Dodd Stadium open to just about anything as it celebrates its 25th season
This will be the 25th summer for the Grande Dame On The Hill, the ballpark that was such a happening in the summer of 1995, when we got the Double-A Yankees here and finally felt like part of the sports conversation.
How sad, really, that Dodd Stadium's silver summer may be rendered quiet by the new abnormal. The ballpark, normally home to 50-60 high school and college baseball games even before minor league baseball, may have nothing at all. Questions abound about the return of baseball at all levels, especially here, where the future Sea Unicorns — the former Navigators/Defenders/Tigers — await negotiations between Major League Baseball and Minor League Baseball. The impasse currently threatens 42 teams in small cities and towns that may be cut under a restructuring proposal.
Sea Unicorns Senior Vice President CJ Knudsen had no breaking news to report Tuesday. He remains hopeful, as do we all, that the newfound Sea Unicorns, whose logo has risen among the top 10 best sellers in the country, get to play sooner, not later.
Still, this dearth at Dodd should sadden all of us who have enjoyed the history it's helped create in the last 25 years. Hence, a modest proposal: More high school sports at Dodd in the fall, regardless of what becomes of minor league baseball's future here.
"We're kind of like every other venue — limited in what we can and can't do," Knudsen said. "But everything is on the table at this point. Whatever we can do for the community. High school and college soccer, football, and other things not only on the field, but in the parking lot."
Of course, we don't know exactly when — or if — high school sports will resume in the fall. CIAC executive director Glenn Lungarini expressed confidence last week there would be high school sports in the fall, although they may not begin on time. So on the premise we get sports back ...
High school football has never happened at Dodd. But it could. One idea: the tri-operative among Norwich Tech, Grasso Tech and St. Bernard, which uses Norwich Tech as its home field, could use Dodd for a few home games in the fall. Norwich Tech's field is quaint, but alas a cow pasture with goalposts. Dodd would give a program on the rise a location befitting the excitement the Crusaders generated last fall.
Knudsen said the rent for the field is generally $750 per event, meaning that even a modest number of $5 tickets sold, for example, should cover the cost.
Maybe it's a hard sell for East Lyme and Waterford to leave their palatial turf(s) to play on real grass again, but other programs might benefit from Dodd's cachet.
High school soccer has been played there before. Knudsen said the playing surface was mostly in the outfield, leading to some criticism that the play was too far away from the bleachers. He said they'd be open to talking about reconfiguring to give the fans a better view from the bleachers.
Speaking of fans: There are 6,000 of them at Dodd, allowing for better social distancing, if the need still exists in the fall.
Dodd also has a massive parking lot, which Knudsen said is available for potential concerts and drive-in movie events. He was intrigued by Ocean Beach's success on Easter with church services from its parking lot. People stayed in their cars and listened to services on local FM Radio, thereby adhering to social distancing.
By now, we should all be in agreement that every single idea is on the table. More high school sports — and events in general — should be a no-brainer for still a first-race facility in our midst. Dodd Stadium doesn't merely belong to Norwich, but all of us. With nothing happening, we could help its bottom line.
Friday Night Lights — or heck, even Conn/Coast Guard soccer — would be fun and fitting around the ballpark's 25th anniversary autumn. The kids might like playing on the same lawn as Nomar Garciaparra, Roger Clemens, Darryl Strawberry and David Cone.
This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro