The coming of spring brings me from the high school beat to the realm of the Rock Cats.The New Britain Rock Cats and the Eastern League are very special to me.
I began working in the EL as an administrator when I joined the West Haven A's in 1981. I went on to become assistant general manager, then general manager of the franchise in Glens Falls, N.Y., from 1984-88.I was brokenhearted when the Glens Falls franchise was transferred to London, Ontario, after the 1988 season. My efforts to return to the administrative side of professional baseball were marred by setbacks in my personal life.
By 1992, I was writing for The Bristol Press and covering the New Britain Red Sox at Beehive periodically. I moved to The Herald in 1995, began covering the Rock Cats in 1996 and have covered virtually every home game from 1997 on. I truly relish my long-time association with the EL and Double-A baseball as I do my coverage of high school sports every fall and winter.
The progress the Rock Cats have made under the guidance of Bill Dowling has been nothing short of remarkable. Bill's astute leadership, steady hand and charitable contributions have ensconced him as one of New Britain's leading businessmen and one of the state's primary sportsmen.Dowling has worked hand-in-hand with NB Mayor Tim Stewart to maintain New Britain Stadium, or The Emerald of the Eastern League as some of us like to call it, and keep it among the foremost minor league stadiums in the league and beyond.
One of my deepest hopes is that the city will soon find a way to increase The Emerald's capacity. The Rock Cats filled the existing 6,146 seats to 87 percent capacity last year and would surely challenge the top drawing clubs in the league if more seats were added.The addition of more seats would increase the demand for more parking. As I see it, the best way to accomplish this is to build a parking garage on the site, perhaps one that sits between New Britain Stadium and Veterans Stadium.
Bringing in more fans would bolster New Britain's economy. The addition of Famous Dave's Restaurant and the adjoining LaQuinta Hotel are major steps forward in getting visitors to Willow Brook Park to turn left and head into the city after ballgames. More must be done, and I'm confident that Stewart and the NB Chamber of Commerce headed by Bill Millerick will help move that along.The Rock Cats and the EL are important to me and important to our city.
I hope you come out and enjoy the games and hope you enjoy our extended coverage as the 2008 season takes shape.