The Connecticut Defenders were a minor league baseball team based in Norwich, Connecticut. The team, which played in the Eastern League, was the Double-A affiliate of the San Francisco Giants major-league club from 2003 until following the 2009 season, when the Defenders relocated to Richmond, Virginia and are now known as the Richmond Flying Squirrels.
The Defenders played in Senator Thomas J. Dodd Memorial Stadium, located in Norwich; opened in 1995, it seats 6,275 fans. The Defenders had been known as the Norwich Navigators from 1995 until October 2005. Prior to the 2003 season, the Navigators had been an affiliate of the New York Yankees.
The Defenders were last managed by Steve Decker, who was announced as the team's new skipper on December 28, 2008.
The Defenders were scheduled to host the Eastern League All-Star Game at Dodd Stadium on July 11, 2007, but the game was ultimately canceled due to fog. The fan activities and home run derby went on as scheduled, with over 6500 fans attending events throughout the day.
On June 3, 1994, the Yankees announced they would move their double-A franchise from Albany, New York, where it had been known as the Albany-Colonie Yankees since 1985, to Norwich, Connecticut, and would be known as the Norwich Navigators. Ground was broken for a new stadium in Norwich on November 3 of that year, and the team began play on April 6, 1995, with a win over Bowie. The home opener occurred 11 days later and was another Navigators victory (this time over Reading).
Norwich reached the Eastern League playoffs four times in six years, with many current or former New York Yankees leading the way. On September 14, 2002, the Navigators won their first and only Eastern League championship with a five-game series victory at home over Harrisburg, under the direction of rookie manager Luis Sojo.
Within weeks, the Yankees announced that they were ending their affiliation with the Navigators and beginning one with the Trenton Thunder. Later that fall, the Giants signed on as the new parent club, effective for the 2003 season.
In 2005, the team was bought by a group led by boxing promoter Lou DiBella. With attendance figures declining, management announced an overhaul of the franchise's image and held a contest during the season allowing the public to select a new name submitted by Robert Schaub of East Hampton, Connecticut. and logo for the franchise. These were unveiled on November 14, and a new mascot (a bald eagle) debuted eight days later. Another contest was held to name the mascot, and on February 11, 2006, "Cutter" was christened.
The "Defenders" name, and the bald eagle mascot, are a reference to the United States Coast Guard Academy located a short drive away in New London, and also to the U.S. submarine base also located nearby in Groton. In 2005, the team sponsored several rallies in support of the sub base after it was placed on the Base Realignment and Closure list. The base was eventually removed from the list.
In September of 2008 the San Francisco Giants renewed their PDC with the Defenders until 2010. The following season, the Defenders won the Southern Division title and qualified for the Eastern League playoffs, defeating the New Britain Rock Cats three games to one in the ELDS to advance to the second Eastern League Championship Series in franchise history. However, the Defenders fell short in the end, losing three games to one to the Akron Aeros.
On Friday, 2009 the Norwich Bulletin reported that a Virginia businessman Bryan Bostic, was interested in purchasing the franchise and relocating the team to Richmond, Virginia in time for the 2010 season.
On Monday, , 2009 the Norwich Bulletin reported that the Norwich City Council unanimously approved a request to transfer the lease on Dodd Stadium to Richmond Baseball Club LC, chaired by Bryan Bostic.
On Wednesday, 2009, the Richmond Times-Dispatch reported that the Richmond Metropolitan Authority (RMA) has signed a two-year agreement with the Richmond Baseball Club LC to allow a professional baseball team to play at The Diamond, Richmond's current baseball venue, which is owned by the RMA. The agreement also includes an option for 2012.
On September 23, 2009, the Eastern League officially announced that the Defenders were leaving Norwich and moving to Richmond, where they will play in The Diamond while continuing to seek proposals for a new ballpark in the Richmond vicinity. Also, the "Defenders" nickname will not be retained, rather the new team will be called the Richmond Flying Squirrels after a name-the-team contest.