Sunday, September 25, 2016

Yard Goats and Politics

Nope, no politics here. Or baseball either.
Hartford, Connecticut, is a perfectly nice city. I went to college not to far from there, and people would actually on occasion say things like "Let's go to Hartford." Voluntarily, even.

In those days, Hartford had a hockey team, which we ignored. That team later moved to North Carolina. This appears to have changed little for either the city or the hockey team (though to their credit they did win a Stanley Cup, much to everyone's surprise) Fast forward a few years, and you find the mayor of Hartford pining for a sports team of his very own.

Which is why Hartford then spent a stupid amount of money to purloin the AA team that played down the road in New Britain. New Britain, for those of you not familiar with the fine points of Connecticut geography, is maybe 20 miles from Hartford. I'll say that again: 20. Whole. Miles. Moving the team was the equivalent of moving boxes of stuff you're not using from the closet to the garage. Functionally, it accomplished pretty much nothing, except funneling a bunch of public money to the stadium developer.

And here's where it gets fun. The stadium for the freshly minted Hartford Yard Goats - and really, this whole mess is the gods of baseball exacting their retribution on the team for going with such a God-poundingly stupid name - was supposed to be ready to go for Opening Day, 2016.

It wasn't. But hey, it would be almost ready, right? A short road trip and then it would be good to go.

Except it wasn't. And it wasn't and it wasn't and it wasn't, to the point where there was yelling about lawsuits and the contractor got fired and the Yard Goats ended up spending their entire 2016 season on the road. Which, incidentally, is what's being blamed for Rockies call-up David Dahl slumping badly in September; apparently the wear and tear of a season-long road trip took it out of him.

But hey, the worst was over, right? The city was going to find someone to finish the construction and the Yard Goats would be settled in for the 2017 season.

Really, you'd think they would have expected it. The inspection report on the work that had been done just came back. In it? Cracks in the concrete. Doors the wrong size for the gaps they're suppsoed to seal. Busted drains. Crumbling steps. Improperly poured slabs. Exposed rebar. Eroding concrete. Even a hole in the floor of one men's room that gave unobstructed views to the room below. 

This, they're going to fix during a Connecticut winter, with no contractor in place, in order to be ready for April 2017. The odds, as they say, are not good.

And once again, we are reminded that it was all unnecessary. That a bit of political grandstanding - (because the revenue numbers used to justify moving the team a few exits up I-91 are essentially inconsequential) borked the city, the team, the players, the Eastern League, and the folks who worked at the stadium in New Britain who lost their beer vending gigs for what was literally nothing. That this was done for optics and to put some cash in the pockets of people who, presumably, might support a re-election campaign or two.

There's a word for that: Politics.

Remember that the next time you hear someone talk about how they want politics out of sports, or how sports isn't the right place for politics, or something something something shut up and play because you make a lot of money something something. There are big, visible moments of politics in sports, like the 1968 gold medal protest in Mexico City, or the movement that Colin Kaepernick's started. There are small moments of politics in sports, too - everything from Luke Scott using his constitutionally protected right to free speech to say idiotic things about the president to Tony LaRussa stumping for animal rights or trundling off to a Glen Beck rally. There are ways politicans use sports, using giveaways to sports teams to boost poll numbers because they're not The Guy Who Lost The Team. And there's the politics in sports that we barely even notice because it's become normalized - think about the mandatory "God Bless America" at baseball games, or camo uniforms (and if you think that's not politics, you haven't been paying attention for the last couple of centuries).

So the next time you feel the urge to complain about "politics not having a place in sports", remember: big or small, whether you agree with a particular element or not, it's always been there. Just ask the Yard Goats. 

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