The atmosphere at New Britain Stadium has a bright and breezy feel.
The early spring weather has the grass looking lush. The walls along the
stadium concourse have been spruced up in patriotic blue, red and white. An
alternate uniform and cap show traces of baseball tradition.
But the upbeat nature in the Land of the Rock Cats has much more than just
some superficial alterations. The era ushered in by the omnipresent Bill Dowling
and his local partner Coleman B. Levy has run a fruitful course. Their
investment group has sold the team to the DSF Group, a Boston-based commercial
and residential real estate investment group led by its president Josh
Solomon’s father Arthur owns the New Hampshire Fisher Cats. The group will be
doing business as New Britain Double Play, LLC.
Rock Cats fans will notice quickly that the familiarity of the Dowling-Levy
regime won’t be diminishing anytime soon. Dowling, who retains a portion of the
team, is slated to spend two years as a consultant, and he’ll be consulting his
old Rock Cats confidante John Willi.
Willi, now the Rock Cats’ president and general manager, spent 11 years
working for the team before departing for the New Hampshire Fisher Cats in 2010.
Along the way, Willi, 36, was chosen as Eastern League Executive of the Year in
for 2009 and selected by the Hartford Business Journal for its “40 under 40”
list, distinguishing him as one of Greater Hartford’s top 40 business executives
Obviously I’m grateful for the opportunity to be a Rock Cat again,
especially under these circumstances,” Willi said. “This franchise has such a
strong reputation, following and incredible people, which separates it from
“Our plan is to build upon all the incredible things we were able to do in
the past. We obviously have an infusion of new energy and we want to put that
toward community outreach, customer service, game experience and the overall
value of coming to a Rock Cats game.”
Solomon and Willi were on hand in the Stadium Club Thursday to formally
announce the change in an ownership changes that was about nine months in the
making, and to elaborate on plans for the future. The New Britain Parks and
Recreation Department, partners with the Rock Cats in maintaining the facility,
was also present in force. Chairman Angelo D’Alfonso publicly welcomed the new
"This is a wonderful show of support for the new ownership, particularly for
John Willi,” said Dowling, who found the circumstances to be “bittersweet.”
“I’ve had 12 wonderful years with the Rock Cats. When we decided to sell the
team we obviously were concerned about finding the right kind of buyers to keep
the team in New Britain and continue the family-friendly entertainment that the
Rock Cats have become known for over the years.”
Solomon came across reflecting amicability akin to that of Dowling, whose
relationship with fans has always served as a manifestation of the Rock Cats’
extensive civic contributions. New Britain Double Play includes his siblings Jim
and Jennifer Goorno.
“[Dowling’s] commitment to the community and entertainment seemed to really
be in line with myself and my siblings,” said Solomon, who lives with his wife
and their four children ranging from 4 to 13-years-old in Sudbury, Mass.
Solomon and his siblings, witnessing the joy that minor league baseball
ownership brought their father, sought a team of their own in the region.
“It’s one of the main reasons in my sister, my brother and me had an interest
in owning a minor league team,” he said. “We look to have the same joy, fun and
excitement that he’s had, and we’ll have a little rivalry, too.”
He cited the interaction between fans and ballplayers at the minor league
level as an attraction that the Rock Cats seek to build upon.
It was an emotional day for Dowling.
“This was a very bittersweet moment in a lot of ways for me,” he said. “After
running this franchise for 12 years and putting my heart and soul into it – I
probably missed six games over 12 years – it’s tough to give up the culture and
Dowling said the investors felt the time was right to put the team on the
“Josh Solomon and his group came along and I’m convinced that they’re
committed to keeping the team in New Britain and also carry on the same
fan-friendly culture that we managed to instill here,” Dowling said.
“Bittersweet, but on the other hand, I’m at certain age in my life where I’ve
got one more big push left and I want to figure out what that is. I’m not going
to retire. I’ll be here for the next couple of years. I’ll be a consultant. I’ve
got a little investment in the team and I’ll be the ultimate baseball authority
for the next couple of years.
“It’s a little bit painful but life goes on and we’ll see what the next
couple of months bring.”
History likely will validate Dowling as a savior for minor league baseball in
the city. Under his guidance, attendance jumped from an EL-worst 181,643 in 1998
to 363,759 last season.
Willi’s year away from New Britain was spent as vice president of DSF Sports,
which operates the Class A Bowling Green (Ky.) Hot Rods in addition to the
Fisher Cats. Jeff Garner, former assistant general manager of the EL’s Altoona
Curve, joins the management team as the executive vice president. Ricky Ferrell,
who has been in the Rock Cats’ front office for seven years, has been promoted
to vice president of ticket sales.
Willi also announced that the team has forged a new radio deal with Fox
Sports 1410 WPOP. The station, operated by Clear Channel Media &
Entertainment Hartford/New Haven, will air most home games. All home games will
be streamed live on www.foxsportsradio1410.com and aired in high definition on
ESPN 97.9 HD2.
Road games can be heard on WMRD 1150 out of Middletown and WLIS 1420 out of
Jeff Dooley, the Eastern League’s longest tenured broadcaster, returns for
his 15th season.
The Rock Cats open their 30th season in the city at home April