Friday, September 18, 2009


Defenders hitting the road
Fans emotional after what was probably team's last game ever in Norwich

By Stephen Chupaska Published on 9/17/2009

Norwich - As Skip Sceery entered Thomas J. Dodd Memorial Stadium for Game 2 of the Eastern League championship series Wednesday evening, he heard the turnstile click over for what is likely the last time.

”It was emotional,” he said.

Sceery, of East Hampton, a season-ticket holder for eight years, was perched in his usual seat in Section 11 behind home plate before the Connecticut Defenders' 7-6 loss to the Akron Aeros. Connecticut trails the best-of-five series 2-0, and the next three games are in Akron, Ohio.

The Defenders, a Class AA minor league baseball franchise, are expected to soon announce they are moving to Richmond, Va., next season.

After the game, some fans lingered. One even waved goodbye to the players as they entered the clubhouse, and another held a sign that said, “This Is Not What We Meant By: Go Defenders.”

Since news of the impending move broke, there have been rumors that a short-season A-ball team will move into the soon-to-be vacant Dodd Stadium, built 15 years ago to accommodate the New York Yankees' Class AA affiliate. But so far, nothing is definite.

Still, last night, fans in the announced crowd of 4,008 (though the actual attendance was about half that) reminisced before the game about the team's time in Norwich.

Sceery wore an old Navigators cap and relished telling his favorite Dodd Stadium story, a home run blast by Pablo Sandoval, currently a breakout star with the San Francisco Giants, the Defenders' parent club.

”See that line on the centerfield wall?” he said, noting a yellow stripe above the 401-foot mark. “It went six feet above it and would have gone into orbit.”

Sitting along the first-base line, Thurston Delaney of Norwich said he took his son, Quintin, to about 20 games a year.

”It's really too bad they are leaving,” Delaney said. “We took the team for granted.”

Delaney said Quintin once caught a foul ball hit by current New York Mets outfielder Daniel Murphy, who consequently made a fan for life.

Jazz Freitas of Noank, a diehard baseball fan who was at the season opener this year, is lamenting both the loss of the Defenders and their affiliation with the Giants.

”(Giants General Manager) Brian Sabean has a deep pool of talent,” Freitas said.

It was also a melancholy night for veteran ballpark staff, some of whom started working at the park after they retired.

Ticket-taker Jim Epps of Waterford, a retired police officer and security guard, has been working at Dodd since the Navigators hired him as an usher.

”I've got to know so many people,” he said. “The team has been good to me.”

Epps, a Yankee fan, recalled fondly both the day Roger Clemens made a rehabilitation start and the Navigators' Eastern League championship in 2002.

”This is rough,” he said. “But luckily this year they made the playoffs.”

Chris Batova of Norwich has been working in the information booth and at the lost-and-found since she retired from Southern New England Telephone seven years ago.

”This the most fun I've had at any job,” she said.

Batova reports there are still plenty of lost baseball gloves that have yet to be claimed.

”Of all the things to lose,” she said.

At the team store, most of the T-shirts, caps and sweaters were 75 percent off and selling fast.

”We didn't sit down at all Tuesday night,” store clerk Kathy Bartlett.

Still, as the autumn approaches, some fans are hopeful they will be watching minor league baseball next summer.

Chris Holdridge of New London hopes an A-ball team from the New York-Penn League moves to Norwich next year.

”That league has a lot of good players,” he said.

Nick Novak of Danielson said he wouldn't mind watching some of the younger players.

”I wish it was the Defenders,” Novak said. “But baseball is baseball.”


EDITORIAL FOOTNOTE: The people of Southeastern Connecticut didn't support this team. I was there one evening this summer and maybe four hundred (400) people were watching the game. I thought there were more employees than spectators. There really wasn't but the attendance was terrible. The biggest crowd of the season was probably there last night to see the team lose and probably leave forever. The Defenders were great baseball for a very cheap price. Good luck Defenders. You will be missed. Maybe the people of Connecticut are getting what they deserve. What do you think?


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