Sports Yard Goats

Chemistry-minded Yard Goats look to the second half after coming up just short in the first


The Hartford Yard Goats were on the verge of the franchise’s first playoff berth since 2009 when the team was named the Rock Cats and played in New Britain. Tied for first in the Eastern League’s Northeast Division and one game left in the first half of the season, the Yard Goats were in New Jersey last Sunday facing the Somerset Patriots with a playoff berth on the line.


Ten innings later, a walk-off home run from Yankees top prospect Anthony Volpe sent the Patriots dancing and the Yard Goats back to Hartford empty-handed.

Good news for them, though, there is another half season to go and another berth to earn.


“That was tough. If there was a way to do it, I guess getting walked-off was about as cinematic as it can happen. But they don’t give out rings in June,” said Michael Toglia, the Yard Goats’ first baseman and Colorado Rockies’ 2019 first-round pick.

With constant movement in the farm system, minor-league rosters are always in flux. Twenty-one of the 33 players on the 2022 roster were not with Hartford in 2021. The Rockies, however, tend to group players together as they move through the farm system in an attempt to build chemistry.

“We’re starting to see the fruits of that labor, when guys have played together a long time you start to see that camaraderie build,” Yard Goats manager Chris Denorfia said.

That camaraderie, which Toglia says is “off the charts,” exists and builds away from the diamond as well. The team hangs out together, plays video games and goes out to eat dinner as a group.

“We’re always doing stuff together. I think that translates to the field because everyone knows each other’s personalities, strengths and weaknesses so well,” Toglia said, “and that’s a big part of why we can win.”

Denorfia, the club’s second-year manager, has a lot to do with that. He grew up in Southington and played for 10 seasons in the major leagues, starting in 2005 with Cincinnati with stops in Oakland, San Diego and Seattle before one last season with the Cubs in 2015. He coached the Yard Goats to a 39-79 record in 2021 and has turned it around in his sophomore year at the helm.

On game day, Denorfia looks like he hasn’t missed a step. The former outfielder only stands out because of his grey, dry-fit hoodie. Other than that, he wears black athletic shorts, a Yard Goats hat and shades, just like the rest of the guys. Hand in glove, he stands in at first or second base during pitchers’ fielding practice or hits fungos to his infielders during BP.

“Being a player does not necessarily make you a good coach. The things that I picked up toward the end of my career – watching how the leaders worked, watching how my managers worked, I think that was probably the most important experience I got in regard to my current career. But we’re always judging how well we can get through to players,” Denorfia said.


“If it’s the wrong message, if it doesn’t get through to people, if it doesn’t get through that wall that they build up, then it’s not effective. So one of the biggest things I do with these guys is just build my relationships.”

The Yard Goats finished the first half with a 43-26 record, the second-best in the Eastern League. After Saturday’s 11-3 loss to Binghamton, Hartford is off to a 3-2 start in the second half as a six-game series with the Rumble Ponies concludes on Sunday.

The electric Ezequiel Tovar makes the Hartford offense go. The 20-year-old shortstop leads the team with 84 hits and a .318 average to go with 13 home runs and 47 RBI. Third baseman Aaron Schunk has a team-best 51 RBI and Toglia leads the way with 14 homers to go with 45 RBI.

“We’ve been pretty hot, we’ve had some good weeks, we play good at home; the energy in the park helps a lot. It just makes it a lot more fun,” Yard Goats outfielder Jimmy Herron said.

Hartford posted a 22-36 record at home last season and still averaged more than 5,000 fans in a park with a capacity of 6,850. Dunkin’ Donuts Park was named the best Double A park for the third time in 2021 despite only being around since 2017.

“They just run a fantastic show. So it’s a great thing to do in town regardless of the outcome. And it’s even better when we’re winning,” Denorfia said. “When the crowd gets into it, when they’re cheering, people will come back because it makes them feel good. It makes them feel like they’re part of something and they are because we feed off them as well.”


The Yard Goats took a day off after missing the first-half playoff berth Sunday and returned laser-focused and prepared to continue winning in hopes of earning a berth at the end of the season.

“It definitely lit a fire knowing that we had one of the best records in all of Double A and didn’t make it in the first half,” Toglia said. “I think the fire is just gonna continue to grow. We’re gonna continue to win games.”