Living in Meriden, we just go up 71 to get to New Britain Stadium and come back down 71 to get home. It's a nice, quiet, one lane road type of drive, though we have been known to take the Berlin Turnpike to Route 9 to get to the stadium as well. So when we heard rumblings of a new team coming into New Britain I was excited. The last time we went to New Britain Stadium wouldn't have had to be the last time. Then when I found out that there would be a team in the Atlantic League my excitement level grew.
I'm not sure what you're into, so I'm not sure how to explain this to you in terms you'd understand but I can best relate what the Atlantic League is to people in terms of professional wrestling. If you think of the MLB as being WWE, then obviously the MiLB is NXT. In that scenario, the Atlantic League would be a lot like wrestlers in the United States going to Japan. The thing about the MiLB is that most of the players learning their craft are among other players learning their craft. I feel like the Atlantic League offers a better level of competition because they have former MLB players sharing the same stage with the rookies.
As a kid growing up in the 1980's, I always wondered what happened to a lot of the players I had baseball cards of back then. Did Carlton Fisk know I collected a lot of cards of his, and if so, where was he now? I feel like the Atlantic League is just as much a place for new players to begin their careers as it is to go to see players who MLB might think have seen better days or just don't feel they have room for on the roster right now but can work their way back into the MLB because being in the Atlantic League doesn't mean you're banned from MLB-- in fact it's quite the opposite as many Atlantic League players are offered MLB contracts every season.
This all only comes together nicely for me because we had originally planned on going to opening day for the New Britain Bees, though being on a Thursday made it somewhat difficult with work. When I found out that the Bees would be holding exhibition games for free I was interested even though the first two were on a Thursday and Friday, but the last of them was on a Sunday and it was against the Bridgeport Bluefish, who another Connecticut based team in the Atlantic League.
How fitting for this to be our opening day of sorts, as for the first time the New Britain Bees played against another Atlantic League team in their own stadium and on top of that it was sure to be a friendly in state rivalry for years to come. Yes, the first time the Bluefish made an appearance at New Britain Stadium seemed like the best way to kick off this new tradition for us.
We were told gates would open at 5 pm, but when we got there about 4:45 no one was stopping us from going inside so we did. New Britain Stadium was still going through a renovation and rightfully so, the New Britain Bees didn't have the time that they needed to put this stadium into its best shape yet, but at least that isn't stopping them from playing baseball.
The walls have been painted with yellow, black and grey honeycombs. I still think we should unofficially call New Britain Stadium "The Hive" now. It might not be 100% finished yet, but you get the sense that when it is, it will be truly be something special. We went into the gift shop and had to ask about some prices, but hopefully when they officially start their season they'll have signs up to tell people what things cost. We bought a teddy bear with a Bees shirt on, a yellow baseball with the logo on it and a yellow and black plush baseball because Quentin wanted that too.
As we walked around the stadium and took in the visuals of what had and hadn't changed, it just felt familiar, comfortable, and even Quentin who is four years old now knows his way around enough that he got really excited and ran around in a way he does in only a few other places.
Before the start of the game, as the players began coming into the dugout, Quentin- in typical for us fashion- went to the dugout and started asking players to sign his baseballs. It was really funny just because I remember last season so many people (myself included) would have to identify a player by their number from a sheet of paper and then say, "Oh, number five is Mike Michaels... Hey, Mike, will you sign for us??" and here Quentin is yelling out "Number five! Number five! Will you sign my ball?"
The players genuinely seemed to appreciate talking to Quentin (When he stood still) because what is better than a kid who likes baseball? When you think of modern technology, everything being so instantaneous and at the push of a button, most of these new generations are suffering from A.D.D. whether diagnosed or not. Simply put, kids don't have the attention span these days they once used to, so who will be left watching baseball in twenty or thirty years? We need to get kids back into the game.
I didn't really expect to come to this game in search of autographs because I know that the Bridgeport Bluefish do autographs after Sunday home games and have thus found out New Britain Bees will be doing them before their Sunday home games, so asking at the dugout wasn't a priority (As it was for most of last season) and I just kind of wanted to relax and take everything in, but Quentin is used to talking with the players so I'm not going to stop him.
The game itself went rather smoothly for being the first unofficial Atlantic League game for the Bees. A few of the mechanics in between batters and such needed to be smoothed out but it's nothing that won't fall into place eventually. And a similar story was told on the field. You know, the players get traded around a bit during the off season because they go and do other things (Go to the majors, retire, actually go to Japan or Mexico, etc.) but the Bluefish still have been doing this for longer than the Bees and that showed in their game.
Granted, there was never really a time until the very end of the game when the Bees were officially out of it. Yes, they were down by three runs in the bottom of the eighth with bases loaded, so they could have taken the lead back right then. So it wasn't a complete blowout and I liked that because the Bees just felt like fighters-- they refused to go down without swinging. And that was such a nice way to think of just everything that has happened in New Britain since the last season as well.
This was a bit of an odd weekend of firsts. We went to the first of the two Yale-Harvard games in a doubleheader on Saturday and then the second of the two Bluefish-Bees game in a doubleheader on Sunday. I'm not sure what this season holds for me with the Bees. I'd like to go to enough games to at least each of the teams they play in the Atlantic League and, of course, come back for the Bluefish again as well. But I do know that we also have plans now to go to our first Bluefish game in Bridgeport where they will be taking on the Bees which just feels somewhat poetic.
From Quentin getting to participate to an in between inning on field event to us being able to bring in our own food and drinks, I loved everything about this and I'm just happy to be writing and talking about baseball again. To end this on a somewhat funny story, we were sitting behind the Bees dugout but then moved because of the sun. Over on the Bluefish side, Quentin had easy access down to their dugout.
I said to Quentin "Go down there and say 'Can I have a ball please?' and see what happens". He went down, appeared to say it a few times (We were a few rows back so I wasn't sure all of what was happening) and then came back empty handed. I said, "Well, did you say please?" and he said "Oh yeah" and went back down. Sure enough, a few moments later he came back up with a game used Atlantic League baseball from the Bluefish. Incredible.