At Harbor Yard
About ten minutes from my house is Harbor Yard, a lovely 5000 seat baseball stadium, home to the independent Atlantic League’s Bridgeport Bluefish. The team has been in existence for ten years now and early on, we went several times a year since it was cheap, convenient and fun.
With time, we went less often, as did many locals and as a result, attendance which used to average in excess of 3000 patrons a game is done well below 2000. The team used to be very competitive in the league and that has also been degraded.
However, when my old pal Brian Augustyn called me the other night to invite me for a guy’s night at the stadium, I eagerly went. He had been gifted with four tickets and his family had other commitments so he got to bring his chums and he kindly thought of me.
Having not been to the park in ages, I took it all in. There’s not a bad seat in the place but out third row seating along the first baseline were outstanding (and a mere $14 each!). Upon arrival, we received a Bluefish travel mug and various promotions occurred between innings as people fell over themselves to give things away. It was also Thirsty Thursday so all drinks and popcorn were half-price.
The night before, the Bluefish were mathematically eliminated from contention, and maybe that had something to do with it. Or maybe it was a Thursday night and suddenly that mattered, it was a school night. Still, the announced crowd was 1299 but I swear there weren’t more than 1000 people in the place. Among them were the co-owners who had the first row seats next to the Bluefish dugout, just in front of us. It’s nice to see them chatting with the fans, the players and intently cheering the team on.
Many major leaguers wind up playing their final years in independent leagues such as this one and it’s always interesting to see them up close and personal. Last night, though, the only big name I recognized was Alan Zinter; a former Mets first round draft selection that played for a few big league teams, had a few cups of coffee and faded from memory. His .267 average in this league was certainly an indication his potential was never realized. The Bluefish are managed by veteran pitcher Tommy John, best known today for the surgery named after him. His hitting coach is former Atlanta Braves player Terry McGriff.
The Bluefish blasted open the game fairly early and went on to win 12-2, with the starter scattering seven hits across eight innings. They hit the ball with authority, did some smart base running, and the defense was above average.
But the game felt listless. It felt long (but finished in under three hours, like the big leagues). It lacked energy and it had everything to do with the paltry attendance. Even those of us cheering them on couldn’t muster enough force to jazz each other on and make some real baseball noise.
The only player who seemed to really connect with the audience was catcher Sandy DeLeon who has the habit of calling out the number of outs first to the fielders then to the audience. In fact, it’s gotten into a routine as fans begin calling out, “How many out?” And three times he tells those to his right and then three times to the left. Apparently, he’s been doing this for years, but this season actually got tossed from a game by an umpire who tired of it and felt he was being shown up.
As the game ended we were all handed plastic Bluefish bags filled with advertising literature from locals businesses, most of which seemed to fill the trash bins outside the stadium long before anyone got to their cars.
The company was terrific. The food good, cheap and filling. The weather was pleasant, a cool breeze coming off Long Island Sound. You couldn’t ask for a better night out – even the home team won!