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Getting nothing and liking it

Posted: Tuesday, July 09, 2002

CHARLESTON, S.C. -- The gates were padlocked and hundreds of fans of the Charleston Riverdogs gathered outside Joe Riley Stadium on Monday night.

It wasn't a strike of any kind, just another outlandish promotion by the Riverdogs, the Class A affiliate of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays.

Everybody except employees, scouts and media was barred from entering the stadium on ''Nobody Night.''

It was all part of a promotion designed to set the record for professional baseball's lowest attendance.

Some fans stood on ladders peaking over the fence, but Stephen Parker, 50, and Ute Appleby, 47, chose safer seats. The two plopped beach chairs behind the centerfield wall and peered through an opening in the fence where the view was strained, but decent.

''We're Riverdogs fans and could not pass up the opportunity to have truly terrible seats,'' Parker said. ''I've had bad seats but this is ridiculous.''

The mortgage banker said spying through the fence reminded him of his childhood days when he ''didn't have the nerve'' to sneak into minor league games in his native state of North Carolina. Parker recently moved to Charleston after living in New York for 25 years.

''I've had much worse seats than this at Yankee Stadium,'' he said.

The Riverdogs, continuing their tradition of outlandish promotions, turned fans away and sent them to a party with discounted food and beer just outside the ballpark.

Hundreds of fans gathered outside the main gate waiting to be let in once the game was declared official and the actual attendance was recorded as zero.

The Columbus Red Stixx beat the Riverdogs 4-2. All the runs were scored before the fans were let in in fifth inning, when the game became official.

As soon as the fans 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 continued searching, and ended up catching the first foul ball after fans were let in.

''I was looking in the upper deck for another foul ball and that's when he fouled it off,'' Seabrook said.

Ricky Fyall, 43, said he was relieved to finally be let into the game with his children, aged 4 and 10.

''I think it's worth it,'' Fyall said. ''They're the only ones doing it.''

Once fans were seated and the game resumed it was if nobody had missed anything.

There's some dispute about the actual lowest attendance record, 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 idea for 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 will be hard to beat zero.

''We're hoping to get zero, like a goose egg, that nobody can break,'' said Marcus Kronick, 26, who was attending his 13th game of the season.

Season ticket-holders and those attending the party will be counted in ticket sales, which are sent to the league office at the end of the month. The Riverdogs are hoping to set the actual attendance record and plan to send verification to the baseball's Hall of Fame.

Aaron Houghman, 20, was excited to possibly be part of history.

''We come to the games when we can, but this was an extra draw,'' Houghman said. ''It's pretty unique. For them to do something like this, it's cool.''

Contests held between innings that normally involve fans continued, but public address announcer Atom Taler instead asked players and employees to participate.

Three Riverdogs players were seen kicking a hacky-sack in the middle of the concourse before the game and not far away, concession workers were playing badminton. The theme song for the night was John Lennon's ''Nowhere Man.''

Even though many fans knew they weren't going to be allowed into the game, about 200 showed up before the ceremonial first pitch, which was thrown in from behind the stadium.

Veeck is notorious for wacky promotions including ''Vasectomy Night,'' which 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, where in 1979 fans were invited to burn disco records in the outfield of Comiskey Park and started a near riot. The White Sox had to forfeit the second game of the doubleheader and police were called to herd out rowdy fans.

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



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