Fence alterations add to woes for new Hartford baseball park

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — Even before the season started, Hartford’s new minor league baseball team knew that construction delays at their stadium would keep them on the road for weeks.

New issues with the ballpark have continued to crop up — including a right-field fence that the league says is too short — and the Eastern League is not committing to a date when the Double-A Yard Goats can play their first home game.

“We’re cautiously optimistic, but there is a lot of work to be done,” Joe McEacharn, the president of the Eastern League, said of the tentative home-opener date of May 31.

It became clear last fall that the stadium, originally projected to cost $55 million, would need $10 million more. A deal was announced in January to plug that gap with money from the developers, the team and city taxpayers, who are on the hook for at least $3.5 million more than originally planned. The developers face large penalties if the ballpark is not ready by the end of next month.

Recently, the league determined the 317-foot distance from home plate to the right-field fence would make hitting a home run too easy. The issue is being fixed by placing a net on top of the wall and in front of the first tier of seats. Balls bouncing off the net will be in play, effectively raising the height of the fence from 12 feet to 25 feet.

“We actually think of this as an asset,” said Tim Restall, the Yard Goats’ general manager. “Because it provides another safe area for families to sit.”

The league signed off on the original stadium dimensions and decided changes were needed only after the walls were built and a street was relocated to accommodate the stadium. Moving the fence back would have meant eliminating seats, altering the concourse and creating new delays.

Adding to the indignity, an employee dressed as one of the team mascots was jumped and pushed over last week while walking on a city street. Police are investigating.

The affiliate of the Colorado Rockies announced in 2014 that it was moving from Hartford to New Britain.

The team has the best record in the Eastern League at 14-4. Restall said it’s having a difficult time keeping Yard Goat merchandise on the shelves and season ticket sales are strong.

He said he’s confident fans will be happy with the new ballpark, which will include amenities such as field-level suites and a state-of-the art video board.

“Having the team on the road has been disappointing,” he said. “But we know this will soon be in our past and we’ll be at Dunkin’ Donuts’ ballpark enjoying a Yard Goats game and enjoying playing baseball in Hartford.”

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