By Reginald Johnson
A little bit of the spirit of Bridgeport died yesterday when the Bluefish played their last game here. My wife and I went to a number of games over the years, and whenever we did, we had a great time. We’d see old friends, make new ones, and often see some pretty good baseball. And there was always a happy ambiance --- lots of families with kids in their baseball uniforms cheering wildly for the Bluefish, fans jumping for joy when they caught foul balls, people laughing at the goofy Bluefish mascot or singing along when the loudspeaker would blare Ray Charles’ “Hit the Road Jack!” when an opposing pitcher was driven from the mound by a Bluefish rally.
As others have pointed out, the coming of the Bluefish 20 years ago seemed to lift the morale of a city that had been demoralized by years of industrial plants leaving town, a general economic decline and City Hall corruption. The Bluefish were the perfect tonic for the Park City. People thronged to the “Ballpark at Harbor Yard” as Bluefish stadium was known in the early years and the team enjoyed great popularity.
After a number of years there was a fall-off in attendance and there were reports the team was having financial struggles. I don’t know all the details of the situation, but city officials were also reportedly concerned about the future financial viability of the team. The Bluefish paid rent to the city for use of the publicly owned stadium.
Still, the team had a strong and loyal fan base and the team did pretty well over the years getting into the playoffs a number of times in the Atlantic Coast League and winning a championship. It was a point of pride for Bridgeporters and fans in the area to say ‘we have our own professional baseball team – the Bluefish.’
|A Bridgeport Bluefish baseball game in August|
But Mayor Joe Ganim, returning for a second go-round as mayor after serving a term in prison for corruption carried out during his first stint as the city leader in the 1990s, apparently felt that the Bluefish did not have a great financial future and the city might do better using the stadium site for something else. It all came to a head early this year when the city put out a request for proposals for use of the stadium and indicated that the use could either be baseball or some other entertainment. The Ganim administration eventually accepted a plan from a concert promoter who has proposed a series of concerts at the stadium. The proposal still has to be accepted by the City Council.
The city may have had legitimate financial concerns about the future viability of the Bluefish staying in Bridgeport, but it is not clear whether the plan for more concerts in the city is really a sound idea, either. For one thing the Webster Bank Arena already hosts concerts and officials there have indicated they may have legal issues with the new plan for concerts at Harbor Yard. Also, it should be noted that the concerts at Seaside Park that went on for a number of years called The Gathering of the Vibes had to be ended a couple years ago because the promoters were way behind in their payments to the city for use of the park.
I have to admit I am partial to baseball, so the idea of a new concert site in the city in place of baseball just doesn’t grab me. It seems to me that more could’ve been done to try to save the Bluefish and keep them from leaving Bridgeport. Possibly some creative means could’ve been brought into play such as having the University of Bridgeport take over the use of the stadium and participate in a different payment plan with the Bluefish to the city. The UB baseball team already uses the Bluefish field for its games.
I didn’t get the impression that Mayor Ganim was at all sentimental about having to part ways with the Bluefish, which is too bad. It’s also ironic since it was Ganim --- in his first go round as mayor who brought the Bluefish to Bridgeport as part of a redevelopment plan for the South End. While Ganim did a lot wrong in his first tenure as mayor one of the things he did right was bringing in the baseball team and the arena. Now, sadly, it is Ganim who is letting the Bluefish go. The man who brought in the Bluefish didn’t seem to understand in the end how much the team had come to mean to its fans and the city.
So the word is the Bluefish may now move on to some city in North Carolina, although the details of a move have not been finalized.
Now I know in a small way how the fans felt in Brooklyn when the Dodgers left town in 1958. It’s a sad day for Bridgeport.