But it's slim pickings when comes to teams to call our own. We temporarily hosted the Giants while Yankee Stadium was being renovated and Giants Stadium was being built. The NHL's Hartford Whalers skipped town in April of 1997. The following year the state struck a deal to build a new stadium for the New England Patriots, only to see Robert Kraft use it as leverage to secure a new stadium in Foxboro. We've hosted AA teams for both the Yankees and Red Sox. Currently the state is home to two AHL minor league hockey franchises in Bridgeport and Hartford, and independent Atlantic League ballclub in Bridgeport, the Twins' AA affiliate in New Britain, and as of yesterday, the Tigers' short-season A club in Norwich. None of those squads register much in the consciousness of the locals, who by and large spend their summers following the Yanks, Sox, or Mets, and their winters obsessing over both the men's and women's UConn basketball teams.
All of which is my long-winded way of saying that the unique sporting culture of the state is its lack of an identity to call its own. As much as it galls many of the locals, when it comes to professional sports Connecticut is nothing more than a suburb to the two neighboring metropolises. And there's nothing wrong with that; it's just the way it is. The population of the entire state is just 3.5 million, one million less than the Boston metropolitan area, and less than one fifth the size of the New York City metropolitan area. There is neither the city, nor the people to support a major sports franchise, particularly one located so closely to three of the biggest teams in the game.
So it was with great surprise yesterday that I saw an article from NESN, riffing on a piece from Peter Gammons, speculating that if the Tampa Bay Rays should fail to secure a new stadium, southern Connecticut could be a potential landing spot. We're a few weeks into the dead period of the baseball off season, so it's getting to be slim pickings for news. As such, stories like this will inevitably crop up. And really, this is just an extension of the hypothetical pondering last month of whether New York could support a third team.
But, since this is a slow time of year and since it involves my home state, I'm going to put on my debunking cap and pick this one apart. Here's a look at the cities in southern Connecticut, starting in the east and heading west, and here's why they can't support a Major League team:
- Norwich / New London: The least likely of any southern Connecticut city to host a team. This is one of the most sparsely populated areas of the state; there simply aren't enough people here to support a team, and one certainly wouldn't be enough to draw Red Sox fans from nearby Rhode Island. The Yankees had their AA club in Norwich from 1995 through 2002, before switching affiliations to Trenton in order to have the squad closer to the parent club. Norwich picked up the Giants' AA squad, which left town after last season. Just yesterday the city announced that the Tigers' NY-Penn League club would move from Oneonta for the 2009 season (interestingly enough the Yankees had their NY-Penn club in Oneonta from 1967 until the creation of the Staten Island Yankees in 1999). On the plus side, these cities are located close to the two gigantic casinos in the state, so if Pete Rose is ever reinstated this would be a good spot for him to revive his managerial career.
- New Haven: Another failed minor league city, the last 35 years have seen the New York Giants, two different AHL clubs, a AA Eastern League club, and an independent Can-Am League club leave town. Location wise, the Elm City may be the best location for a club. Centrally located at the junction of Interstates 91 and 95, New Haven is relatively accessible from the state's most populous areas of metro Hartford and Fairfield County.
- Bridgeport: The state's biggest city, Bridgeport has the state's most up to date sports venues in the Arena at Harbor Yard and the Ballpark at Harbor Yard, home to the AHL's Sound Tigers and the Atlantic League's Bluefish respectively. The Ballpark was the site of Jose Offerman's first on field assault. It's also just down the road from Shelton, home of Whiffle Ball. On the negative side, Bridgeport is located in metro NYC, placing it firmly in the Mets' and Yankees' territory. It's not easily accessible from metro Hartford, and it would be an extremely tough sell to get one of the state's poorest cities to build a Major League ballpark a mere decade after the construction of the Habor Yard complex.
- Stamford: The most financially healthy city on the Connecticut shoreline, Stamford is located in the heart of affluent Fairfield County and is home to several financial firms and the YES Network's studios. Unlike the other cities on the list, its best days are not behind it, and there is enough business and industry present to have something resembling a bustling downtown. On the negative side, Stamford is a stone's throw from NYC, making it an unrealistic possibility. Besides, it couldn't even support a Dunder Mifflin branch; how could it support a Major League franchise?