Gut-check time for Elm City sports

Pick up a media guide/ recruiting brochure for the majority of Yale’s 35 varsity sports and, somewhere nestled amidst athlete’s bios you will find a page called “New Haven: The Perfect Location” which highlights some of the city’s draws. As recently as last year, that page contained three listings on the professional sports teams’ section, with the New Haven Ninjas of the arena football league, the New Haven Knights of the United Hockey League, and the New Haven Ravens, of the Double-A Eastern League, just two steps removed from major league baseball.

Gone are the Ninjas and Knights, victims of the closing of the New Haven Coliseum. And, as was announced last week, the status of the Ravens on that list is questionable at best beyond the 2003 season.

The question of why New Haven is on the verge of losing its third professional sports team in two years is an important one, but rather than pointing fingers in attempting to do so, area sports fans should invest energy in ensuring that at least one professional sports franchise is in the area long into the future. The Knights and Ninjas are already gone, but this year marks one last chance for the Greater New Haven area to show it warrants a professional team, if indeed it does. And that’s a big if.

Once the novelty of the Ravens wore off in the mid-’90s, the franchise could hardly be considered successful, and, sparing the details, it’s a wonder the Ravens were not sold earlier. Even if the Coliseum’s doors weren’t closed this past summer, the long-term existence of the Knights and Ninjas was hardly a given. Simply put, it’s gut check time for New Haven and the surrounding community.

Put up or shut up.

Having lived in this area my whole life, I hope and think baseball or any other professional sports franchise could succeed here. But then again, I all too often look at things through rose-colored glasses.

There are those so-called fans who will not show up at a single Ravens game this year, not wanting to give financial support to Drew Weber, the team’s new owner, who plans to move the team to Manchester, N.H., in 2004. While some legal red tape stands in his way, all issues will most likely be resolved and the Double-A Eastern League franchise will most likely not be in the Elm City in 2004.

Those who want to boycott the Ravens this year claim to have a broken heart over the prospect of losing their baseball team, and do not want to give one iota of financial support to Weber. But he’s going to move the team anyway, even if, by some miracle, all 71 games at historic Yale Field were sold out this year. This season is not about Weber; it’s about New Haven. For those New Haven sports fans ready and willing to pack it in and give up, life is simple — don’t show up at the ballpark this year.

But for those who still want to see a team at Yale Field in 2004 and well beyond, it is imperative to show up at the gates when the season begins this April. Already potential investors have expressed interest in a future New Haven franchise, but no one in their right mind will put a team here if fan support is lacking. In other words, no potential investor will put a team here under the status quo — more needs to be done.

The 2003 season at Yale Field will feature a “turn back the clock” theme from the Ravens, hoping to give fans an “old-time baseball” experience, complete with throwback uniforms. Here’s hoping that history is made this season with record attendance, enough to show potential investors that a baseball team can thrive in these parts.

Otherwise, rather than making it, baseball in New Haven will become history, the last of three professional sports to find that fate in less than two years.

Comments