By Josh Norris
HARTFORD — The Hartford Yard Goats’ first season in their new hometown has turned into a disaster.
Dunkin’ Donuts Park was scheduled to be completed in time for Opening Day. Instead as the season winds to a close, the park is still unfinished and—much to the frustration of everyone involved—no work is currently being done to complete it.
With construction at Dunkin’ Donuts Park at a standstill, there’s a chance the Yard Goats won’t ever play a game in Hartford. Eastern League president Joe McEacharn bluntly acknowledged as much at a press conference on Thursday.
“If the stadium is not done,” he said, “baseball will not come to Hartford.”
That was the message at a grim press conference at the still-padlocked DDP, where three parties—Hartford Stadium Authority chairman I. Charles Mathews, team owner Josh Solomon and McEacharn—announced that construction had not yet resumed. The original contractor, DoNo Centerplan, was booted from the project earlier this summer after continued delays. The stadium’s guarantor, Arch Insurance, was called in as a last-ditch effort to salvage at least some of the season.
That effort failed.
On July 22, the Eastern League announced the final set of alterations to Hartford’s schedule, ensuring that the team would play the entire season on the road.
Under Arch, construction at DDP still hasn’t resumed on the list of nearly 200 tasks that have yet to be completed. No general contractor has been selected to do the work, even. Mathews, at the press conference, said that there are two proposals on the table for a resolution—one from the city and one from the Yard Goats. The Hartford Courant reported that Solomon had offered to loan the city money to expedite the completion of the stadium. That proposal was rejected.
“We think we’re better positioned to protect the interests of the city, the taxpayers and the residents, if in fact we proceed with Arch, but we’re at the point now where we have no more time. Arch has to move, as you’ve heard from others, very soon so we get it done,” he said, before hinting at a second option. “But we also have a Plan B. And while there may have been some reports that the city rejected the bid by the Yard Goats, I think it’s fair to say the terms of the proposal from the Yard Goats were not really what we were expecting or what we would agree to.”
The Yard Goats released their planned 2017 schedule last week. Their first home game is slated for April 13 against New Hampshire. However, there’s a possibility the team would again be forced to the road. Obviously, all parties involved would like to avoid that scenario.
“We are fully committed to getting this stadium done and we’re fully committed to ensuring that we can play baseball in April of 2017,” Mathews said. “That’s where we are now, and we think that over the next week a lot of progress will be made or the city will have to decide if they must go another direction. We won’t do that lightly, but we may be forced to go another direction if we can’t conclude our business arrangement with Arch. Time is of the essence and, in fact, we have no more time.”
When asked directly if there was a possibility of baseball never being played in Hartford, McEacharn reiterated his message from earlier in the morning.
“I’m saying that, for 2017, we have to have a specific plan and we have to have a stadium facility, a home site, in place for the Colorado Rockies and the other clubs,” he said. “If the stadium is not ready, we won’t play baseball here in 2017. What goes on in the future, I won’t go out that far.”
Pressed about the possible Plan B, McEacharn first noted a proposed-but-not-disclosed plan from Solomon and the Yard Goats, then raised the possibility of relocating the team.
“One of our Plans B was to require Mr. Solomon and the Yard Goats to create an alternative path and to work with the city, but we will have an alternative path in the event that Arch does not step up and fulfill their obligation. That would be our Plan B,” he said. “My Plan B will be to have a different location available for the team.”
McEacharn declined comment about any possible relocation sites that had been discussed.
Mathews was adamant that he and the city would prefer to continue with Arch as had been scheduled and was confident that the two parties could continue to work together toward a resolution without any extra cost beyond the initial price tag of roughly $63 million.
“One of the reasons we’re pursuing Plan A is we’re certain there won’t be any extra cost to the taxpayers,” he said. “Under Plan A (which is) bringing Arch in, they spend their money, they complete the stadium. If we go with a counterproposal to the Yard Goats, we have to insure that we can still (do it without extra cost). We have to ensure that we still have the revenue necessary to pay off the debt service associated with the bonds that we issued. All that’s being worked out. . . . Our first goal is Plan A, but barring that in a short period of time, we’ll be entering serious negotiations with the Yard Goats on Plan B.”
Both Solomon and McEacharn used their statements to put the onus squarely on Arch, which has not restarted construction in the nearly two months since Centerplan was removed from the job, to complete the stadium. If not, there likely won’t be minor league baseball in Hartford.
“We are at a critical, critical point for (baseball in Hartford) to happen,” McEacharn said. “We’ve lost the 2016 season. That’s been a burden to everybody. It’s been a burden to the city of Hartford, to the people who were going to work here, to the fans, to the Eastern League teams, to major league teams and certainly to the Yard Goats, who played the entire season—unprecedented—on the road. . . . We cannot accept that in 2017 and we will not accept that in 2017.”
First printed in Baseball America.