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Norwich must take cautious approach toward baseball plan

It will be wonderful to have some form of quality baseball taking place at Dodd Stadium in Norwich this summer. It is great family entertainment, there is a spin off for local restaurants and hotels catering to players and fans, and it would be a shame to see the ballpark empty.

But this is not the baseball that Dodd Stadium was built for or upon which its model for success was formulated. The stadium was built to host professional, minor league baseball. The concept was that professional players, under contract with Major League franchises, could attract enough fans spending enough money to make the stadium largely a self-sustaining operation financially.

Sadly and, in our opinion, foolishly, Major League Baseball abandoned Norwich and small cities across the country when it dramatically downsized the minor league system.

Norwich franchise owner and President Miles Prentice had planned to continue fielding at Dodd Stadium a Detroit Tigers minor league team, under the whimsical new name Norwich Sea Unicorns. In 2019 he signed a 10-year lease with the city for use of Dodd Stadium. The deal was announced shortly before Major League Baseball revealed its contraction plan and prior to the 2020 season falling victim to the pandemic.

Two weeks ago Prentice announced the Sea Unicorns were joining the Futures Collegiate Baseball League, a summer wooden bat league featuring college prospects, largely from the Northeast. The first home game is set for May 31 at 7 p.m.

Financially, this may or may not work. Not long ago, the city invested in an upgraded lighting system to meet professional baseball requirements. Norwich is still paying off the bonds. It has to maintain the facility, provide police and traffic control and assure emergency response.

Norwich cannot afford large subsidies to make this viable. It would not be fair to taxpayers. This new Futures franchise has to carry its weight fiscally. More concerts and other events may help. However, Norwich needs an exit if the numbers don’t add up. Mayor Peter A. Nystrom is well aware of this. He wants to replace the 10-year lease with a 2-year deal. That makes sense. Things have changed drastically since the long-term lease was signed in 2019.

Dodd Stadium is an industrial park. The land is valuable. The city must keep its options open.

It would be wonderful if baseball survives at Dodd. But Norwich can’t take a keep-baseball-at-all-costs approach. It can’t afford to.

The Day editorial board meets regularly with political, business and community leaders and convenes weekly to formulate editorial viewpoints. It is composed of President and Publisher Tim Dwyer, Editorial Page Editor Paul Choiniere, Managing Editor Izaskun E. Larrañeta, staff writer Erica Moser and retired deputy managing editor Lisa McGinley. However, only the publisher and editorial page editor are responsible for developing the editorial opinions. The board operates independently from the Day newsroom.

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