Fact: The Bridgeport Bluefish rank dead last among the eight teams in the Atlantic League in attendance. By a long shot. In fact, the Bluefish—charter members of the Atlantic League and, at one time one of the league's jewel franchises—average roughly 50 percent of what the rest of the league draws in attendance. The Atlantic League average attendance is 4,118 fans per game. The Bluefish claim to average 2,316 fans—and that would be the number of tickets sold, not the number of people that actually bother to show up.
By any measure, this is a franchise in dire shape. And desperate times call for desperate measures. And so it was that yesterday a press release went out to the media with the headline: “COME SEE ROGER CLEMENS AT HARBOR YARD TODAY.” That was followed by a subhead declaring: “Former Cy Young Award winner to throw BP for Skeeters; Harbor Yard gates open at 4pm for special viewing.”
Doesn’t get much clearer than that.
Only one problem: It never happened. It wasn't even scheduled to happen. It was simply a desperate measure by the Bluefish to get more fannies in the seat.
The press release went on to state that the Skeeters were slated to take batting practice (BP for short) at 4:30, and that the gates, which normally open one hour before the first pitch at 7:05, would instead open at 4 p.m. in order to accommodate the expected throng.
Maybe it's because virtually all the fans in these parts are either Yankees, Mets, or Red Sox fans, and all three abhor Clemens. Whatever the reason, only 20 diehards were there for the start of batting practice.
Maybe the Bluefish were able to sell a couple extra over-priced sodas and hot dogs.
Clemens, meanwhile, showed up at about 6:30 to watch the game from a private luxury suite. He was there to watch his son, Koby, a catcher for the Skeeters, and said he had no idea he was supposed to throw BP. (For the record: Koby Clemens did not play last night.) The Bluefish, meanwhile, were selling seats in the suite next to Clemens's at $40 a throw (as if buying one would give you a snowball's chance in H-E-DOUBLE HOCKEY STICKS of a chance of meeting—or even seeing—the controversial one-time superstar).
After the game, Bluefish general manager Ken Shepard washed his hands of any wrong doing.
"Our plan has been to plan around what we anticipate he's going to do, because there's been really no commitment on his end to say he'll do anything," Shepard told Rich Elliot of The Connecticut Post. "So, yeah, I'm disappointed for the people that came out for it, who didn't get a chance to see it.
"It was hit or miss,” continued Shepard, trying to put a positive spin on what was nothing more than a two-bit con job. “That's why we said `rumored' because it truly was. We kind of rolled the dice and it didn't happen.”
There is a small grain of truth combined with a large amount of, well, you fill in the blank on that statement. The truth is that the press release did in fact use the word 'rumored.' What Shepard neglected to add was that the word 'rumored' was preceded by the word 'strongly.' Anyone with half a brain would put two and two together and come up with four—that is, it was strongly rumored that Clemens would toss BP; and the gates would be opened at 4 p.m., two full hours earlier than usual. Why for might that be? Good question.
It's sad that the Bluefish, probably gasping their last breath here in the Park City, would resort to this kind of outrageously cheap stunt to sell 20 extra tickets.
But they did.
Not sure about you, but I'd say that defines the term “Bush League.”
Oh, for the record: The Bluefish won this meaningless game. Meaningless because they are nine games under .500, and five full games behind the first-place Long Island Ducks, whom they must pass if they hope to get into the postseason—a highly improbable proposition, given that the 'Fish have just 11 games left in the season, only four of them are at home, counting tonight's game against league-leading Sugar Land, and while Bridgeport has won its last three games, it is just 5-5 over it's last 10.
And someone is likely to say that the Bluefish were doing nothing more than running an outrageously hyped promotion—not unlike the legendary Bill Veeck, who, in his day, was the master. Veeck, for those of you uninitiated, did wild, truly outrageous things such as hire a midget (Eddie Gaedel) to bat (or, more to the point, walk—a prank that lasted exactly one at-bat), and hire a clown (Max Patkin, billed as “The Clown Prince of Baseball”) not to entertain between innings; no, that would be far to tame. Veeck hired Patkin to coach third base. With three teams, no less!
Of course, not all of Veeck's promotions turned out as expected. During what was billed as “Disco Demolition Night” at Comiskey Park in Chicago in 1979, fans were invited to come onto the field and stomp on their disco albums (everything was vinyl back then). After all, it was a time in which disco was thought to be dead—a good 25 years before its revival. Well, that one bombed when a bunch of drunk, unruly fans basically started a riot on the field in Chicago's South Side.
However, all of Veeck's promotions were designed for fun—not to deceive. And that's where Bill Veeck's antics and yesterdays' prank veer off in entirely different directions.
Attending a game at the Ballpark at Harbor Yard these days can be about as exciting as watching the maintenance crew rake the beach at Misquamicut. The only way, in my humble opinion, for the Bluefish to make good on the misinformation propagated out of their office would be to offer a ticket exchange for anyone who bought a ticket to last night's game hoping to see Clemens. And if they did do that, those lucky fans had better act quickly. After tonight, there are three games left in Bridgeport this season.