Your place for Minnesota Twins and New Britain Rock Cats coverage, analysis and opinion.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Strange Goings On In New Britain, Connecticut

Is 2012 the last season that the Twins organization will
call New Britain the home for their AA team?
Something is amiss. Something doesn't feel quite right to this blogger.

Take a look at this link. The Rock Cats, who play host to the Mets' AA affiliate, the Binghamton Mets, next Monday through Thursday, are doing a "meet and greet" at New Britain Stadium with the Mets prospects before the start of Monday's game. That's right, with Mets players.

I've never seen anything quite like this before. There could be at least a few normal explanations, and I'll go through a couple. First, it's a spring weeknight game, and the team (from what I have seen), although drawing well, has not been selling out during the week nights early in the season. Minor league teams are known for creative promotions, and this is just another creative promotion. Second, and somewhat related, Connecticut residents are (in order of popularity) Yankees, Red Sox and Mets fans. It stands to reason that many people living in central Connecticut who are Mets fans might love the opportunity to meet some AA prospects without having to drive to Binghamton, New York -- a 4 hour drive from central Connecticut -- to do so. In other words, it's just catering to something that many Connecticut fans might desire. Maybe they would be wise to schedule a similar promotion when the Red Sox affiliate, the Portland Sea Dogs, next comes to town?

But, underlying these superficially satisfying explanations are a couple factors that intrigue me. First, in the few years that I have been attending Rock Cats games, I have never before seen a similar event done for a visiting team. Admittedly, I could be wrong about this, but I don't recall ever hearing about a promotion where fans could meet members of a visiting team, such as the Red Sox or Yankees affiliates. I understand that rivalries aren't the same in minor league baseball as they are in the major leagues, but still -- can you imagine the Twins arranging for fans to have meet and greet with White Sox players when they come to Target Field? Or, maybe a more appropriate example: Does Minnesota native Jack Hannahan work officially in conjunction with the Twins to meet some fans when he comes to town with the Indians? My guess -- and it's strictly a guess -- is no.

Second, and more importantly, here is what is possibly happening behind the scenes: It's no secret that there is going to be some AA organization shuffling taking place this offseason. Specifically, the Binghamton Mets are done with their affiliation after this season. The article I just linked to surmises that the Mets would move to New Britain, the Twins would move to New Hampshire, and the Blue Jays (currently in New Hampshire) would move to Ottawa, as an ownership group is purchasing a AA team and moving it there.

From a business standpoint, I can understand why it might be attractive to New Britain ownership to align with whatever local professional team -- the Yankees, Mets or Red Sox -- that had a farm club available. As it is, those 3 teams receive all the media attention in Connecticut, and they all have loyal followings, like the Twins do in Minnesota. The difference is that the Twins prospects -- after they get called up to Target Field -- are relatively forgotten by most in Connecticut (except for Rock Cats fans, of course).

Simply stated, there's no "Twins brand" in Connecticut, outside of what the Rock Cats have done a great job of cultivating on their own (on that note, and in fairness, I need to mention that many of the Rock Cats fans -- primarily season ticket holders -- I have gotten to know this year, are devout Twins fans, who probably know more about the organization than I do; their numbers just aren't as strong as the number of Yankees, Red Sox and Mets fans around me).

At the same time, though, if this speculation is correct, I can't wonder if the Rock Cats would be alienating some of their fan base by aligning with one of the three local professional baseball teams. Since I have lived out here, I don't think I've met one person that told me that they hate the Twins. Sure, some are simply not fans, but far more appreciate the team on at least some level, whether it's an association with Kirby Puckett or Joe Mauer, or the fact that the Twins used to be "the little engine that could." I emailed with a local reporter a few months ago when the Rock Cats' new ownership agreement was announced, inquiring whether he believed that the sale of the team increased the odds of the Rock Cats realigning. His response was a qualified "no," for precisely the reason that I just stated: the previous ownership had believed that, if they aligned with one of the Yankees, Red Sox or Mets, they would lose some who are fans of the other two teams (i.e., a Red Sox fan is not going to pay to watch Yankees prospects if the Rock Cats became a Yankees farm team); if, however, the Rock Cats remained aligned with a club whose major league team was not local, they could develop their own fan base (which they did), while still attracting fans of all three local pro teams (which they do).

In the end, I don't know exactly what's happening, and it's none of my business. The Rock Cats have been very good to me as far as being accessible and helping me provide some fan coverage (more on that to come hopefully next week), and I don't intend to make a mountain out of a molehill. It's just a very interesting promotion, and the timing -- going into the last 3 months of the Rock Cats' contract with the Twins -- is curious. The Twins fan in me, and of course the blogger in me, wants this business relationship to continue, and to prosper, but I ultimately will not be shocked if this new ownership group has plans to align with the Mets. Will I still be a fan of minor league baseball in New Britain? Of course. Will it be the same for me? Of course not. Perhaps this promotion will test the proverbial waters to gauge the extent of Connecticut fan interest in the Mets prospects?

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