Silent night: Minor league team bars fans from park


Tuesday, July 9th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6


CHARLESTON, S.C. (AP) _ The starting pitcher felt as if he were playing in a cemetery. It was so eerily quiet he could hear the beer and peanut vendors in the stands.

``I understood what was going on but you know a couple of guys said, 'We're professional athletes, it kind of stinks not to have fans there the whole time cheering you on,''' Riverdogs pitcher John Vigue said. ``In a way you feed off the energy of the crowd. Even though sometimes they get on you, it's all part of the game.''

The Charleston Riverdogs lost 4-2 to the Columbus RedStixx on Monday night as the Class A Tampa Bay Devil Rays affiliate padlocked the gates and kept hundreds of fans outside Joe Riley Stadium. The Georgia-based RedStixx are the Cleveland Indians' Class A affiliate team.

This was ``Nobody Night'' _ a promotion designed to set the record for professional baseball's lowest attendance.

Only media, scouts and employees were allowed into the game. Fans were turned away and sent just outside the ballpark to a party offering discounted food and beer.

But that got old. Hundreds gathered outside the main gate waiting to come in once the game was declared official after the fifth inning and the actual attendance was recorded as zero.

Bob Quirin, 57, of Millstadt, Ill., scheduled his vacation so he could see the Riverdogs play and wasn't thrilled to see only four innings.

``I don't think it's a real good idea,'' he said. ``I thought it was kind of silly.''

All the runs were scored before the fans were let in. As soon as they entered the stadium, children scoured the stands searching for unclaimed foul balls.

Sam Seabrook, 13, found two balls on ``Shoeless Joe Hill,'' where youngsters often hang out during games. He also caught the first foul ball after spectators were admitted.

There's some dispute about the actual lowest attendance. But radio play-by-play announcer Jim Lucas said the record is the 12 people who braved a rainstorm to see Chicago defeat Troy on Sept. 17, 1881.

Lucas came up with the stunt after attending one of team owner Mike Veeck's promotional seminars.

Regardless of the actual record, Veeck and the fans waiting outside said it would be hard to beat zero. Riverdogs officials planned to notify baseball's Hall of Fame.

``We come to the games when we can,'' said Aaron Houghman, a 20-year-old fan. ``But this was an extra draw.''

Contests between innings 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.''

About 200 fans showed before the ceremonial first pitch, which was thrown in from behind the stadium.

Some fans stood on ladders peaking over the fence, but Stephen Parker, 50, and Ute Appleby, 47, chose safer seats. They plopped 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.

Veeck is notorious for wacky promotions. His ``Vasectomy Night'' was canceled hours after its announcement, but events like ``Tonya Harding Bat Night'' and ``Marriage Counseling Night'' have gone on.

Veeck was the mastermind of the Chicago White Sox's notorious Disco Demolition Night in 1979. Fans were invited to burn disco records in the outfield of Comiskey Park and a riot nearly ensured. The White Sox forfeited the second game of the doubleheader.

His father, Bill Veeck, once sent a midget to bat in the majors, and in 1949 buried a Cleveland Indians pennant in center field, complete with a horse-drawn caisson.

``Anything that (co-owner) Bill Murray and the Veeck family is associated with doesn't surprise me,'' Columbus manager Torey Lovullo said. ``It went off well. They did a super job and accomplished what they wanted.''