Dunkin' Donuts Park playing to benefit of sluggers in debut season
Rockies top prospect Brendan Rodgers joined the Yard Goats on Monday from the California League. (Kevin Pataky/MiLB.com)
By Sam Dykstra | June 28, 2017 12:50 PM ET
There was a buzz around the Binghamton Rumble Ponies on Monday.
The Mets' Double-A affiliate had arrived in Hartford for its first look at Dunkin' Donuts Park -- the long-delayed but finally completed home of the Eastern League's newest team, the Yard Goats. Position players took in the new grass around the infield and the outfield. Starting pitcher P.J. Conlon came out of the dugout in the midst of his pregame prep to take a cell-phone panoramic of the eighth stadium he'd pitch in this season.
Then, the game started.
Conlon worked an 0-2 count in the opening frame against Hartford leadoff man Omar Carrizales, who missed a bunt on the first pitch he saw. The fourth pitch again found the zone, and Carrizales, who had one home run in 313 plate appearances at Double-A, flicked the ball into right field for a homer. Conlon stared in at catcher Tomas Nido, who shrugged in response. "So that's how this place will play" seemed to be the understanding between the Binghamton battery.
Through the first three months of the 2017 season, Dunkin' Donuts Park has proven to be hitter-friendly, especially when it comes to home runs. Using park factors where 1.000 is considered neutral, Hartford's stadium ranks fourth in the Eastern League in home run factors with 25.4 percent more homers being hit there than in Hartford road games, following Monday's 7-6 win over Binghamton -- a game that three dingers in all. The park is more neutral when it comes to runs (1.032) and hits (.980).
Eastern League 2017 park factors
It's not hard to see why Dunkin' Donuts Park can be a swell place for sluggers, particularly those of the left-handed variety.
Built in downtown Hartford, the stadium is wedged between Main, Trumbull, Pleasant and Windsor Streets just off I-84, and that has led to some particularly small dimensions. The space between home, at the corner of Main and Pleasant, and the right field stands along Trumbull is particularly tight. It's only 308 feet down the line in right field, just six feet longer than the distance to Fenway Park's famed Pesky's Pole. But unlike the Fens, right field at Dunkin' Donuts Park doesn't expand out quickly. There is a relatively tall wall to help keep balls in, and seats situated halfway up the wall are covered by a net that is technically in play and can lead to funky bounces. (Balls lost in the net count for ground-rule doubles.) It still only expands out to about 350 feet in right-center and 400 feet straight out. Left field has more room to expand going toward the corner of Pleasant and Windsor with the distance marked at 325 down the line and 362 in left-center.
Hartford manager Jerry Weinstein said his club noticed the offensive potential of the new park when they first moved in but believe the best is yet to come.
"I'm not even sure we've found out yet," he said. "When it starts to get warm, I think this is going to be a pretty offensive ballpark. I think you saw a little of it tonight. But we've only just touched the surface of what type of ballpark this will be."
Before making the switch to Hartford for the 2016 season, the Rockies' Double-A affiliate had been the New Britain Rock Cats, playing out of New Britain Stadium. Using Ashley Marshall's series on Double-A park factors from 2014, it's not hard to see that that particular park was especially pitcher-friendly. Runs (0.959), home runs (0.769) and hits (0.995) were all below the neutral mark.
When Hartford played its entire 2016 season on the road, home runs jumped 21.7 percent with New Britain's pitching haven out of the picture. Runs (6.9 percent) and hits (1.4 percent) made much more modest gains. Now with Dunkin' Donuts in the mix, home runs are up again -- 40 percent over the 2015 average and 15 percent over 2016.
Eastern League averages
2015 (New Britain)
The park was in the news this week with Rockies top prospect Brendan Rodgers making his home debut with the Yard Goats on Monday. The 20-year-old shortstop was arguably the Minors' offensive standout of the first half of 2017 after he hit .400/.419/.700 with 36 extra-base hits in 48 games in Class A Advanced Lancaster. He noticeably did that in an offensive circuit in the California League and especially took advantage of some hitter-friendly environs in Lancaster, where he hit .495/.522/.883 in 23 games.
As good as it can be for hitters, Dunkin' Donuts Park is noticeably not The Hangar, but Weinstein said he wouldn't tell Rodgers that outright.
"We don't tell them anything," said the Yard Goats skipper. "You don't play to your surroundings. Your swing is your swing. The minute you think about adjusting it because it's a small ballpark in right field and you start changing your swing to carve the ball the other way, that's an issue. Their job is to go up, see the ball and hit it hard, not necessarily direct it in any one area. There are a lot of different ballparks in the big leagues. I go to Fenway Park, and if I try to hit everything to left field and lift and separate, then you have to go to Yankee Stadium, and it's pretty deep out there in left field. That's a recipe for disaster.
"If I see guys are changing their swing to accommodate our ballpark, I might say something. They need to find out that that doesn't work. They need to find out for themselves. The best lessons are self-taught. They need to figure out on their own. Our job is to eliminate our job and help them figure it out on their own."
The small confines of Hartford's home park have been more detrimental to Yard Goats pitchers than it has been for their hitters to this point in their first season. The club is 15-21 at home -- only New Hampshire (14-25) and Richmond (14-24) having fewer wins at home. Hartford hurlers own a 4.36 ERA and have averaged 1.12 home runs per nine innings at home compared to 4.23 and 0.69 on the road. That's including the colder times in April and May and before the warmer nights of July and August.
Now with Rodgers in the mix, the Minor League world will keep a closer eye on Hartford the rest of the way this summer, and as it does, one thing is for sure -- it can expect to see some offense.
"The ball carries in this ballpark," Weinstein said. "The wind blows out pretty much from right to left. You elevate the ball here, and you're probably going to have some pretty good results."
(Correction: A previous version of this story listed the distance down the right-field line as 305 feet. It is 308 feet.)
Sam Dykstra is a reporter for MiLB.com. Follow and interact with him on Twitter, @SamDykstraMiLB.
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.