Rock Cats to vacate stadium, mayor hoping for replacement

Photo: New Britain Herald
Photo: New Britain Herald

July 8, 2015
by Robert Storace

NEW BRITAIN — With Mayor Erin Stewart working to find a replacement for the outgoing New Britain Rock Cats, the founder and chief executive officer of Atlantic League of Professional Baseball appears to have Hard-Hittin’ New Britain on his radar.

Frank Boulton, who owns two of the league’s eight teams, including the Bridgeport Bluefish, said Wednesday the organization will conduct a feasibility study on bringing a new minor-league baseball team to New Britain Stadium.

Boulton acknowledged “the feasibility study will start within two weeks. Over the next 30 to 45 days we want to sit down with business leaders, sponsors and others to see if there is enough support for a team.”

Boulton said he has been talking with Stewart for several months about the possibility of either relocating an existing team from the league to the city or starting a new franchise here. If an Atlantic League team comes to New Britain, it’s not clear if it would be in time for the 2016 season.

Boulton is scheduled to visit the stadium today with Atlantic League President Rick White. He said New Britain Stadium “is not as modern a ballpark as we have in the Atlantic League, but I think it is well-maintained. There is a lot of pride in the community. I am aware of its history.”

The Rock Cats are currently playing their final season at New Britain Stadium. The team is scheduled to start the 2016 season next spring in Hartford.

“I’m hoping to have a good idea of where we are headed by August,” said Stewart, who joined Boulton at the stadium for a walk-through last month. “They are looking at the lease we have with the Rock Cats. But, the lease will have to be different with them because they are not associated with a major league team.”

Stewart said Atlantic League officials “know what they are doing. They would provide just as good — if not better — quality for families that attend games.”

It’s important to note, Stewart said, that nothing is carved in stone, adding, “we were blindsided by the Rock Cats leaving in the first place and we’ve been working very hard to secure another option to make sure our asset — the stadium — is still a center for tourism in the city.”

The mayor said the Atlantic League possibility is the most promising of a number of options, including the Canadian-American League and Futures League.

New Britain Stadium seats approximately 7,000 people. Stewart said plans for a makeover include box seat improvements and new skyboxes.

City business and political leaders said bringing another team to the stadium would be a boon to the city.

“Frank (Boulton) is a quality guy. It would be a home run for the city not to have the stadium sit idle,” said Timothy T. Stewart, the mayor’s father and president of the New Britain Chamber of Commerce. “It’s a revenue generator for the community and it needs to be occupied.”

“I’d hate to see the stadium go to waste,” said Alderman Willie Pabon. “I think residents would rather see a game in New Britain than Hartford. I hope the mayor can pull this off.”

This article originally appeared in the New Britain Herald.