Needless to say, Friday was not the day baseball fans in this region wanted to see. I've heard from those who are glad the Defenders are leaving -- some wishing no team replaces them, and others who are saddened.
I'm still hearing from people who believe bringing in a Red Sox or Yankees affiliate is possible or at least, should happen. To those people, please understand the situation. It's can't and won't happen. In the cases of both Double-A squads, they are right where the big league team wants them The Short-season teams are in Lowell, Mass. and Staten Island, N.Y. Neither is moving, especially when they draw so well. If that makes you say good riddance to a team in Norwich, I have to call you selfish and short sighted.
Reality is the deal to Richmond will happen. One way or another the Defenders, as we know them, will be gone after September. If owner Lou DiBella's plan is successful, there will be affiliated baseball at Dodd Stadium next year.
With so many moving parts, could that element colapse and no team come here? Yes. But I think that a team from the NYP league will move. So many averaged less than 80,000 fans last year. My rough estimate would project a team to drawing in the 120,000 to 150,000 range here. Considering some of those teams drew under 40,000 and one didn't sell beer, that ownership could see a spike in revenue that wasn't imaginable before.
Leaving smaller markets and upgrading to bigger communities is the name of the minor league baseball game these days.
Should a NYP team move in, I suspect DiBella will not serve as owner, rather as an investor. I've gotten the feeling he wants to stay involved in baseball, but not to the extent he has been.
Also, I hope these events - no matter how they play out -- reminds the citizens of Eastern Connecticut that minor league baseball is not a God-given right. Should no one replace the Defenders, don't act as if you are owed something. A big reason the team is being sold isn't because of market size, although that hurts, is because "fans" decided to stay away even after the stadium and the game expereince have improved in recenty years. My sources tell me had the team stayed in the 215,000 to 230,000 range, this discussion would have never taken place.
Blame DiBella all you want; blame the city. You can blame the location and you can blame the economy. But at the end of the day, those who decided this team wasn't worth having shoulders the blame.
It's hard for many people, many of whom still see the Defenders as the Navigators. Truth is they still are, even if the final destination is on another coast.
There's one more season of Defenders, Double-A baseball. Take it in. Smell the grass, taste the popcorn, listen to the crack of the bat. Even if its one more time, remember how sweet it is.
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