Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Sports, Stadiums and the Hartford Inferiority Complex

Well, here we go again. Next week, Rentschler Field in East Hartford, which was built following the collapse of the Patriots deal in 1999, will play host to a World Cup qualifying match between the United States and Trinidad and Tobago. One problem: no one cares.

U.S. coach Bruce Arena said he decided the team should play at Rentschler Field after visiting the stadium's Web site two years ago, and coming to the conclusion that it could be a world-class venue for soccer.

But Arena also said he would like to see more tickets sold for the contest. Only 15,000 of the 38,000 available had been sold by Tuesday.

"What we hope to accomplish here is to win the game," he said. "Let's pack the stands."

[Lt. Governor Kevin] Sullivan said the game is a great opportunity for the area to prove itself as a sports market.

"All the eyes of the world will be here on Aug. 17," he said. (AP)

Okay, I've seen this one before. Every once in a while, a big sporting event blows through town that will, at last, prove to the rest of the country just how wonderful a sports market Greater Hartford is.

And so the event happens, and there are tons of empty seats. Sports announcers will fuss about how sad it is that this fine event is being held in a place like Hartford, which is obviously the worst sports market in the country. And, if they're feeling especially nasty, they'll bring up the Whalers.

It isn't that we're a bad sports market. It's that we don't care about soccer, or about the WNBA, women's football, the world volleyball championships, arena football, minor league basketball or team tennis, either.

For that matter, it wasn't that we didn't like hockey, either. The Whalers were just a lousy club, and who wants to see second-rate hockey?

But it contributes to the vast and growing inferiority complex that Greater Hartford has about its place in the nation. The loss of the Whalers was devestating to a city and a region that had been reeling for a decade from corporate flight, job cuts, crime and general decay. Before 1997, we could at least take some solace in the fact that Hartford was major league, if only in one rather pitiful respect. It hurt our pride, which had already been badly beaten, when that was taken from us.

This led our leaders to do strange things, such as throwing an aircraft carrier full of money at the New England Patriots, building a stadium for UCONN in East Hartford instead of Storrs and making an enormous, if futile, effort to host a bass fishing tournament. The fact that the Lieutenant Governor was forced to go out and sell an upcoming soccer match should give you an idea just how serious our inferiority complex is, and how badly people in power want the Hartford area to be a "great sports market" or at the very least, in some sort of national spotlight from time to time. Why else build a huge convention center?

The problem with spending a lot of time dreaming, planning and building big is that one tends to overlook the small things. Right now, we're acting like a 40-year-old minor leaguer who still quixotically dreams of the big leagues. It's past time to give up the major league dream. We'll be better off, in the long run, if we and our leaders learn to accept Hartford and the region surrounding it for what it is, instead of trying to shape it into what it is not.

"Connecticut To Host World Cup Qualifier." Associated Press 9 August, 2005.


DeanFan84 said...


You sound like Mayor DeStefano on this one. (And I always joked that the Mayor must have been the last kid picked in grade school.)

My take is that while I agree CT should give up any dream of a Major League presence, we really should be all over events like this World Cup match. (and the Pilot Pen, and the TPC.)

Fwiw, Connecticut has a great soccer heritage. The UCONN Men's team won National Championships in 1981 and 2000. The Women's team has gone to the NCAA tournament 23 times in a row! So Connecticut has a soccer heritage we all should be proud of.

So I agree, subsidizing Major League sports is a bad idea. But tossing an occasional bone to the very family-community oriented minor league baseball? What a shame when DeStefano walked away from our AA team, the New Haven Ravens.

The poor ticket sales are more a reflection on our abysmal State newspapers. This is the first I've heard of this upcoming match. Now, thanks to you, I'm going!

Genghis Conn said...


This is a great state for the minors. I always did like Yale Field -- lots of foul ground, but a nice old place. Too bad about the Ravens. They and the Rock Cats had a great rivalry going. I was also sad to see first the Beast of New Haven (awful uniforms! But a good rivalry between Hartford and New Haven) and then the, er, Nighthawks? disappear, too.

You're right about the papers. I often go to northeast PA to visit family, and the papers there cover the local minor league teams (AHL hockey, AAA baseball) very, very well.