Senator Thomas J. Dodd Memorial Stadium, named in honor of the Senator from Norwich, opened in April of 1995 as the home of the Double-A Eastern League Norwich Navigators of the New York Yankees Minor League system. Dodd Stadium came about as the Albany-Colonie Yankees were seeking a new home and multiple spots in Eastern Connecticut were considered before ultimately landing in the Business Park in Norwich. Glenn Carberry, a now-retired attorney, was instrumental in helping land the Minor League team and the stadium in Norwich.
The first game at Dodd Stadium was played on April 17, 1995 (the Navigators defeated the Reading Phillies) and Minor League Baseball was played in Norwich every year until 2020. The Navigators remained a Yankees farm team until 2002 and featured up and coming prospects such as Alfonso Soriano, Mike Lowell, and Nick Johnson amongst others. During those years, the Yankees also sent many players to Norwich for rehab assignments including Roger Clemens, David Cone and Daryl Strawberry amongst others. Former Major Leaguers to have made promotional appearances at Dodd Stadium have included George Brett, Dave Winfield, Carlton Fisk, Bob Feller and Al Kaline.
Following the 2002 season, the Yankees decided to change affiliations within the Eastern League and signed with Trenton, NJ. This left the Navigators searching for a new MLB affiliation and the San Francisco Giants answered the bell. Though the paring of a west coast MLB team with an east coast Minor League team seemed odd, the Giants did have the connection of being from New York originally. It was also a great time to be watching Giants prospects rise through the Minor League ranks as players such as Matt Cain, Madison Bumgarner and Pablo Sandoval would later help the Giants win three World Series titles after playing in Norwich.
Following the 2004 season, the Navigators were sold to boxing promoter Lou DiBella, who tried to reinvigorate the fan base with promotions that included a Don King appearance on Don King wig night. Leading into the 2006 season, the Navigators name was retired and was replaced by the Connecticut Defenders, an ode to the Navy submarine base in Groton. By 2009, the ownership group had decided that baseball in Norwich was not going to work for them anymore and the team was moved to Richmond, VA.
The City of Norwich was now looking for a way to fill Dodd Stadium again, and this time, a team from Oneonta, NY was looking for a new home. The New York-Penn League team was in its 11th year as an affiliate of the Detroit Tigers and seeking a new home. Dodd Stadium became that new home with the 2010 season and the Connecticut Tigers were born. Playing from mid-June to Labor Day weekend left plenty of time to schedule other events in the springtime and before the Connecticut Tigers could even play their first game in their new home, the NCAA Division 1 baseball regional tournament was help at Dodd Stadium. This tournament featured the UConn Huskies, Central Connecticut State Blue Devils, Oregon Ducks and Florida State Seminoles, who would go on to win the Regional.
During the 2019 Minor League Baseball season, the City of Norwich and the ownership group of the Connecticut Tigers announced a new 10-year lease that called for a renaming of the team to include Norwich and for several improvements to be made to Dodd Stadium. The Connecticut Tigers held a name the team contest that ultimately led to the Norwich Sea Unicorns being chosen as the new name for Minor League Baseball in Norwich. Just prior to the season, brand new LED lights were installed to illuminate the playing surface at Dodd Stadium.
Unfortunately for all parties, rumors began to swirl following the 2019 season that Major league Baseball was looking to take over operations of Minor League Baseball and as part of the reorganization of the affiliates, they wanted to eliminate 42 teams and move forward with just 120 Minor League affiliates. Rumors included lists of potential teams to eliminate and Norwich was on the list.
Despite many rallies across the country and political intervention, Major League Baseball did indeed follow through on these rumors and the Sea Unicorns, thanks in no small part to the COVID 19 pandemic wiping out the 2020 season, never played a Minor League Baseball game with its new moniker.
After some time to collect itself, ownership of the Norwich Sea Unicorns decided to move forward with baseball at Dodd Stadium and joined the Futures Collegiate Baseball League just in time for the 2021 season. With little time to prepare, the Sea Unicorns were able to get a roster together and open up the ballpark on Memorial Day for the home opener. The amended lease with the City of Norwich covered the 2021 and 2022 season with a mutual option for the 2023 season. The sides are currently negotiating an extension of the lease beyond 2023 and the Sea Unicorns are looking forward to continuing to compete in the Futures League and bringing in other events to Dodd Stadium for years to come.
The 2010 NCAA baseball regional was not the first collegiate baseball to be played at Dodd Stadium, and this tradition continues to the current day. Other tournaments to have been held at Dodd Stadium include the Atlantic 10 baseball tournament from 2002-2004 and the Northeast Conference baseball tournament in 2011-2012 and since 2014 except for the 2020 year that was canceled by the COVID 19 pandemic. Beginning with the 2022 season, the Mystic Schooners of the New England Collegiate Baseball League started playing home games at Dodd Stadium.
High School baseball has also been a staple at Dodd Stadium over the years with schools such as Norwich Free Academy, St. Bernard’s and St. Thomas More calling it home at times. Many other high schools from around Connecticut and Rhode Island have had the opportunity to play games at Dodd Stadium as well. Starting with the 2023 season, Putnam Science Academy will call Dodd Stadium home. Dodd Stadium has also been used as a site for Little League and Travel/AAU Baseball over the years, including the Norwich Little League hosting Opening Day ceremonies and Firecracker Sports hosting many games during its Columbus Day Bash tournament.
Over the years, Dodd Stadium has played host to many other events beyond baseball. Past concerts have included the Bob Dylan and Willie Nelson in 2005 and the Beach Boys in 1996 and Clint Black/Dwight Yoakam. The Jeffrey Osborne Celebrity Softball Classic was played before a Connecticut Tigers game in 2017. Professional wrestling rings were set up at home plate of Dodd Stadium in 2018 and 2019. Dodd Stadium was even the setting for the ESPN miniseries The Bronx Is Burning in the fall of 2006. The Double-A All Star game was held in Norwich in 2002 and the Eastern league All Star Game was held at Dodd Stadium in 2007. The New York-Penn League also held its All Star game in Norwich in 2013.
With 28 years under its belt, Dodd Stadium has seen quite a bit of activity. With a bit of hard work and determination, Glenn Carberry’s dream from 1994-1995 will continue to prosper for many years to come!