By: Brad Carroll
The common theme bandied about leading into the Bees Opening Night game Thursday was baseball is back in New Britain. But the fact is, baseball never left New Britain. There might have been a short stretch of uncertainty of who would fill the stadium come spring time, but all along, baseball was alive and well in this sports-crazed city.
That was more than evident an hour before game time, when cars had already taken up a good amount of the parking lot at New Britain Stadium, and four separate lines of people extending to the parking lot had formed outside.
Not to mention, just a few minutes later, the Bees team store was packed, with a line of customers with merchandise in hand wrapped around the alcove.
It didn’t hurt the merchandise available with the Bees’ logo on it made the previous tenant’s garb pale in comparison, a difference between professional and little league level. This stuff was cool. The Rock Cats’ merchandise was kid’s stuff. But that’s another story.
This story and this night was exciting to see for any baseball purist.
The stands at the stadium didn’t fill up as much as expected, especially with the early excitement outside, but nothing about this night was disappointing. The corners of the stadium were full and a great portion of the box seats around the field and behind home plate were full. The roof top grill was packed as well. The box seats in the “upper deck” were pretty bare, but it’s still a ways away from true baseball weather.
One thing the fans in New Britain saw on Opening Night was just how good the game will be played on a nightly basis in the Atlantic League. The Bees might not be part of affiliated ball, not associated with the Minnesota Twins or Colorado Rockies, but unless you’re a fan of those big league clubs, and I can’t imagine there are more than a handful in the state, you won’t notice a difference.
On the field, the Bees should be an overall better product than the Rock Cats ever were. While players of varying skill and experience populate rosters in the Atlantic League, there’s no doubt the best players can and will play in the Major Leagues this season. Others will shoot right to a Triple-A or Double-A roster in the big leagues as well.
The Eastern League is populated with prospects trying to improve their game, going through the growing pains that come along with becoming a Major League player and for some, stardom. The upside is immensely greater in Double-A for most, but if anyone noticed the amount of errors being made over the past two decades in New Britain, there is much growth to be had.
Players such as Josh Outman, the Bees Opening Night starting pitcher, Greg Golson, Nick Greenwood and Josh Zeid have already played in the major leagues and it wouldn’t be a surprise if any of them got the call to return to affiliated baseball before we reach the summer. That’s the similarity behind the two leagues. Each player in each league has the ultimate goal of leaving New Britain. And fans should cheer them in obtaining that goal, and following them with any number of teams, not just connected to the small-market Twins and the far-away Rockies.
The uniform doesn’t change, though, and the Bees will produce a quality product the city can be proud of.
It took a while for the Bees offense to get going on this night, being held scoreless into the fourth inning.
But when Greg Golson scored on a Javon Rosa triple in that half-inning, the crowd of 4,617 truly erupted for the first time. The crowd got even louder in the bottom of the eighth, when the Bees scored a pair of runs to cut the York lead to 4-3.
The game would end with that same score, but those moments, the eruptions, will fill New Britain for the rest of the spring and summer.
Baseball never left New Britain. It’s just a whole lot better now.