2021 Freitas Awards: Hartford Yard Goats (Double A)
By now, Hartford Yard Goats general manager Mike Abramson has a pretty good idea of what team owner Josh Solomon wants to know when he’s on the other end of the phone during one of his frequent calls during the season.
“He’s not asking what the gate was or what we made at concessions,” Abramson said. “He wants to know if they completed the wave or, if we’re having one of our Los Chivos nights or Copa nights, he wants to know if we had a good turnout from the population we were honoring.
“He is super focused on the experience.”
It’s that commitment to customer service from the top down, and the successful execution of it, that made the Yard Goats this year’s Double-A recipient of the Freitas Award, which honors excellence on the business side of minor league operations.
An affiliate of the Rockies that turned in the Double-A Northeast’s worst record in 2021, Hartford once again excelled off of it, leading the circuit in attendance for a third straight season with a whopping 287,752 fans making their way through the gates at Dunkin Donuts Park this past year.
Tightly nestled in downtown Hartford, the 6,121-seat ballpark opened in 2017 and has remained in pristine condition ever since. That is thanks in large part to an unmatched sense of pride from those who work for the organization.
“You can have a great facility, but it takes people to run it, and that’s a big part of what we do here,” Yard Goats president Tim Restall said. “From our game-day staff to our videoboard staff to box office, marketing, field staff—every department—it’s what makes it a magical place.
“It’s a beautiful facility, but it takes people to make the magic happen. Without the staff that we have, we wouldn’t be here.”
It’s a staff for whom a lot was asked in 2021, following what would normally be a full offseason of trying to plan for the following year. This time that planning was condensed into just six weeks because of the uncertainty surrounding 2021 and various Covid restrictions.
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“It was a year spent playing defense, which we never do,” Abramson said. “We’re pretty good planners, and we put a lot of time and effort into trying to figure out how to make the season special. This year, for the most part we were just getting it done.
“In that, the fans who came out still had a great time. They didn’t see that there was a layer of tape and glue that wasn’t normally there. They got to enjoy it the way they remembered it (in 2019).”
After a year away, Yard Goats fans were delighted to be treated to the experience they had become accustomed to over the past five years. Yes, the grounds crew still danced to “YMCA” in the third inning, and the “Baby Goats Race” was back as well, to the delight of an often sold-out crowd.
Abramson jokes that if one were going to see Bruce Springsteen in concert, he’s going to have to play “Born To Run” at some point.
Now, with a full offseason to prepare, the Yard Goats will be playing all the hits in 2022. They will also mix in a few new tunes to keep things fresh in the hopes of once again packing the ballpark every night.
“You need your staples,” Abramson said. “I think we’ve identified them at this point, and we know that people have a certain number of things they want to experience when they come out.
“They want it to hit them in the right place and bring back that good time they had the last time they were here. Mixing in new promotions, and trying to do something interesting every year that kind of puts you head and shoulders above other people.”