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It takes 15 innings but Rock Cats leave New Britain Stadium with a win

Kids cheer on the Rock Cats in their final game ever in New Britain Sunday. The Cats prevailed in 15 innings, 7-5.

Kids cheer on the Rock Cats in their final game ever in New Britain Sunday. The Cats prevailed in 15 innings, 7-5.

NEW BRITAIN, Aug. 30 – By the end of Sunday’s game, the Third Base Shop at New Britain Stadium had been stripped bare by Rock Cat fans looking for one last souvenir to remember their team. It was pretty much the same in the Portland Seadog bullpen.

After using four pitchers, the Seadogs put third baseman Oscar Tejeda on the mound. They got away with it in the 14th inning when he loaded the bases on a hit and two hit batters. But Tejeda struck out New Britain’s Pat Valaika to end the threat.

The Rock Cats made Portland pay in the 15th inning. New Britain’s Jordan Patterson etched his place in Rock Cat history. He belted a one-out pitch from Tejeda over the right field fence to send home the Rock Cats faithful with smiles on their faces with a 7-5 decision to close out an emotional weekend at New Britain Stadium. His two-run blast was his seventh home run of the year.

More than 6,500 fans filled New Britain Stadium as the Rock Cats played their final home after 19 seasons in the ballpark and 33 years in the Hardware City. The Cats will be moving to Hartford next spring and will take the field as the Yard Goats.

On a rehab assignment, Colorado's Justin Morneau returned to New Britain and drove in four runs this weekend.

On a rehab assignment, Colorado’s Justin Morneau returned to New Britain and drove in four runs this weekend.

It was a weekend of emotions for Rock Cat fans and they showed up in droves. On Friday night, a stadium-record 8,672 fans came to see the Rock Cats face Portland and see fireworks. It broke the old record of 8,633 set at the 2013 Eastern League All-Star Game. On Saturday night, New Britain fans saw old friend Justin Morneau hit a solo home run in the fourth inning to lift the Rock Cats to a 2-1 win over Portland, the Class AA affiliate of the Red Sox.

Morneau helped New Britain win a share of the Eastern League championship in 2001 when he was a minor league player for the Minnesota Twins, which was the Rock Cats affiliate from 1996 through 2013. Morneau, the 2006 American League MVP and the 2013 National League batting champion (.319) in his first year with Colorado. He began a three-day rehabilitation assignment with New Britain on Friday and will continue with the club to Trenton this week.

On Sunday, he was 2-for-4 with a double and drove in New Britain’s first three runs of the game.

There was action on the New Britain Stadium turf before and after the game. In the morning, a free baseball clinic for kids ages 6-15 was held. A Hall of Fame celebrity softball game was held after the game – which took over four hours.

Hall of Fame pitchers Rollie Fingers (A’s) and Ferguson Jenkins (Cubs) participated along with former Yankee starts Jim Leyritz and Rick Cerone, former Red Sox hurler Luis Tiant, former Reds All-Star George Foster and former Texas Rangers star Frank Catalanato. They signed autographs and posed for photos with fans with proceeds going to benefit The Greatest Save, which helps protect area children and teens from sexual exploitation and abduction.

And, you can’t forget one last post-game run around the bases for the kids.

Fans young and old moved throughout the complex all day on a warm, sunny day. The line for helmet ice cream was long again. Plenty of Dads and Moms enjoyed the day with their kids. There was plenty of Rock Cats gear on the fans and a few sightings of Hartford Whaler hats and a shirt or two.

Wallingford's Paul Doukas, left, and his daughter, Lisa, 9, hope there is another team in New Britain next year.

Wallingford’s Paul Doukas, left, and his daughter, Lisa, 9, hope there is another team in New Britain next year.

Before the game, the Cats tossed excess Rock Cats memorabilia into the stands for the fans – Rock Cats lunch boxes, cups, bobblehead figures and other branded material.

On the field, there was plenty to cheer about. Morneau sparked the Cats’ offense. He tied the game at 1-1 in the third inning with a RBI double. In the fifth inning, his two-run single gave New Britain a 3-1 lead.

Portland tied the game in the sixth inning with a two-run home run from Sam Travis. In the seventh inning, the Sea Dogs took a 4-3 lead on a two-out RBI single from Travis. But New Britain refused to yield as Tyler Massey tie the game at 4-4 in the eighth on a two-out single.

Portland took a one-run lead in the 11th inning but Patterson tied it, 4-4, on a double.

New Britain had numerous chances to finish it off in extra innings. They had 12 baserunners in the final six innings. In the 13th inning, Portland outfielder Aneury Tavarez threw out Valaika at the plate. He was trying to score from second base on a single from Noel Cuevas.

The warmth of the sun and the four-hour duration of the game thinned the crowd by the end but they were loud, jovial and thrilled. And the Rock Cats celebrated by dumping a cooler of water on Patterson in a big, pulsating celebration at home plate.

Fans clamor for autographs prior to the start of Sunday's game at New Britain Stadium.

Fans clamor for autographs prior to the start of Sunday’s game at New Britain Stadium.

Rock Cats reliever Kraig Sitton gets his photo taken with Hall of Fame reliever Rollie Fingers, right.

Rock Cats reliever Kraig Sitton gets his photo taken with Hall of Fame reliever Rollie Fingers, right.

Rocky, the team mascot, gets a hug for a young fan at New Britain Stadium Sunday.

Rocky, the team mascot, gets a hug for a young fan at New Britain Stadium Sunday.

It was the second longest game of the season for Portland, who played 16 innings against New Hampshire in July.

New Britain 7, Portland 5 (15)
At New Britain
Portland             010  002  100  010  000  — 5-13-2
New Britain        001  020  010  010  002  — 7-19-1
Danny Rosenbaum, Mike Augliera (6), Williams Jerez (8), Heri Quevedo (10), Oscar Tejeda (14) and Jordan Weems; Shane Carle, Tyler Ybarra (8), Sam Moll (10), Shane Broyles (11), Austin House (14) and Jan Vasquez; WP: House (1-4); LP: Tejeda (0-1), BS:Jerez (1); 2B: Carlos Asuaje (P), Justin Morneau (NB), Pat Valaika (NB), Jordan Patterson (NB), 3B: Weems (P); HR: Sam Travis (P), Keury De La Cruz (P), Jordan Patterson (NB)

Boxscore

Hartford Courant, Aug. 30: New Britain Mayor Erin Stewart lets her feeling flow when it comes to Rock Cats

Gerry deSimas, Jr., is the editor and founder of The Collinsville Press. He is an award-winning writer and has been covering sports in Connecticut and New England for more than 30 years.

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