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We're not bumpkins, so let's keep the grass green

Norwich – In more idealistic days, I would bristle at folks I'd consider dim bulbs for valuing appearance over reality. It's the whole style over substance thing: The essence of something or someone goes deeper than how it looks or appears.

It's why Facebook has eclipsed "Moby Dick" and "The Great Gatsby" as our greatest works of fiction. If our lives were the rainbows and lollipops we present on Facebook, we'd go about daily life clicking our heels and singing showtunes, rather than exercising the current levels of cynicism and invective.

Sadly, though, I'm realizing the burgeoning power of appearance. Maybe I'm less idealistic. More shallow. Or perhaps a budding realist. Whatever. But there is significance to how things look.

It's why I cringed last week attending a baseball game at Dodd Stadium. The outfield grass was burned in several places, looking like your neighbor's front lawn about Aug. 15. Bad optic, as they say.

But what looked a bit concerning from the stands during the Northeast Conference Tournament was downright hideous on television. The local news showed highlights of Central Connecticut's game Friday, about 30 seconds' worth of burned grass and the appearance of a failing ballpark.

"It is something we're working on and should be rectified very soon," Norwich Sea Unicorns general manager Dave Schermerhorn wrote in an e-mail. "There are multiple factors at play and should be fixed in the next couple weeks."

That's a good thing. And I don't mean to pile on here. The Tigers/Sea Unicorns folks have not had it easy recently, faced with the manure sandwich of a pandemic and corrosive changes to the minor leagues. They don't need some schmo lecturing them about burned grass.

But I realized something through my distaste for the way the ballpark looked last week. We can't afford to have our attractions looking decrepit. Half the state already thinks we're a bunch of bumpkins anyway. I hate feeding into to a narrative that suggests our inclinations here remain underdeveloped.

Too strong? Maybe. But this job has made me more than a little proprietary about life in general here in our corner of the world. And how important appearances really are.

Part of me worries that it comes across as arrogant to believe this stuff reflects back on me. But in the last 30 years, I've seen this corner of the world find heretofore unseen levels of appreciation and relevance. I'd like to maintain the momentum.

Nothing enrages me more than folks in other parts of Connecticut, who fancy themselves as way more cosmopolitan and sophisticated, dismiss All Things East of the River. I've said more than once that people in New Haven and Fairfield Counties think Rhode Island starts just after the Baldwin Bridge.

I believe those opinions give us an inferiority complex about many things, including our high school sports teams. Farmers from them, thar hills are going to beat West Haven? Southington? Darien? Please.

This is why I still take great pleasure when our teams win. Great pleasure when Mohegan Sun emerges as the state's No. 1 entertainment destination and gets concerts the XL Center does not. Great pleasure when the state high school basketball championships are played at Mohegan Sun Arena, making everybody else travel here for a change. Great pleasure when The Day gets all kinds of statewide notoriety for GameDay, a foray into livestreaming games that no other media outlet in Connecticut can touch.

Our accomplishments and attractions shine the spotlight on other aspects of life here, too. Example: Many of us get to live on or near the water. And slowly, our overall image is enhanced as never before. Perhaps you've noticed that the housing market here is hotter than it was inside Rick's Café Americain. (If you don't know that's a "Casablanca" reference, get off your phone, turn on the TV and watch the greatest movie ever made.)

The point of this: People are noticing we have a pretty good slice of the pie here. We have shoreline, not much traffic (except for the part of I-95 that needs to be disintegrated in Old Lyme and East Lyme), casinos, entertainment, good schools and comfortable pace.

I know. You're wondering what this possibly has to do with dead grass in a ballpark. Maybe I am, too. Except that I just hated the way it looked. I want Dodd Stadium to remain competitive with other venues to host conference tournaments and maybe even NCAA regionals. It's good for all of us. Good for business. Good for appearance. I don't want it looking rundown and ready for the rocking chair. Because it's not.

But most of all, I don't want it feeding into a narrative that we are less than. We are proving to be more than, actually. That's why it's suddenly hard to buy a house here. So let's all keep our collective grass green and enjoy our awesome place.

This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro


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