After losing the AA Eastern League New Haven Ravens in September 2003, New Haven is bringing professional baseball back to Yale Field this summer.
The Baseball Foundation of Connecticut has signed an agreement with the Northeast League for the former Berkshire Black Bears to come to New Haven in the 2004 season, and the team’s relocation was officially announced at a press conference at the Smilow Field Center yesterday.
“We’re excited about bringing the Northeast League to Yale field — we’re so glad that we can actually be here,” team president Rick Handelman said.
The team will be renamed as soon as possible, Director of Marketing Marie Heikkinen said. Members of the community will have the opportunity to submit names online and vote on a final name by the end of January, she said.
A committee of the Baseball Foundation of Connecticut has been working to keep baseball in New Haven since July 2003. Walter Esdaile, director of the Small Business Initiative and the committee’s spokesperson, said they were searching for an already-existing short-season team that might want to relocate to New Haven. Although the Ravens had a rather discouraging turnout to many games, Esdaile said he was hopeful that another baseball team could be more successful.
“Baseball has been in New Haven for many years — what people are reflecting on is a lack of success the Ravens had,” Esdaile said.
Yale Director of Athletics Tom Beckett said Yale athletics will likely remain highly involved with professional baseball at the stadium. He said Yale field was a desirable place for a professional team, considering the Ravens had played there the past ten years.
“The facility alone had an awful lot to do with the team selecting that site,” Beckett said.
Handelman said a lot of changes will be made at Yale Field, including the construction of luxury suites, renovations to the concessions stands, press box and clubhouse, and the removal of a portion of left field bleachers to make room for a children’s play area to bring more kids and families to the stadium.
Heikkinen said the team will attempt to bring all kinds of people to Yale field, from die-hard baseball fans to families simply looking for social outings.
“We’re looking forward to a very strong and long-lasting relationship with the people of the New Haven community,” Heikkinen said.
Esdaile and Wirz both said a short-season team such as the Northeast League franchise, whose season starts in late May and ends Labor Day weekend, will fill the stands with more success than did the Ravens.
“Ninety-five, 99 percent of days are baseball weather,” Esdaile said, referring to the Northeast League’s season.
Handelman added that the team was not necessarily trying to bring a larger crowd to the stadium, considering that a number of seats will be removed. But he said the team will be more financially secure, as the investments in Yale Field are in the range of several hundred thousand dollars.
“We’re not going to come in and put in our own money and then leave,” he said. Handelman said the team hopes to be there for a long time, adding that their lease lasts until 2019.
Former major league baseball player Jarvis Brown will be the team’s field manager. He played for Minnesota, San Diego, Atlanta and Baltimore during his MLB career and has coached in several professional baseball organizations.
The Northeast League, formed in 1995, is one of five independent baseball leagues in the country. It consists of eight teams from cities in New York, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Maine and Quebec. They play a 92-game schedule throughout the summer. The first game for the New Haven team will be on May 31.