New Britain Baseball Has A New Name, The Bees, And Brings Back An Old Hand … – Hartford Courant
NEW BRITAIN — When the Atlantic League’s freshly minted New Britain Bees take the field in April, they’ll be cheered on by the best-known name in professional baseball in the city: former Rock Cats chief owner Bill Dowling.
At a press conference Thursday to introduce the new team’s name, league officials announced Dowling will have the role of “special adviser.”
Dowling, who built the Rock Cats into a financial and marketing success story for the Eastern League in his 12 years at the helm, said he’s ecstatic at the chance to help return pro ball to the city.
“I was beyond tears” when new owners announced in 2014 that the Rock Cats would leave for Hartford, Dowling said. “I had no idea it would happen. It was almost like a death in the family.”
But Dowling said he’s certain that the Atlantic League and its founder, Frank Boulton, will create an even better organization with the Bees.
“I’ll be working with sponsor organizations, businesses and community groups. We’re going to replicate the Rock Cats experience, expand it and enhance it,” Dowling said. “I owe it to the 3 million fans who came through the gates when we owned that team. We made memories for families, and we’re going to do that again.”
Mayor Erin Stewart told reporters that she was “absolutely thrilled” to be welcoming the new team, saying, “Baseball has been in New Britain since 1983. Our kids want to grow up with that. It’s a staple in our community.”
Stewart said the team name was a natural choice, since the city seal features a beehive with bees buzzing nearby. It represents worker bees around a factory, a reference to the city’s industrial past.
Stewart credited outgoing Bridgeport Mayor Bill Finch, whose city is home to the Atlantic League’s Bluefish, for helping New Britain recover from the Rock Cats’ departure. He brokered a meeting between Boulton and Stewart and their staffs.
“Once we found out that the other team was leaving, we had to start working finding another,” she said, calling the Atlantic League “hands-down the best” of the various organizations that wanted to play at the stadium.
Boulton, who owns the Atlantic League’s immensely popular Long Island Ducks, told reporters he’s no stranger to New Britain: He owned the Eastern League’s Albany Colonie Yankees back when the Rock Cats played as the New Britain Red Sox.
Boulton’s work is now focused on the eight-team Atlantic League, an independent organization that’s not linked to any Major League Baseball team. But more than 40 percent of its players have experience in the majors, and every year dozens of players pass through the Atlantic League on the way to — or from — one of the major league teams or their minor league affiliates.
Boulton promised that New Britain fans will see quality baseball, and was accompanied at the press conference by the Atlantic League’s executive director, Joe Klein, former general manager of the Cleveland Indians, Detroit Tigers and Texas Rangers. Klein has been in baseball for 53 years, and came up through the Washington Senators organization as a 19-year-old outfielder in 1962.
“Did you know Ty Cobb?” Boulton asked during the press conference.
“I knew his dad,” Klein replied.
Boulton’s staff will work from office space at city hall until the Rock Cats vacate New Britain Stadium at the end of the year. It is interviewing candidates for field manager, and has begun marketing season tickets — including a deal where the first 500 buyers can choose any seat in the ballpark and pay $500 for the year.
Stewart has pledged a major renovation of the ballpark that has already begun with a new infield. Rock Cats’ ownership has said poor field conditions were part of the reason they started looking elsewhere; Stewart said Thursday that most of those complaints were “fabricated.”
She said New Britain never envisioned its ballpark as a significant money-maker, and mostly wants it filled as a tourism and recreation attraction. Dowling said that he always thought it should be used more often on a team’s off days, and that he hopes Boulton will be interested in holding everything from farm-to-table dinners to music performances when the Bees are out of town.
“It was a jewel in the crown and we didn’t show it off enough,” Dowling said.
Dowling, an East Haddam resident, led an investment group that bought the Rock Cats from Joe Buzas in February 2000. Dowling served as president and managing partner through 2012, and stayed briefly as a consultant to the new owners afterward.
“We had such a terrific run in New Britain,” Dowling said. “The players, the staff, my partners and I were all blessed to have been on the receiving end of great support and affection for over a decade.”
The New Britain team takes the place of the Camden Riversharks in the Atlantic League.
New Britain will pick up a natural rivalry in the Atlantic with the Bridgeport Bluefish, the league’s only other club in Connecticut. The other teams are in Sugar Land, Texas; York, Pa.; Lancaster, Pa.; Central Island, N.Y.; Waldorf, Md.; and Bridgewater, N.J.
The Bees launched their website, www.nbbees.com, on Thursday, and announced they’ll have caps and other merchandise for sale soon. They won’t introduce their mascot until sometime in the winter.
“We’re not going to give you everything today,” Boulton said.