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Official Review by Sean Rowland, Stadium Journey Special Correspondent
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.
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The highlight here is the Sunny Days stand, which has quite an array of desserts that may be geared towards kids, but certainly are enjoyable as adults too. It is expensive, but the banana split ($7.50) is quite filling and packed with sweets. Along with ice cream, the stand also offers shakes, floats, and smoothies. The rest of the concessions feature several options, though nothing truly unique or special. Quesadillas, ham & cheese sandwiches, and mac & cheese bites were some of the highlights. I had a meatball grinder ($6.50) that could've used more (or bigger) meatballs and less sauce.
A good beer selection is offered at Harbor Yard and the star is the Southport Brewing Company, which is locally produced in nearby Southport. On tap were the Big Head Blonde and Red beers ($7). Also on tap were beers from Narragansett and Sam Adams. Bottled beer had a nice variety too. For those interested in wine, there were mini bottles of Barefoot ($6), which came in five different types.
The ballpark itself has a fine setup to watch a game, but it's what is beyond the ballpark that doesn't exactly set a pleasant stage. Towering over in right field is a power plant, along with its accompanying smoke stacks and surrounded by power lines and wires. Though trains will pass by just beyond the outfield wall, the view further out isn't exactly appeasing for a baseball fan. Now this area is industrial Bridgeport and the city is largely blue collar with industrial work making up a significant part of the area's past. It is also obviously still part of the present. The majority of the time it works very well to incorporate surroundings or a city's culture into a ballpark design (in fact, I love seeing that wherever I go). But here, it just didn't work for me. What fan wants to see a power plant while watching baseball, a sport highlighted by green grass and fresh air? To avoid that backdrop, sit on the first base side, where Webster Bank Arena is the main feature.
The rest of the ballpark design is a single level seating bowl that ends just past the infield. There is a fairly wide walkway that cuts the deck in half and the upper seats have a slightly smaller pitch to them. All of the seats are chair backs, with the exception of three bleacher sections at the top of each end. A really nice section that is surprisingly affordable is the Harbor Club. Located on the Suite Level, fans can sit here for only $20. Add $10 to that ticket and $30 will get you a seat up here, along with an all-you-can-eat buffet inside the closed doors behind the section. A pretty good deal, especially if it's a chilly day with the wind blowing off the water and you want to go inside and eat for a bit.
Being built in 1998, it's a little surprising that there are no grass berms in the stadium. Tucked away beyond the seating bowl in the corners are a couple of specialty areas. One is a picnic section, while the other is a pretty nice Kids' Cove that had a lot of fun stuff for the children. Typical on-field promotions are found in between each inning.
Harbor Yard is part of a sports complex in the South End of Bridgeport as the arena and ballpark sit right next to each other. Unfortunately, these facilities, which were built between 1998-2001, have not spurred any other development. The area is sort of in its own little circle formed by Interstate 95 and several railroad tracks. Outside of that is the industrial waterfront nearby and a mixed residential area that does not have much to offer. Though downtown Bridgeport is not all that exciting, it is within walking distance from the ballpark as Main Street begins through the underpass of I-95. There are a couple things worth checking out and they are only a half-mile from the stadium. The Barnum Museum is dedicated to PT Barnum of circus fame and features history on the man, the circus, and the city of Bridgeport (note that the museum has been closed since a tornado struck in June 2010). Right across the street is a fine and popular Italian restaurant, Ralph n Rich's.
Bridgeport hasn't been able to draw fans all that well as they have been down at the bottom of the Atlantic League attendance standings for the last few years. Those that do come, however, generally create a typical "minor league"-type atmosphere. They appreciate a good play and follow the game well. I visited on a beautiful Saturday night that featured fireworks after the game and the ballpark was a little more than half full. Most times, you can pick your seat and stretch out while watching some high quality baseball.
The Ballpark at Harbor Yard is one of the most accessible minor league stadiums you could find. It is right off of Exit 27 on I-95. A few access roads will bring you to Allen Street, where there are two large, unpaved parking lots right across from the ballpark. If you don't feel like fighting the traffic that can typically be found on stretches of I-95, there are other options. Metro-North's New Haven Line has a stop in Bridgeport and fans can use the train to get close to the ballpark. Lastly, if you are a Long Islander and don't want to travel around New York City, the Port Jefferson-Bridgeport ferry has a terminal right outside Harbor Yard. All very convenient.
There are several bathrooms available in the concourses. Though it's highly unlikely you will find a line, the very wide openings ensure that fans won't be in the way of the concourse if there is a line to contend with.
Except for the absurdly high $7 parking charge, everything is reasonable here. Tickets go for $8 - $12 and a program is $3. While the concessions may seem a bit high, it is typical of the expensive Southeast Connecticut market. The quality of Atlantic League baseball is pretty good and you will likely recognize a few names on the roster as many former Major Leaguers play here as they try to make it back to "The Show". There are likely a couple hometown guys playing, too.
A couple years ago, the Bluefish rightfully added a full-sized statue to honor James Henry O'Rourke. He is a native of the city and got the first ever hit in the National League. The statue features a nice description about his impact on baseball and life in Bridgeport.
Follow all of Sean's journeys at Stadium & Arena Visits.
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