Here is a link to the original story on the team's website.
We take a look back at some of the most influential black players in the long history of the Yard Goats organization during the month of February.
As we celebrate Black History Month, Minor League Baseball® announced the launch of “The Nine,” a new, Black-community focused outreach platform specifically designed to honor and celebrate the historic impact numerous Black baseball pioneers made on the sport, provide new opportunities for youth baseball and softball participation, further diversify the business of baseball, and embrace millions of passionate fans throughout MiLB’s 120 communities nationwide.
The Nine was named for the number Jackie Robinson wore during his only season playing in MiLB with the Triple-A Montreal Royals in 1946. The Hartford Yard Goats celebrated this launch by recognizing some of the top black players in our franchise history.
As many know, the Yard Goats franchise can be traced back to 1973 when the Bristol Red Sox became the Red Sox Double-A affiliate. This would be the birth of the longest continuous professional sports team in the state of Connecticut. The franchise began with a home run as 20-year-old outfielder Jim Rice won the league batting title before going on to have a Hall of Fame career with the Boston Red Sox. Rice, who was an All-Star in Double-A, led the league with a .317 batting average and was the team leader in batting, hits, home runs (27), RBI (93), Slugging, and OPS.
Bristol also had star pitcher Dennis “Oil Can” Boyd, who went 14-8 with a 2.81 ERA in his only season at the Double-A level in 1982. “The Can” was called up directly from Bristol and pitched three games for Boston that season. He joined the Red Sox rotation full time the following season and played ten years in the Major Leagues while helping lead the Red Sox to the 1986 American League Pennant.
The Bristol Red Sox relocated to New Britain, and future American League MVP and Connecticut native Mo Vaughn arrived in 1989. The “Hit Dog” actually began his professional career in the Hardware City and batted .278 with 15 doubles, 8 home runs and 38 RBI in 74 games after a stellar college career where he became one of the most prolific hitters in Seton Hall history. In the Major Leagues, Vaughn blasted 26 plus home runs in nine consecutive seasons and was named to three All-Star teams. The Norwalk product led the AL with 126 RBI in his MVP season of 1995 and is a member of the Red Sox Hall of Fame.
Former 18-year Major League veteran Ellis Burks had his longest minor league stint with this franchise. The two-time MLB All-Star played in 257 games in New Britain, including the entire 1985 and 1986 seasons before starting his major league career in 1987. The former first round pick, played six seasons in Boston, a year with the White Sox, and became an All-Star again with the Colorado Rockies. After five seasons with the Rockies, Burks played three with the Giants and Indians and then returned to Boston where he finished his career in 2004. He is a member of the Red Sox Hall of Fame.
The New Britain Red Sox became the New Britain Rock Cats with a new affiliation, the Minnesota Twins. In 1996, a 20-year-old outfielder Torii Hunter arrived and became the team’s first big star. Like Burks, Hunter spent most of his minor league time in New Britain, playing in over 300 career games with the Rock Cats. Over that span, he cranked 21 homers and had 121 RBI, and his spectacular defense gave everyone a preview of his future nine gold gloves that he would win in the majors. The five-time MLB All-Star played 11 seasons with the Twins, five with the Angels, and two with the Tigers, before returning to Minnesota for his final season in 2015. He is a member of the Twins Hall of Fame.
Some of the other tremendous black players to wear the Rock Cats uniform include outfielders Matt Lawton, Jacque Jones, Denard Span, Ben Revere and Aaron Hicks who all went on to play eight or more seasons in the Major Leagues. Lawton was a two-time All-Star, Jones helped the Twins win three straight American League Central Division titles, Span led the majors in triples in 2013 and set a Nationals’ franchise hits record while leading the National League in 2014, Revere led the NL in runs scored in 2014, and Hicks, about to start his 10th season in the Majors, has enjoyed 3 years where he finished in the top 5 in outfield assists.
Minnesota Twins outfielder Byron Buxton was on the fast track to the bigs after being the second overall pick in the 2012 draft out of high school. Buxton reached New Britain as a 20-year-old, with just over a year of professional experience with the wooden bat. It was unfortunate that Buxton got hurt in his only game as a Rock Cats player but many knew that he had a bright future. He is known for his outstanding play in the outfield and is one of the fastest runners in Major League Baseball. Buxton is coming off one of his best offensive seasons in 2021 when he batted .306 with 23 doubles, 19 home runs and 32 RBI with the Twins.
On April 13, 2017 the Harford Yard Goats played their first ever game at Dunkin’ Donuts Park in Hartford. Right-handed pitcher Yency Almonte started for the home team and pitched well, recording eight strikeouts in five innings of work in front of a capacity crowd. The following season in 2018, Almonte reached the Major Leagues and posted a 1.84 ERA in 14 relief outings with the Colorado Rockies. He spent parts of the past four seasons in Colorado.