveling northbound or southbound), follow the signs for a block, and you are there. Parking is available in two lots across the street from the ballpark, or in the garage adjacent to the hockey arena. Additional free parking can be found on street within a short walk of the ballpark. Despite downtown Bridgeport's less than sparkling reputation, the area around the ballpark is safe.
Getting to Bridgeport is a snap, as Interstate 95 passes directly through downtown. The city is located 60 miles northeast of New York City, an hour's drive south of Hartford, and 20 minutes from New Haven. Amtrak's northeast corridor trains pass directly behind Harbor Yard, with the station only a couple of city blocks from the ballpark.
Harbor Yard follows the typical minor league ballpark blueprint, as fans climb a flight of stairs to get to an open concourse that overlooks the seating bowl and field, except for a section behind home plate that is blocked by the press box. There is a walkway about halfway up the seating bowl that separates the lower blue seats from the upper green seats. Seating in upper sections further down the foul lines consist of metal bleachers.
With the small crowds present at Bluefish games, fans will have no problem getting around the ballpark. There is plenty of room at the typical Bluefish game for fans to spread out, and while the restrooms need a little TLC, they are more than large enough to handle the usual Bridgeport crowd.
Tickets for Bluefish games cost $15 for box seats (lower sections) and $11 for reserved seats (upper sections). These prices feel like they are a bit on the high side for this level of baseball, but resourceful fans can save $2 per ticket with a AAA card. Just remember to ask for this discount at the ticket booth, as it is not advertised.
Parking in the dirt lots adjacent to Harbor Yard costs $7, but seasoned Bluefish fans will often opt for free parking on the roads near the ballpark. These spots fill quickly, so arrive early to take advantage of this bargain.
Food prices are in line with other venues of this size in the area. Overall, a night at The Ballpark will not break the bank.
The Ballpark at Harbor Yard has a couple of touches that are worth checking out. In the plaza outside of the ballpark is a statue of baseball Hall of Famer and Bridgeport resident James O'Rourke, who is credited with getting the first hit in National League history. Located behind the press box is a mural of several area residents who made their way to the major leagues.
Another extra point is awarded for the unique, industrial background here at Harbor Yard. With the giant power plant looming beyond the right field fence and the frequent commuter trains passing by throughout the game, Harbor Yard boasts a most unique backdrop.
The Ballpark at Harbor Yard was once considered the jewel of the Atlantic League, being named as the Atlantic League's ballpark of the year in 2009. Unfortunately, it is not aging well. With small, lackluster crowds and a less than ideal location, relocation rumors have begun to spring up around the Bluefish franchise. With a new Atlantic League team beginning in nearby New Britain, perhaps new life can be breathed into this tired ballpark.
Follow all of Paul Baker's ballpark and stadium visits on Twitter @PuckmanRI.
Member Review by shamus170 on Aug 24, 2012
The Atlantic League is one of the strongest independent baseball leagues around as solid ownership and a generally stable set of teams have helped to build a nice foundation. One of the founding members is the Bridgeport Bluefish and they play in The Ballpark at Harbor Yard. Though fan support is not as strong here as it is in other markets, the ballpark experience is still decent. The stadium itself is typical of what you would find in the Atlantic League, though with one towering eyesore in right field.
Member Review by puckmanri on Jul 02, 2014
this is an OK place to take in a game. It offers little that is special or that sets it apart. The prices are pretty high, $7 to park in a dirt lot, and high food places ($7 for an ice cream helmet? you have got to be kidding me). The atmosphere here could use a kick in the pants. Kudos to the active mascot. Downtown Bridgeport is a place to be avoided. Leave after the game.
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