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Norwich officials looking for help to preserve a piece of Norwich Navigators history

Norwich — When the Connecticut Tigers arrived in Norwich in 2010, team staff made a strange discovery in the storage area behind the stadium outfield wall: the discarded giant statue of Tater the Gator, the Norwich Navigators mascot that had stood since 1996 at the entrance to the Thomas J. Dodd Memorial Stadium.

The new team brushed off the statue, painted a Connecticut Tigers jersey on Tater and set him up on a new pedestal at the entrance in time for the team’s retro Norwich Navigators Night. There he stayed for another 10 years, until the team was renamed the Norwich Sea Unicorns following the 2019 season. The 2020 season was lost to the COVID-19 pandemic, and the team lost its minor league affiliation with Major League Baseball.

When the Sea Unicorns opened the 2021 season, Tater was shuffled aside again but not discarded this time. The statue stands at the end of the stadium’s left field concourse near the barbecue pavilion and Philly’s cheesesteak concession stand.

But something is missing.

A bronze plaque had been attached to the base of the statue commemorating its creator and donor, Ed Oliveira of Tee’s Plus Screen Printing of Groton.

“To the Norwich Navigators and all their fans. The spirit of Tater touches all who come in contact with him. For both young and young at heart, Tater represents all that is positive in Eastern Connecticut,” the plaque, dated March 19, 1996, said.

On July 19, the Norwich city manager’s office received a call from a local scrap metal dealer that someone had brought in the plaque. The dealer paid $83 to the person but decided to contact the city before melting it down, said Jacquie Barbarossa, executive assistant to City Manager John Salomone.

The dealer wants to be compensated for the cost, Barbarossa said, and now the city is looking for someone interested in preserving the plaque, possibly reuniting it with the Tater statue. Anyone interested in helping preserve the plaque should contact the city manager’s office at (860) 823-3750.

“It’s a piece of memorabilia,” Salomone said. “We try to preserve the history of the city, and that’s certainly part of it.”

Dave Schermerhorn, general manager of the Sea Unicorns, started working at Dodd Stadium for the Connecticut Defenders, the team that apparently had discarded the statue when it dropped the Navigators name in early 2006.

The statue was gone by the time Schermerhorn started with the Defenders in 2009, but he remained in Norwich after the Defenders departed in 2009 and participated in the plan to restore the statue. He then decided to move the statue to the side concourse this spring when the team rebranded as the Norwich Sea Unicorns in the summer Futures Collegiate Baseball League.

“We will leave the plaque to the city,” Schermerhorn said. “We’re not sure who it belongs to. I think it should be saved and put on display somewhere, whether at City Hall or at Dodd Stadium.”

c.bessette@theday.com

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