Eastern League Programs
It’s only appropriate that a minor league farm club of the San Francisco Giants would suffer a “fog out”, even if that team happened to be located 3,000 miles away in Norwich, Connecticut. Unfortunately for the Connecticut Defenders (2006-2009), the fog rolled in on the night of the 2007 Eastern League All-Star Game, the league’s showcase event and a boon for the sagging box office fortunes of the Norwich nine.
Minor league baseball came to Norwich in 1995 with the construction of 6,270-seat Dodd Stadium in 1995 and the arrival of the New York Yankees double-A farm club in the Eastern League. Originally known as the Norwich Navigators, the club drew annual crowds in the 250,000 range during the Yankees era from 1995 to 2002. But after the Yankees withdrew the affiliation and the Giants came in for the summer of 2003, Navigators ticket sales dropped 30% to an all-time low of . Boxing promoter Lou DiBella bought the ball club in April 2005 and announced re-branding campaign, resulting in the new military-themed Connecticut Defenders identity in 2006. Norwich attendance continued to bring up the rear in the Eastern League, however, ranking dead last in the 12-team circuit in 2006 and again in 2007.
Five years removed from the Yankees departure, Norwich had a relevant baseball event again when the All-Star Game came to town in July 2007. The Defenders responded with a near sell-out for the day long festivities, including a pre-game Home Run Derby. The fog began to roll in about two hours before game time. Just as the home run derby was about to begin, a concession stand fire alarm went off, requiring an evacuation of the stadium. Sergio Santos of the New Hampshire Fisher Cats allegedly won the Derby, sending balls deep into the fog banks now hanging over the outfield and (one presumes) over the walls beyond.
The All-Stars fumbled through most of three innings, but officials called the game at 2-2 after a routine fly ball descended from the mists and nearly plonked Defenders outfielder and All-Star John Bowker.
“What next, locusts?” asked Defenders chief Lou DiBella in comments published by The Reading (PA) Eagle. “The plague? We held off the rain, but who would have thought the fog would be so thick we’d have to separate it with our hands?”
What was next for DiBella, inevitably, was to move the team. The Defenders lasted two more money-losing summers in Norwich before departing for Richmond, Virginia in 2010, still under DiBella’s ownership. The Richmond Flying Squirrels assembled a front office dream team lead by long-time Reading Phillies exec Chuck Domino and former Altoona Curve GM Todd Parnell. The Flying Squirrels led the Eastern League in attendance during their 2010 inaugural season with announced totals of 463,842.
With the departure of the Defenders and the Eastern League, Dodd Stadium got a new tenant in 2010 with the arrival of the Connecticut Tigers of the New York-Penn League. The NY-Penn League is short season A-ball, with only half as many home games (36) as the Eastern League and the expectation is that this amount of baseball is more appropriate for a modest-sized city like Norwich.