HARTFORD, April 11 – It was 3 a.m. on Tuesday morning and Ellington’s Bob Olinatz was awake. And he couldn’t get back to sleep.
Dunkin Donuts Park was on his mind. And he couldn’t put it aside.
“I woke up thinking about and couldn’t wait to get here. I’ve been dying to get in here for a year,” he said. “It’s gorgeous.”
Olinatz, his wife, Jill, and their three boys were all in Hartford’s Dunkin Donuts Park on Tuesday evening as the University of Hartford hosted Quinnipiac University before a few thousand fans (2,910). It was a soft opening before the Eastern League’s Hartford Yard Goats end their year-long exile and return home to Hartford on Thursday night.
The Yard Goats, the Double A affiliate of the Colorado Rockies, spent the entire 2016 season on the road because the city of Hartford and their developer didn’t finish the stadium on time.
Prior to that season, the franchise spent 32 years in New Britain as the Red Sox and Rock Cats.
But everything is set for this season. The $71 million stadium is complete. Opening night on Thursday when the Yard Goats host Manchester (N.H.) Fisher Cats is sold out. Olinatz tried to get tickets but they were sold out in less than 30 minutes.
So they did the next best thing. They came Tuesday with his sons Brody, 6, Bryce, 4, and Brighton, 2. All three had their baseball gloves and their favorite baseball caps.
Brody got a baseball from Quinnipiac pitcher Matthew Osieja as the Bobcats completed their pregame warmups.
The Olinatz family will be back. They went to Norwich for two Yard Goat games at Dodd Stadium last year. They went to about a dozen New Britain Bee games and a few Bristol Blues contests at Muzzy Field.
West Hartford’s Jennifer Hajjar was in the ballpark with her husband and their three young children – all under the age of five. “We just came to see the stadium,” she said. “It was quick and easy to get here. It’s a beautiful facility.”
Students from the University of Hartford – which is literally just a few miles away – and Quinnipiac were enjoying themselves at the ballpark. The lights went out at 10 p.m. in the top of the eighth inning because they were on a timer and there were some kinks in the scoreboard. But that is why you have a practice event before opening day.
Quinnipiac leadoff batter Matthew Batten, a senior from Shelton and a St. Joseph-Trumbull graduate, got the first hit in the ballpark with a first inning single. He promptly followed that with a stolen base – another Dunkin Donuts Park first.
He also scored the first run. Teammate Joseph Burns, another Shelton resident and former St. Joseph-Trumbull player, got the first home run with a solo shot into the left field bleachers.
The Hawks (7-16, 2-4 America East) scored twice in the seventh inning including one run on a RBI double from Chris Sullivan to outlast Quinnipiac (10-19, 3-6 MAAC) by a 6-4 margin.
Burns had a single, a home run and two RBI while teammate Ryan Nelson had a single, double and two RBI. Ben Moskey had a single and a double for the Bobcats. For Hartford, Chris Sullivan was 2-for-3 with three RBI and two doubles.
Canton junior Chris Enns was in the house for Quinnipiac. Enns was a spectator this evening because he made his first collegiate start on Sunday against Niagara University.
On Sunday, Enns pitched 4 2/3 innings, scattering five hits and striking out seven. He walked one but got a no decision as Niagara beat Quinnipiac, 2-1. Most of his action this season has been out of the bullpen. In relief (nine appearances), Enns is 1-1 with a 3.12 ERA with 15 strikeouts in 17 1/3 innings pitched.
The Yard Goats did retire Robert Clemente’s number 21 in a pregame ceremony on the field. Clemente is the first Latin American and Caribbean player to be inducted in the National Baseball Hall of Fame. He wore the number 21 throughout his major league career with the Pittsburgh Pirates. He died in December 1972 trying to bring supplies to earthquake victims in Nicaragua.
Clemente’s 21 joins Jackie Robinson (42) as the only two numbers to be retired at Dunkin Donuts Park.
“Roberto Clemente’s legacy lives on in the greater Hartford area, where adults and children both continue to herald the accomplishments of this truly remarkable man”, Yard Goats owner Josh Solomon said. “It was important to us to celebrate his memory both on and off the field.”
Solomon and Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin made brief comments before the game as part of the Clemente tribute.