Can we start worrying about the really XL problem in Hartford?
The state's latest cause célèbre, the Rock Cats moving to Hartford, has generated a kaleidoscope of posturing here in Shangri-La. Cheerleaders, purveyors of moral outrage, conspiracy theorists, economists, pseudo economists, cynics, skeptics and Joe Average Fans continue to ruminate.
Seems a good time to hearken a classic quote from Lee Mazzilli, the former Yankee and Met, who spent a summer here managing the Norwich Navigators. After a few ham and eggers in the local media got through grilling him postgame one night, Mazzilli took a puff of a cigarette, paused in faux contemplation and said:
"People here gotta understand," he said, "this is minor league bleeping baseball."
Mazzo should go to the window and collect. Still to this day. Because all the blatherers on the subject, after a sip of decaf, should re-read Mazzilli's manifesto:
It's minor league baseball.
And so while we debate whether the Rock Cats bamboozled New Britain, where destitute Hartford can find $60 million, the merits of a ballpark in downtown Hartford, traffic, parking and all the other peripheral issues of L'Affaire de Ten Miles Up The Road, I have a different question:
Why in heaven's name would you spend all this time acting like minor league baseball - minor by definition - is your salvation, while the ambiguous future of a far more important building to the sporting landscape hovers like the smoke Mazzilli liked to exhale?
No, really. I'd like to know why plans for the future of the XL Center haven't merited such attention from our fearless leaders. Now I get the part that the XL Center is more of an issue for the state than the city. But how come Hartford could figure out a way to bond $60 million for the minor leagues but nobody can figure out a definitive plan for the building that holds significantly more important tenants?
Namely the defending national champions of college basketball. Times two. Not to mention UConn hockey, whose foray into the big time begins in October.
And please. The $35 million in renovations underway for the XL Center? A bucket of sand removed from Misquamicut. The XL Center is a dump. Raze it and start over. Or give it a total makeover. And here's the rub: be definitive. As definitive as the plans for the minor leagues. As definitive as the exorbitant rent numbers UConn pays to play off campus.
Ifs and maybes are not acceptable, given the significance of the tenants. A Band-Aid for a hemorrhage is a waste of money.
I spoke to some folks in the UConn athletic department the other day to see if they were as touchy about this as I am. What I discovered was worse: ambivalence.
"Honestly," one veteran of the department said, "if the XL Center disappeared tomorrow and we had to play all our games on campus, everyone here would celebrate."
So I asked the person why, exactly, UConn plays in a building nobody likes.
"Intense political pressure," the person said, alluding to UConn's importance to keeping downtown businesses afloat.
Amazing, though, when you think about it. There's "intense political pressure" on UConn to keep playing in a building whose future doesn't merit the same time and energy as a ballpark for a minor league baseball team. A budding Minnesota Twin, apparently, is more important than Ryan Boatright and Breanna Stewart.
I don't get it.
I'm also glad that I'm here in them thar hills. We may lack the self-importance other hamlets in Connecticut flaunt, but we're also the state's entertainment hub. Know why? Good leadership. Take, for example, how Mohegan Sun officials got a WNBA franchise. They just did it. Boom. If that franchise ever thought of coming to Hartford instead, indecision and incompetence would have kept it in Orlando.
I try to root for Hartford. I'm not sure why it's such a polarizing place. But this much I know: A minor league ballpark doesn't and shouldn't have the same cachet a downtown arena with the state's biggest sports attractions as its primary tenant.
Take me out to the new XL Center instead.
This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro.
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