Connecticut Tigers Counting On A Summer Surge

The Connecticut Defenders accomplished something it had not done since 2001 before bolting town this offseason: It attracted over 200,000 fans in each of its final two seasons at Dodd Stadium.

The Double-A Eastern League affiliate has since moved on to Richmond, Va., adopted the Flying Squirrels moniker and will look to overcome an aging ballpark in the circuit's biggest market. But before leaving the Northeast, the Defenders proved that fans will come out to the ballpark — particularly in the summer months. That's a feat Dodd Stadium's new tenants, the short-season Connecticut Tigers, hope to prove was no fluke when the New York-Penn League schedule begins in late June.

The NYPL and Minor League Baseball recently approved the Oneonta Tigers' relocation to Norwich, and on last Thursday the newly named Connecticut Tigers held its press conference at its new home. The team introduced its new logo and uniforms. All that's left is a mad dash to Opening Day.

"We have about eight months worth of work to do in two-and-a-half months," said Connecticut general manager Andrew Weber, who has guided the team's relocation from Oneonta.

Dodd Stadium is no baseball mecca. It is located on the top of a hill in an industrial area that hardly lures fans. But the Defenders did take baby steps to respectability in its final two seasons, drawing 202,004 fans in 2008 and 203,005 in 2009 — good for second to last and last, respectively, in the EL. But it was an improvement, and a look behind the numbers reveals that the team did particularly well in the summer months–the same time of year that the new C-Tigers will play ball in the NYPL.

"It is proven that baseball has worked here for 15 years," Weber said. "We're also a short-season club here, and through research and people we have spoken with we've learned that April and May was tough in Connecticut. That we start in June will be a big boost for us–62 or 63 percent of (the Defenders') attendance came in the period we play our games in."

Double-A Connecticut's Month-by-Month Attendance in 2009

Month Total Attendance Openings Average Attendance
April 11,795 6 1,965
May 45,149 16 2,821
June 36,674 13 2,821
July 35,861 9 3,894
August 47,811 15 3,187

This is not to say that the Tigers don't have their work cut out for them. They are planning a series of renovations and improvements to 15-year-old Dodd Stadium to be spread out over the next few years. They have retained some key members of the Defenders' staff, but still face the task of learning and becoming a part of a new market in a short period of time.

The C-Tigers arrived in Norwich too late in the game to change its nickname. They'll hold a name-the-team contest this season and will come up with something new next offseason.

"It is hard to brand and identify an image you want to carry on for years in just months," Weber said.

News Around The Minors

* The Lehigh Valley IronPigs looks to avoid becoming all-star struck (it hosts the Triple-A mid-summer classic this July) and remain focused on what has made it among the minors' model franchises in its first two seasons: day-to-day operations and entrenching themselves within the community.

''Absolutely we can build on our success of the first two years,'' Lehigh Valley GM Kurt Landes told The Morning Call. ''If I didn't think that way, I'd be the wrong person for the job. We have a great, long-term vision here that we can get better, and better, and better each year.''

Meanwhile, columnist Barry Miller pooh-poohs all the naysayers who two years ago said the IronPigs would not be a success.

* Everett AquaSox unveil new secondary logos at a season-ticket holder's event. The popular frog design remains as the team's primary logo, but the team will feature two new designs – including one emphasizing their relationship with parent club Seattle.

* Will the Marauders provide Bradenton an economic boost this year?

* High Class A Rancho Cucamonga will open for the first time in 18 years without the familiar face of Hank Stickney, the longtime owner who sold the team last season to the Brett Brothers, George and Bobby.

* You can't start a baseball season without at least one columnist complaining that the game isn't what it used to be, that baseball is no longer our National Pastime. The Wall Street Journal's John Miller cites the disappearance of minor league and semi-pro teams (never mind the recent attendance records in the minors) and the popularity of the sport overseas, as evidence that other countries have surpassed the U.S. as baseball fanatics. The game has certainly changed and now has more options to compete with, but to bemoan its demise is a reach.

* Nothing helps boost April attendance figures than a notable big leaguer making a minor league rehab start. Within this notebook are details on Daisuke Matsuzaka's swing through the minors — and both Triple-A Pawtucket and Rochester may be the beneficiaries.

* The independent Lake County Fielders are scheduled to make their Northern League debut this summer, but where they will play remains a question.

* The independent Rockford Riverhawks unveil a few new menu items for this season, including the 2,000-calorie Closer.



Minors | #Business Beat

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