(This article has been reproduced from page 24
and 25 of the 2001 Second Edition Ravens Souvenir Program with the intent to
provide information previously unobtainable via the internet to the general
In the spring of 1992, Yale University identified the need to have its baseball stadium renovated. The university contacted three prominent Yale alumni regarding a stadium fund-raising project: W. Edward Massey, Christopher Getman and Carter LaPrade. The three men agreed to participate in the stadium project and eventually learned that, with the addition of the Colorado Rockies and the Florida Marlins to the National League in 1993, two Double-A level minor league expansion teams would be available to begin play in the 1994 season. Realizing that a minor league baseball team would have a tremendous impact on the area, the group decided to apply for a franchise. To aid them in their quest, the group hired the club's first employee in the spring of 1992 - Joe Zajac. Zajac had just graduated from Yale, where he had been a star pitcher for the Bulldogs. He assumed the post of expansion coordinator and worked out of the headquarters of US HomeCare in New York, the home healthcare provider of which Massey was CEO at the time.
New Haven faced stiff competition from a dozen other cities which applied for Double-A expansion teams, but eventually the field was narrowed to four. The Elm City (along with Portland, ME, Atlantic City, NJ, and Nassau County, NY) received a visit from the Double-A expansion committee. On September 30, 1992, Massey led the prospective New Haven ownership group in hosting a community breakfast at Yale Field which included a thorough presentation to the committee. The committee was so impressed with the extent of support shown at the visit that New Haven was officially awarded one of the franchises only 3 days later. On October 3, 1992, New Haven and Portland joined the world of minor league baseball.
After hiring a general manager, concessions manager and opening up operations at its Dugout Store in downtown New Haven, the club turned its attention to its next two necessities: a major league affiliate and a name. In a contest sponsored by WELI radio, the New Haven Register and WTNH-TV8, the club received more than 800 suggestions for names from over 2,000 people. Club officials eventually decided on "Ravens" as the name in mid-January of 1993, deciding that the name fit well with "New Haven". Of the 25 people that submitted that name, Priscilla Shrumruck of Orange was selected as the winner and received a trip for two to the Ravens' major league affiliate's spring training site, along with Ravens merchandise.
Local designer Bill Silverman of the Silverman Group then got to work designing a new logo for the team. In early April 1993, the club unveiled the stylized black and teal "R" that now symbolizes the team. The logo quickly became one of the hottest sellers in the minor leagues.
As the summer of 1993 drew closer, it became clear that the Ravens and their companions, the Portland Sea Dogs, would be affiliated with the Major League's two new teams: the Colorado Rockies and the Florida Marlins. Officials from both the Rockies and the Marlins paid visits to New Haven and in early May, the Ravens and the Rockies signed a player development contract. The Ravens would be Colorado's first-ever Double-A affiliate, as the expansion club had operated only rookie league, A and AAA affiliates prior to adding the Ravens.
At the Team's Grove Street office, business was picking up. The team continued to expand its merchandise line to try to meet demand for the popular logo. In early 1993, the club was able to begin selling its most important item: tickets. Season ticket packages went on sale in May, bringing a steady stream of fans down to the Dugout Store. Meanwhile, the Ravens were busy working out a deal with Yale University to finalize the renovations to Yale Field. The Baseball Foundation of Connecticut was formed to act as an intermediary between the two. The Ravens eventually signed a 25 year lease, with a 25-year option, with just enough time to begin renovations for scheduled completion in April 1994.
Shortly after 7:00 on the morning of Tuesday, October 12, 1993, the renovation of Yale Field began. The first steps in the process included demolition of virtually all of the 66-year old facility's grandstand, leaving only the roof and outside wall standing. The renovations, costing in excess of $3 million, involved replacing all of the ballpark's seating with wider, more comfortable seats. For historical purposes, the last two rows of wooden reserved seats was retained. It remains a part of Yale Field to this day. The Ravens also added new concession stands and what would become one of the most popular areas for groups: the Party Pavilion in right field. Additionally, the right field fence was brought in to accompany a grassy berm. Within one year, due to the popularity of the Party Pavilion, the Ravens had this area converted into the Short Porch Cafe to further accommodate groups.
On February 1, 1994, the Ravens welcomed a new addition to their staff. A giant egg, which had been found at the Yale Field renovation, hatched at the Connecticut Post Mall, and out came the bird who would be the Raven's mascot. A "Name the Mascot" contest was held, and Rally the Raven was born.
While renovations at Yale Field continued at a furious pace, the Raven's organization was busy lining up another important relationship. The team began an association with the Tommy Fund for Childhood Cancer that continues to this day. As one of the team's top charities, the Tommy Fund would benefit from donations by the team and its sponsors for each homerun hit at Yale Field.
As spring training progressed in Arizona, the renovations in New Haven gradually came together as well. The brand-new color electronic scoreboard was installed in left field as one of the finishing touches, and on April 14, 1994, fans finally got to see all of the improvements in person. 6,667 people packed Yale Field for its Opening Day, and Massey through out the ceremonial first pitch with Yale President Rick Levin as his catcher. Though the Ravens lost that day to the Reading Phillies and fell to 0-5 on the year, there were better days ahead for this team. The Ravens beat the Phillies 6-5 the following night for their first-ever win. Though they finished only 6-12 in April, they improved to 17-11 in May and established themselves as playoff contenders with a remarkable 21-11 run in June. Led by Eastern League pitcher of the Year and co-Rookie of the Year RHP Juan Acevedo, the Ravens boasted one of the strongest starting rotations in the league. The offense was led by pesky hitters like OF Quinton McCracken and 2B Craig Counsell hitting in front of big bashers like 3B Bryn Kosco and 1B Frank Bolick. With veteran leadership from SS Billy White and OF Lou List, the combination was enough for the Ravens to place second in the E.L.'s Northern Division (77-63), qualifying for the playoffs. Things came apart in the playoffs against Binghamton, however, as Acevedo and Bolick both suffered injuries and the Ravens were swept 3-0.
With such a successful first year, the Ravens did not rest on their laurels. The team continued making improvements to Yale Field, adding a permanent bleacher section in left field and a new team office/concession stand complex right behind it. A second scoreboard was added in right field for out-of-town scores and lineups.
The Ravens also saw improvements in the field. Manager Paul Zuvella returned for his second season and once led the team to the playoffs, this time going 79-63. The Ravens followed a similar formula to the one that worked in 1994. Speedy OF Terry Jones jump-started the lineup, stealing 51 bases, while 1B David Kennedy and OF Angel Echevarria provided the pop by hitting 22 and 21 homeruns respectfully. RHP Joel Moore anchored the staff with a league-high 14 wins. The Ravens had enough ammunition to get past Portland in the Northern Division playoffs, but fell one game short of the championship in losing to Reading three games to two.
1996 began a stretch in which the Ravens saw plenty of future superstars at Yale Field, but not enough wins. Bill Hayes took over as manager and had an extremely talented team. 1B Todd Helton, the Rockies' top prospect, was joined by other highly regarded hitting prospects like outfielders Derrick Gibson and Edgard Velazquez. Gibson homered over the famed center field "Green Monster" in pre-season batting practice, raising expectations. When the season began, though, the Ravens struggled. RHP Jamey Wright provided early highlights, dominating the league with 54 strikeouts and an 0.81 ERA in 44.2 innings of work before being called up to AAA. Helton produced all year long, finishing with a .332 batting average before a late-season promotion. Velazquez hit 19 homeruns and Gibson added 15, but it wasn't enough to keep the Ravens from falling to a 66-75 record
The Ravens' record slipped again in 1997, down to 64-78, though there were once again some outstanding individual performances. Gibson, back for a second season, hit 23 homeruns to claim the franchise's all-time record for homeruns in a season and a career (38). SS Chris Sexton, who also saw time in center field, established himself as a prospect by posting a stellar .400 on-base percentage. On the mound, LHP pitcher Mike Vavrek earned E.L. Pitcher-of-the-Year honors after going 12-3 with a 2.57 ERA. RHP Heath Bost set a new strikeout mark (170). Another individual highlight came at the Major League level courtesy of former Ravens Craig Counsell. Counsell had been traded to the Florida Marlins earlier in the year, and thus became the first Ravens alum to win a World Series after scoring the winning run.
After a season of struggles for the team on the field, the off-season proved to be difficult as well. In the fall, former Ravens LHP Doug Million collapsed and died from an asthma attack while working out in Arizona. Just a few months later, List lost his battle to Hodgkin's disease. The two losses shocked the Ravens, but the team stuck together like a family during the trying times. The Ravens brought back their "Hot Stove Luncheon" and donated a portion of the proceeds from the event to the Asthma and Allergy Relief Foundation in Million's name. New York Yankees manager Joe Torre spoke at the event, making it extremely popular. The Ravens did the same with proceeds from their annual "Meet the Team" dinner prior to the 1998 season. To honor List, the Ravens retired his uniform # 7 on August 7, 1998, and held a special "FundRaver" to help his family pay for his medical expense. List was also inducted into the Hall of Fame on the Ravens' website, joining Acevedo, Echevarria and McCracken.
A new manager in 1998, Tim Blackwell, was unable to reverse the Ravens' downward trend on the field. The team's record dropped again, but there was one major highlight to the year. On July 8, 1998, the Ravens hosted the BIC Double-A All-Star game at Yale Field. A sell-out crowd had to wait two hours as the game was delayed by rain, but it lived up to expectations. RHP Scott Randall and OF Wonderful Monds earned the MVP award after hitting the game-winning homer. In a thriller which ended on a strikeout with the bases loaded, the National League All-Stars prevailed 2-1. The game featured a number of mega-prospects, such as Oakland A's 3B Eric Chavez, Los Angeles Dodgers 3B Adrian Beltre and Boston Red Sox Dernell Stenson. Several players made the jump to the Majors before the conclusion of the 1998 season.
After three straight losing seasons, the Ravens and the Colorado Rockies decided to go their separate ways after the 1998 season. As a member of the National Association of Professional Baseball Clubs, the Ravens were guaranteed an affiliation with another major league team. From about a half-dozen candidates the Seattle Mariners emerged, and the two organizations signed a two-year player development contract in the fall of 1998. The change was a welcome one for the New Haven fans and the front office. The Mariners and the Ravens got their relationship off on a positive note, as new manager Dan Rohn took the time to visit the New Haven area in January for a baseball clinic with local youths and a "Meet the Manager" dinner with the fans. The following month, outfielders Joe Mathis and Mike Narchiano took part in the team's first ever "Caravan", visiting several area locations over the course of a week. Among many activities, the two volunteered at local soup kitchens, visited hospital patients, and instructed local youngsters in the finer points of baseball.
With a new affiliate in place and a renewed commitment to working with the community, the Ravens began a new era in 1999. The team started the season by losing its first seven games and was saddled with the worst record in the Minor Leagues into June. The Ravens made a remarkable recovery, however, and finished with their highest place in the standings (tie for third) since reaching the Eastern League championship in 1995. The Ravens won eight of their last 11 games and posted an impressive 33-19 record after July 10. The pitching staff, behind Pat Ahearne (2.61 ERA) and strikeout champion Ryan Anderson (162 K's) finished second in the EL with a 3.85 ERA and also set a team record with 1,059 strikeouts.
The organization carried its second half momentum into the off-season, earning the Ellis Award as the Mariners minor league affiliate with the highest commitment to community service. Over the winter, the Ravens established several additional programs, including a reading program, Rally Around Reading and a Baseball in Education program which provides math and science curricula to area educators. The team also hosted its annual "Hot Stove Luncheon," benefiting the Tommy Fund, with New York Mets Manager Bobby Valentine.
The turn of the century marked the perfect time for the Ravens to introduce several new features for fans of all ages. The Ravens launched a new and improved website, becoming the first sports organization to offer fans the option to order concessions on line in addition to listening to all games over the internet. A kids playground, a new best seat in the house, a sports bar in the third base seating area and the corporate super box highlight the variety of new additions to Yale Field. But best of all, the Year 2000 brought the New Haven Ravens its first ever Eastern League Championship. After finishing the regular season in second place (82-60) behind the Binghamton Mets, the Ravens defeated the Mets three games to one to become Northern Division Champs. And on September 15, 2000, after dropping the opening game of the Championship Series at the hands of the Reading Phillies, the Ravens clinched the series at Yale Field to bring home the championship. The Ravens were led by Eastern League Pitcher of the Year Greg Wooten who posted a record of 17-3 (league leader in wins) with an ERA of 2.31 (led league) and an amazing stat of just 15 walks in 179.1 innings. Joining Wooten on the E.L. All-Star team was DH Juan Thomas who hit 27 homeruns and drove in 100 runs and SS Ramon Vazquez who hit .286 and knocked in 59 runs.
The New Haven Ravens signed a new two year player development contract with the National League 2000 Central Division Champions St. Louis Cardinals during the off-season. The Cardinals moved their Double-A to New Haven after spending 30 years in Little Rock, Arkansas with the Arkansas Travelers of the Texas League. The Ravens front office was excited to hear the news about the affiliate change especially with the Cardinals tradition throughout the years in Major League Baseball as one of the top run organizations. Ravens fans will now dream of seeing Cardinals' player Mark McGwire or Jim Edmonds (just to name a few) on a rehab assignment at Historic Yale Field.