Tigers' staff on the watch for high-flying hawk
By Janice Steinhagen - Staff Writer
Norwich - posted Mon., Feb. 21, 2011
Why would a man sit in the bleachers of a snowy, deserted baseball field in mid-February, gazing skyward with binoculars?
No, he’s not looking for foul balls or high flies… at least, not of the baseball variety.
Instead, C.J. Knudsen has actually braved chilling winds and icy blasts of winter to search the skies for Melvin, Dodd Stadium’s resident red-tailed hawk.
“He came flying in last year and just stuck around,” said Knudsen. “He has a couple of different perches around the stadium.” The bird of prey patrols the stadium for field mice and other rodents, Knudsen said. “Not long ago, we witnessed a stand-off between Melvin and a squirrel. It lasted about an hour and a half before the squirrel got away,” he added.
Knudsen is vice president of operations for the Connecticut Tigers, the single-A short-season farm club for the Detroit Tigers Major League Baseball team. He’s one of seven Tigers staffers who keep Dodd up and running in the off-season, planning promotional events, connecting with community groups and lining up sponsorships.
Despite the drifts of snow that blanket the playing field and still persist in some places in the stands, Knudsen and his co-workers are dreaming of spring – and of the crack of the bat.
“It’s nice to be thinking of warm summer nights on a cold winter day,” he said. “You hang out at the ballpark in the summer months, hang out with the fans and watch baseball. And in the winter months, it’s fun to talk about it.”
This will be the second Connecticut season for the Tigers, the third minor-league baseball team to call Dodd home. Knudsen explained that the short-season single-A team is the first step into the major leagues for players who sign a contract after being drafted out of college or high school.
This season’s crop of Tigers is beginning to appear at the Lakeland, Fla., training camp, he said. Pitchers and catchers reported to camp Feb.14, and the rest of the players will show up in March. The Tigers’ season opens with an away game June 17, and the home opener at Dodd is June 20. “We play 76 games in 80 days,” said Knudsen.
The players’ goal is to continue the climb into the major leagues, through the multi-layered minor league structure, Knudsen said. The goal of his staff at Dodd is to “continue to build the franchise and get the community involved,” he said. “People had a great experience here last year. The word’s starting to get out.”
Among the events on the agenda for the 2011 season: Boy and Girl Scout sleepovers at the ballpark; baseball clinics for kids; games of catch on the field and free baseballs for spectators after Sunday games; and the traditional Friday night post-game fireworks.
Another tradition – the baseball team mascot – will also continue this season. The Tigers brought back Tater the Gator, mascot for the former Norwich Navigators, because they “heard a lot of great things about him and he was beloved by the fans,” said Knudsen. The fiberglass figure of Tate that used to stand in front of Dodd has been moved indoors because of weather damage, and a decision is pending as to whether it will be restored and replaced.
The “live” Tater will join the Tigers’ mascot, CT, to encourage fan participation again this season, Knudsen said.
Knudsen said that bringing families out to enjoy an economical day of baseball at the local field is “what minor league baseball is all about.” There’s always that chance, he said, of getting an autograph from a player who might be in the majors some day.
“Last year we drew over 50,000 fans,” Knudsen said. “This year, we anticipate a large increase. We’ve started to put down roots here. It’s the community’s ballpark, and we’re really the tenants. It’s for the community to enjoy.”
And who knows… on one of those summer days, the fans might finally get a glimpse of Melvin the hawk, too.