Attendance record is nobody's business

In wacky promotional field of schemes, if you bill it, they won't come

Sports Plus

July 14, 2002|By Andy Knobel | Andy Knobel,SUN STAFF

It wasn't a night that Jack Norworth, the man who wrote the classic song, "Take Me Out to the Ball Game," would have appreciated.

On Monday, the Charleston RiverDogs of the Single-A South Atlantic League locked the gates of Joe Riley Stadium in a shameless attempt to gain admission into baseball's record books.

The occasion was Nobody Night, and the underhanded goal was this: to zero in on a 121-year-old professional baseball record for lowest attendance at a regular-season game (12 fans braved a rainstorm to see Chicago defeat Troy on Sept. 17, 1881).

The idea belonged to radio play-by-play voice Jim Lucas, who learned his promotional genius from team owner Mike Veeck, the innovator behind Labor Day (pregnant women admitted free), Lawyers Night (attorneys pay double), Mime-O-Vision (five mimes re-enact close plays) and Two Dead Fat Guys Night (honoring Babe Ruth and Elvis Presley).

On Nobody Night, only scouts, media and employees were allowed into The Joe. Fans were turned away and sent just outside the ballpark to a party offering discounted food and beer.

Between-innings contests that normally involve fans continued, but the public address announcer instead asked players and employees to participate. The theme song for the night was The Beatles' "Nowhere Man." The ceremonial first pitch was hurled in from behind the stadium.

Some fans stood on ladders peeking over the fence, but Stephen Parker, 50, and Ute Appleby, 47, chose safer seats. They put beach chairs behind the center-field wall and peered through an opening in the fence.

"We're RiverDogs fans and could not pass up the opportunity to have truly terrible seats," said Parker, a mortgage banker. "I've had much worse seats than this at Yankee Stadium."

After the fifth inning, when the best game nobody ever saw became official, Parker, Appleby and about 1,800 other RiverDogs fans were allowed to find better seats -- inside the stadium.

When one of Charleston's players indicated that Nobody Night might not be a good idea, Veeck told him: "Remember what an empty park feels like. It's a great life lesson."

Coming up empty

Not every Veeck promotion works out well, the Chicago Tribune reported.

Last year, for example, the RiverDogs scheduled Voodoo Night, during which he was hoping to hand out voodoo dolls and have tarot card readers and fortune tellers on hand. Except that he and his staff failed to realize they had scheduled it for Good Friday.

"We had so many calls about how the devil was at our stadium and how they were praying for us," said Stacy Wagner, director of promotions and merchandising. The promotion was postponed until later in the season.

And how about Vasectomy Day?

That one, scheduled for Father's Day in 1997, was to feature a drawing, with the winner getting a free vasectomy.

"The phones lit up like a Christmas tree," said Derek Sharrer, the RiverDogs' general manager. "The bishop called Mike and threatened to cancel his season tickets. Mike ended up dropping it, which probably got more publicity than if we had it."

Get your tickets now

Next on the RiverDogs' schedule:

Friday: Girls Night Out. There will be massages, roses for every woman who attends and giveaways ranging from a car to an apartment. After the game, moms and daughters can spend the night in the ballpark's suites, getting their hair and makeup done.

July 24: Big Splash Day. The ballpark will be turned into a water park. Firefighters will set up a giant spray in the picnic area, with kiddie pools placed around the park and sprayers attached to railings to hose down the crowd.

Promotional tie-in

Veeck is a part-owner of the St. Paul Saints of the independent Northern League, so a promotion four nights ago should come as no surprise.

To mock Bud Selig's decision to end the major-league All-Star Game without a winner Tuesday night, the Saints handed fans black-and-white ties with a less-than-flattering caricature of the commissioner.

Earlier this season, the Saints gave out seat cushions to mock baseball's labor troubles with Selig's mug on one side and that of players association executive director Donald Fehr on the other.

Compiled from wire reports and Web sites.

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