New Haven is no man’s land — a misnomer, maybe, but still the best term we have for a city caught in the middle of a heated border dispute.
In fact, all of Connecticut is a battleground. The dominant power to the south and the challenger to the north fight constantly for control over the Constitution State. Many take sides, and so a line has formed. Others prefer to avoid the conflict and assert themselves as independent. New York and Boston, they say, can shove it. In our part of the state, we need not look far for sports. New Haven and Yale have a long athletic tradition of which Elm City residents can, and should, be proud.
Although Connecticut is basketball land, New Haven’s most successful sport is hockey. New Haven has been home to seven minor league hockey teams over 76 years. The Eagles played from 1926 to 1951, switching leagues once and briefly playing as the Ramblers. The Tomahawks played in New Haven for two years and were followed by the Nutmegs for another two, before the Blades played from 1954 to 1972. The Nighthawks then had the longest run of any team, from 1972 to 1992, when they were renamed the Senators, before folding the next year. The Beast of New Haven played from 1997 to 1999, and the Knights played from 2000 to 2002.
The city has also hosted two minor league baseball teams — the Ravens, from 1994 to 2004 and the Cutters, from 2004 to 2007 — which maintained the legacy of the West Haven Yankees, who farmed players for the Yankees in the 1970s. When the Ravens won the Eastern League Championship in 2000, they brought back New Haven’s first professional championship since the Blades’ victory in the Eastern Hockey League in 1956. With no professional teams currently in the city, the largest pro sports event is the annual Pilot Pen Tennis Tournament, played in New Haven since 1990. The tournament is the last professional event before the U.S. Open each year, and James Blake has won this late-summer event two of the last three years.
But thanks to the rivalry that envelops the city and the state, New Haven sports have little air to breathe.
The New York-Boston rivalry is no small matter; indeed, it is the greatest achievement of American sports. No other element of life in America has come to rely as much on sports history and imagery. It is impossible to debate the relative merits of New York and Boston without discussing the Yankees and Red Sox. But neither New York State nor Massachusetts sees the dark side of this conflict, since residents of each state are firmly in the local camp. Instead, it is the land in between that comes under fire.
That land is called Connecticut.
Some things are apparent. The New York suburbs in western Connecticut are clear Yankee territory, while the New England towns farther east love their Sox. But the division gets muddled in between. Many have wondered where exactly Yankee country ends and Red Sox nation begins. An unscientific and admittedly humorous survey of hundreds of Connecticut residents by the New York Times in 2006 found the “border” to snake circuitously southeast through the state, from its northwestern tip to near its midpoint along the coast. On or near the border are the towns of Torrington, New Britain, Middletown and Old Saybrook. Hartford is therefore in Red Sox land, while our beloved Elm City sits 15 minutes into the Yankees’ domain.
The struggle for Connecticut reminds me of similar situation far from here. In the Caribbean, a small archipelago called San Andres is also under dispute. A 1928 treaty granted San Andres to Colombia, which has administered the islands since the 1820s. But Nicaragua has maintained a territorial claim on San Andres and has control over the surrounding waters, including its fish and oil. Meanwhile, a third of the islands’ residents are an English-speaking minority, descendents of slaves under British rule, who are seeking independence from both countries. It is a tough situation with which I have no familiarity, but which I have read about and for which I have great sympathy.
I hope that if the people of San Andres want to be independent, they can become independent. It would be wrong for either Colombia or Nicaragua to maintain a claim over a land that to which they have little connection.
Similarly, I look forward to the day when New Haven sports can properly assert themselves as independent of the regional powers around the city. Minor league hockey or baseball may return, but we cannot count on it. What we do know is that Yale is here to stay. Eli sports have the opportunity to take on two cities and show that New Haven can be proud of its hometown product.
New Haven has long supported Yale teams. Those of us frustrated by the small size of the student sections in Yale stadiums can be comforted by the fact that many of those filling the rest of the seats root for what has become New Haven’s team. Although professional sports have seen better days in New Haven, Yale sports are alive and well. Elm City sports fans should take advantage of Yale, spurning the Big Apple and Bean Town, and look to home for their sports.
Pete Martin is a sophomore in Morse College. His column appears every Thursday.