BRIDGEPORT: The Bridgeport Bluefish minor league baseball team is being bounced by Bridgeport Mayor Joseph Ganim from the 5,000 seat Harbor Yard Stadium when their lease expires at the end of this baseball season.
The Mayor’s announcement that the city will not extend the lease on the stadium for the team came just days after the mayor threw out the first pitch at special “Legends Night,” recognizing the 20th anniversary of the founding of the team in Bridgeport.
If approved by the Bridgeport City Council the stadium will be converted to the Harbor Yard Amphitheater by LiveNation and local businessman Howard Saffan to feature concerts at the site.
Saffan a Weston resident and businessman was the president of the Bridgeport Sound Tigers [2005-2015] an American Hockey League [AHL] team affiliated and owned by the New York Islanders, NHL hockey team, The Sound Tigers plays next door to the stadium at the Webster Bank Arena. Saffan is also an owner of the Sports Center of Connecticut, in Shelton, a recreational facility that features everything from a golf and batting range to skating and bowling.
LiveNation produces concerts at, and owns the Toyota Oakdale Theater in Wallingford and operates, the city owned Xfinity Theater in Hartford. The Oakdale is an indoor year-round performance center, the Xfinity like the proposed Harbor Yard Amphitheater is only open for seasonal outdoor concerts.
Saffan and LiveNation will be investing $15 million in the conversion with the hopes of producing as many as 29 concerts per season, Saffan told the Connecticut Post he expected some public participation from the city, but no information was provided in the city’s announcements.
The city did release a statement from Jim Koplik, who runs LiveNation in Connecticut saying “[it will be] a great boutique amphitheater.”
The Bluefish are affiliated with the Atlantic League and owned by Frank Boulton, the league’s founder and the owner of the Long Island Ducks, another Atlantic League team that plays in Bethpage, Long Island.
Connecticut has another Atlantic League team, The New Britain Bees, the Bees were formed by Boulton to succeed the very successful New Britain Rock Cats. The Rock Cats were a Double A League farm team for the Colorado Rockies, when they moved to Dunkin' Donuts Park in Hartford and were renamed the Hartford Yard Goats.
Interest in the Atlantic league apparently is growing however, the majority interest in the Bees were sold this spring to tech entrepreneur Anthony Iacovone, founder and CEO of AdTheorent a digital marketing firm based in New York.
In a phone interview, Boulton said the New Britain Bees were doing well, “that city has always supported baseball”, and he added “we have an eight-team league that is thriving with 47 million fans and we expect to expand, to 12 teams.”
On the future of the Bluefish he said, “we will definitely have a new home for the team, we have been fielding calls from as far away as Texas for an Atlantic League team.”
No Connecticut city has contacted Boulton yet, but he offerred “we’ll see, anything is possible, now that the word is out.”
Both New Haven and Norwich have fielded minor league baseball teams in the past twenty years.
We reached out to Matt Nemerson, the head of economic development for New Haven, to see if the city was interested in getting back to baseball, but he was unreachable at “posting time.”
Nemerson was head of the New Haven Chamber of Commerce when the city and much of the business community recruited an Eastern League franchise, The New Haven Ravens. a Double A team for the then expansion Colorado Rockies. The city of New Haven provided a $1.5 million grant for renovations of Yale Feld’s locker rooms and dugouts for the team.
Ninety, miles away from Bridgeport, Springfield, Massachusetts, “has flirted” with interest for a professional league team for a long time according to Boulton, but he hasn’t been contacted by them. Recent reports however, are that Springfield infused with new development energy by the construction of an MGM Casino, is trying to convince the Boston Red Sox to move the Triple A, Pawtucket Red Sox to the city.
Gamin’s move, although not unexpected may have political ramifications for the Mayor, who is currently “exploring” running for Governor in 2018.
The announcement now may be something of a political gamble, the Bluefish are celebrating their twentieth year with a winning season, are currently in first place and have a shot at the league’s championship.
Ganim is playing the concert proposal as part of the city’s new redevelopment effort saying ,“Bridgeport is excited and ready for this next step in revitalizing our city with positive development and providing music entertainment by bringing in a partner and company like Live Nation.”
The Bluefish have struggled financially for 20 years, through several ownerships, in their Bridgeport home, after first being established by a small group of local investors led by Mickey Herbert.
Herbert current president of the Bridgeport Regional Business Council, co-founded the Bluefish after he sold his interest in Physician Health Services a company he also founded to Oxford Health Plans [now a division of United Healthcare].
Herbert told us,” This is bittersweet news for me. The launching of the Bluefish and the Atlantic League 20 years ago was a euphoric period for me and for our entire southwestern CT region. It was an incredibly special time. I loved owning the team for those first eight seasons. Last Saturday night at the Legends game at the Ballpark at Harbor Yard, we celebrated those early years (all 20 years actually). I loved being honorary manager and throwing out the first pitch for that game. And then before I could even wash my uniform at home, the news breaks that the team will be leaving. In truth, it hasn't really sunk in yet, and it does make me sad. Life is transition, of course, but this one is especially tough for me.”
In spite of his disappointment in the city's decision, Boulton told us he staying focused on this season, declaring “there are 20 more games to play, let’s win a championship and give the people that have supported the Bluefish for the last twenty years a parting gift.”