My first thought on hearing that the Double-A Rock Cats’ owners agreed to move to a new stadium in Hartford was, why isn’t Triple-A the main goal?
This was the dream of the late Mayor Mike Peters, famously, and on the surface it seems to make the most sense. Central Connecticut is not a viable major-league region in any of the four big American sports — sorry, Whalers fan club — but its population, wealth, location, history and aspirations place metro Hartford perfectly in the Triple-A International League, right below the majors.
Ranked by population, metro Hartford — comprising Hartford, Tolland and Middlesex counties — is larger than all but 13 of the 28 Triple-A markets that do not also have a major league franchise. And ranked by economic size, or share of gross domestic product, this region is larger than all but 10 of those 28 markets.
And yet, there’s been barely a mention of Triple-A in all the talk about this deal. The $60 million outlay would give the capital city one of the finer double-A stadiums, with 6,600 seats and room for 9,000 fans in all, including outfield berms, luxury boxes and cafe seating. It would be a bit small by triple-A standards, which tend to hold at least 10,000 people.
In double-A, metro Hartford — which includes New Britain under the federal designation of metropolitan statistical areas — is one of the largest markets. Among the 28 double-A locations that are not also in a major league franchise market, metro Hartford ranks fourth in population and second in economic size, after San Antonio, which leads in both categories.
The February report by the city of Hartford’s consulting firm, Brailsford & Dunlavey, defines double-A markets as a half-hour drive from the stadium. In that ranking, Hartford compares well with a list of double-A markets, but not at the very top because teams such as the Trenton Thunder and Bowie Baysox include much of Philadelphia and Baltimore, respectively, in their half-hour-drive radius.
But if the capital city were to build a stadium, why shouldn’t it consider paying a bit more for a triple-A-ready palace? That would keep alive the hope of luring, say, the Las Vegas 51’s, who might like to be much closer to their New York Mets major league affiliate.
As it turns out, double-A might just suit Hartford perfectly because of the economics of the capital region and the way minor league baseball has evolved. Triple-A could be great but there’s no compelling need to sweat out the difference at higher cost, and higher risk.