On Thursday night, UConn baseball played their first game under the lights inside the new Dunkin’ Donuts Park in Hartford. As an event, the night was a resounding success, even beyond the box score. While games at JO Christian Field are sparsely populated, UConn Nation came out in droves to downtown Hartford.
What makes the attendance even more impressive was that only 200 tickets were sold beforehand, meaning that nearly all the fans at the park bought their tickets at the gate.
The “official” attendance was announced at 2,828 but there seemed to be more in the stands. UConn head coach Jim Penders had his own theory about the lower-than-expected total.
“It looked and sounded like more than that,” said Penders after the game. “I thought they were just announcing it as 2828 because [longtime UConn baseball] coach Andy Baylock threw out the first pitch and that was his jersey number that nobody else wears.”
Baylock wasn’t the only notable head coach in attendance, as men’s basketball coach Kevin Ollie took in the game with his new assistant head coach, Raphael Chillious. We’ll never know why they buttoned their collared shirts all the way to the top, but it does appear as though they had a nice evening.
The atmosphere at the park was certainly unique. The game was mostly run like a normal UConn baseball game in Storrs, with the same PA announcer, same music and same promotions. The walk-up songs for the Huskies stayed the same, which made Zac Susi’s at bats a fun spectacle.
For those unfamiliar, when Susi comes to the plate, the dugout dances, if you will, to his walk-up song by flapping their hands over their heads. With a bigger crowd, most of whom were likely seeing this year’s team for the first time, it caught on quickly.
Zac Susi, what have you done. pic.twitter.com/C5nXOVBvfC— Angry 1999 Banner (@Angry99Banner) May 19, 2017
This dance led to a bit of confusion after the game. While interviewing Alex LeFevre (2-for-3, 2B, HR) postgame, Susi began flapping his hands towards us like he was dancing to his own walk-up song. Nope, instead he was warning the writers to get out of the way.
A few guys snuck up behind him and gave him the honorary Gatorade shower after his big performance. Lucky for him, the jug was mostly empty so there wasn’t much left to drench him with.
Most heeded the warning and backed away to avoid collateral Gatorade. However, one intrepid reporter refused to back down and inadvertently became part of the celebration.
.@French_Soup got the Gatorade shower treatment after his 2-for-3 night and I was not paying attention enough to get out of the way...— Shawn McGrath (@ShawnMMcGrath) May 19, 2017
After such a successful first visit to Hartford, it’s hard to imagine UConn not playing more games there in the future. The UConn Blog has previously raised the possibility of the Huskies using it as a temporary home while their new stadium is constructed but that seems even more likely now.
Generally when UConn plays in Hartford, it’s met with grumbling that they should be playing on-campus instead. But when it comes to baseball, it seems like a good fit to grow interest in a successful program.