You don't have to go Major League to enjoy America's pastime

Baseball: It's a word synonymous with summertime. Like summer, baseball can be leisurely and laidback – and then, with the crack of a bat, everything is suddenly electrified. Baseball produces an atmosphere that condones long afternoons and late evenings spent with family and friends, a hot dog in one hand and a beer in the other.

The best part? You don't have to shell out major league money at Yankee Stadium, Citi Field or Fenway Park to enjoy all that baseball has to offer. The amenities of America's national pastime can be found right here in Fairfield County and throughout Connecticut.

Close to home, there's the Bridgeport Bluefish, an Atlantic League of Professional Baseball team that calls the Ballpark at Harbor Yard home. Bluefish games are where baseball fans go to catch former major leaguers in action. Baseball legends Tommy John and Willie Upshaw have served as managers of the team, and Edgardo Alfonzo, Willy Mo Pena, and Mariano Duncan have all worn Bluefish jerseys. The current player roster includes former Mets players Endy Chávez and Dan Johnson. And this season, longtime Bluefish Luis Rodriguez makes his debut as field manager.

"We're feeling great about the 2016 season, both on and off the field," said Paul Herrmann, senior director of baseball operations and public relations.

Besides making a run for the 2016 Atlantic League title, the Bridgeport Bluefish will host two guest managers this season. On May 29, former All-American softball pitcher Jennie Finch will lead the Bluefish; and on Aug. 5, Red Sox and Yankees great Roger Clemens will try his hand at managing.

"It will be pretty exciting," Herrmann said of the two nights, which will feature pre-game meet and greets with Finch and Clemens.

Just like they do in the major leagues, the Bluefish will host several promotional nights throughout the season, including evenings of fireworks, bobblehead nights, collector's pin series pennant giveaways and more.

Up next is the new team on the block: the Hartford Yard Goats. The Yard Goats have been making headlines since it was first announced the New Britain Rock Cats would relocate to Hartford and assume a new identity. From the odd name to a catchy theme song, the Yard Goats quickly became the most talked about minor league team in the area. Like the Rock Cats before them, the Yard Goats are a Double-A affiliate for the Colorado Rockies.

"The team is very prospect-heavy," said Mike Abramson, assistant general manager to the Hartford Yard Goats. "There are likely many players on this team who will go on to play in the Major Leagues." He added that some could even become top-tier players.

Abramson said fans should keep an eye on outfielder David Dahl, who scored five home runs in the Yard Goats' first 12 games; first baseman Ryan McMahon, who is ranked No. 5 in the Rockies minor league system; Kyle Freeland, a left-handed starting pitcher, who held a 1.50 ERA in his first 18 innings pitched; and Connecticut native Matt Carasiti, the team's likely closer.

The Yard Goats started their inaugural season on the road, but come mid-summer, fans can catch them at home at Dunkin' Donuts Park in Hartford. Among promotions planned for the season, Abramson listed some highlights, including fireworks nights, cap and bobblehead giveaways and a traveling entertainment act.

With the Rock Cats move to Hartford, the New Britain Bees have become that city's newest baseball team. Like the Bluefish, the Atlantic League Bees are not affiliated with Major League Baseball and provide fans the opportunity to see former Major Leaguers, like the St. Louis Cardinals' Nick Greenwood, play. The Bees play their home games at New Britain Stadium.
Those familiar with the Detroit Tigers can catch prospects play up in Norwich for the team's Class-A short season affiliate, the Connecticut Tigers. The Tigers play at the Senator Thomas J. Dodd Stadium. Further east play the Pawtucket Red Sox, the Triple-A affiliate for the Boston Red Sox. The PawSox play at McCoy Stadium in Pawtucket, Rhode Island. Mets fans can catch Short-Season A affiliate Brooklyn Cyclones at MCU Park in Coney Island, while Yankees diehards can head down to the Richmond County Ballpark at St. George to see the Staten Island Yankees play.

Back in Connecticut, several teams represent the New England Collegiate Baseball (NECBL) and the Futures Collegiate Baseball leagues (FCBL). The Danbury Westerners, who play at Danbury's Rogers Park and the Mystic Schooners, who play at the Shipyard in Groton, represent the NECBL in Connecticut. The Torrington Titans, who play at Fuessenich Park in Torrington, and the Bristol Blues, who play at Muzzy Field Park in Bristol, are Connecticut's FCBL teams. One notable collegiate baseball league alum is Washington Nationals ace Stephen Strasburg, who pitched for the NECBL's Torrington Twisters in 2007 (the Twisters have since moved and been renamed). Such talent emerging from the small state of Connecticut is a reminder that the magic of baseball can happen anywhere – not just in the big leagues.