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Bridgeport: Loyal fans return to Harbor Yard for Bluefish home opener

Updated 12:38 am, Saturday, April 27, 2013

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  • Bluefish fan Jim Simpson, of Stratford, buys some popcorn from vendor Holly Ziem, at the team's home opener against the York Revolution at the Ballpark at Harbor Yard in Bridgeport, Conn. on Friday April 26, 2013. Photo: Christian Abraham / Connecticut Post
    Bluefish fan Jim Simpson, of Stratford, buys some popcorn from vendor Holly Ziem, at the team's home opener against the York Revolution at the Ballpark at Harbor Yard in Bridgeport, Conn. on Friday April 26, 2013. Photo: Christian Abraham

 

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BRIDGEPORT -- A baseball glove on his left hand and the Bridgeport Bluefish logo emblazoned on his cap and T-shirt, Kieran Scruggs may have been "the No. 1 baseball fan" at the Ballpark at Harbor Yard on Friday.

But the 5-year-old's mom had a reason of her own to head out to opening day at the stadium. "He loves baseball and I love that it's close," Stacey Scruggs, of Fairfield, said.

Friday evening offered a familiar feel at Harbor Yard for the first home game of the season, with a late-day sun casting the stadium's shadow over the infield while the Bluefish warmed up in their home whites and Metro-North trains blew their horns as they chugged past the outfield wall.

Like a lot of fans Friday night, Todd Nagy, of North Branford, came to see the game with his son, Nicholas -- a first for the 6-year-old.

"I wanted to get him to experience his first baseball game," the elder Nagy said.

Baseball-capped parents shepherding the next generation of fans through the stadium made up to most of the crowd on Friday, though there were at least a couple of die-hards keeping score by hand as the game got underway.

"Down in front," the pair yelled to two fans standing at the front of their section as the York Revolution's first batter stepped to the plate to start the game.

Connor Wheeler had his eyes on home plate to see if the Atlantic League team's catcher could carry the position as he does for his Little League team in Fairfield.

"We come all the time," the 11-year-old's grandfather, Dwight Wheeler, said. "It's close and it's good baseball."

And that's the attraction the front office at Harbor Yard counts on.

"Fans are primarily from Fairfield County and southwestern New Haven County ... the highest number coming from about a 15-mile radius of the stadium," said Bluefish General Manager Ken Shepard.

This year, the team aims to increase attendance by 34 percent to bump the season's total to about 200,000, he said.

To do that, the Bluefish put a renewed emphasis on engaging communities and offering plenty of promotions.

This year the team will hold 30 "community nights," during which a group can elect someone to throw out the first pitch, sing the national anthem and see their names on the stadium's video board, Shepard said.

"So it's all about the community on that night," he said.

But Shepard and Bridgeport officials hope the baseball season can help more downtown businesses than just the Bluefish.

"I think in the immediate area surrounding the stadium ... there's going to be spillover from people who are having dinner, staying in hotels coming in to watch their team play," Shepard said.

A "big baseball fan" who enjoys the game more at Harbor Yard than "anywhere else in baseball," Bridgeport Mayor Bill Finch agreed that the stadium offers more than home runs and hot dogs.

"They bring people into the city who spend money here," he said. "In a city our size ... we want to squeeze every bit of value out of every inch of land."

To Finch, Harbor Yard does more for Bridgeport than bring in spillover customers. It puts the kind of face on the city that some out-of-towners might not ordinarily see.

"For them to come here and have the great American pastime so inexpensively and such a high-quality product, it's a very good way for us to beat back our misperceptions," he said.

And Finch hopes that notion might help the city score a few votes in the state Office of Tourism's contest asking residents to name their favorite place in Connecticut.

"Having your own professional baseball team, professional hockey team, your own airport ... just go on and on down the list," he said. "There's no city of 150,000 anywhere that I'm aware of that has all of the attributes that Bridgeport has and one of the crown jewels, I think, is the Bridgeport Bluefish."

domalley@ctpost.com, @domalleyctpost, 203-330-6230