With Major League Baseball’s playoffs now in full swing, a lot of the MLB teams have gone home for the season. In the Independent Baseball Atlantic League, the Bridgeport Bluefish have gone home for good.
Sunday, September 17, 2017. Somerset Patriots versus the Bridgeport Bluefish. The final game of the 2017 season.
I’ve spent many an hour in the stands at the Ballpark at Harbor Yard. I’ve seen Rickey Henderson and Jose Canseco in their baseball dotage. I’ve seen a few big name big leaguers as managers – Tommy John, Willie Upshaw, and Sparky Lyle immediately come to mind.
But I’ve always found the fans barely paid attention to what was happening on the field. Home runs would go ignored. Skillful fielding plays warranted barely a whisper. Rallies went unnoticed. It was strange, and unlike my experience at almost any ballpark.
Consequently, my feelings about the place are more associated with the people I’ve attended with over the years. The last day was no exception. I ran into the shortstop of the slow pitch softball team I played for a decade ago. He was a gutty player, always getting dirty, good for a clutch hit – a generally good dude. We drank a beer and talked about our lives.
We both got married in the past couple of years and bought new homes. We both have jobs of increasing responsibility. We recalled people we knew in common and spoke of a couple of funny moments from playing ball (well, he played ball. I don’t know what I was doing, but it wasn’t that). The game happening in front of us was far less important. What was important was the sun, and the beer, and the chat.
And that seems to have always been in the case in Bridgeport. So, I chronicled the last half inning as a background to all the other more important things that were going on there.
Not much being played for this afternoon. Somerset already clinched a playoff spot by winning the first half title. Bridgeport, who actually had a better overall record than Somerset, missed the playoffs in the first half by a game and puttered to a .500 record in the second half. Their season, among other things, was done that day.
Bottom of the ninth inning, Somerset leading 9-1. The game was tied until the sixth when bad Bluefish relief pitching increased Somerset’s lead to 5-1 and even more inept pitching (this time by former big leaguer Manny Delcarmen) widened the deficit. Eight runs down is a big hill to climb.
Bridgeport’s Jose Cuevas lined a double past the third baseman, waking the buzzy crowd.
Wellington Dotel stepped to the plate. He bounces a nubber just to the left of Patriots pitcher Jon Hunton, the Atlantic League’s all time saves leader. Falling away as he made the throw, Hunton just got Dotel at first. With a runner at third, the fans really started to cheer. They wanted a comeback. They didn’t want it to be done.
Jonathan Galvez was up next. He had a professional at-bat, hitting a deep flyball to left, scoring Cuevas. 9-2, Somerset.
Gustavo Molina, a veteran catcher with major league experience, singled to left, enflaming the crowd further. The next hitter, Angelys Nina, popped a high fly into short right. Any other afternoon, this would have been the third out, but a sun-filled sky interfered and the ball fell safely. Two men on. It was starting to feel like a real rally, a Hail Mary admittedly.
Santiago Nessy strode to the plate. He was wearing a Tampa Yankees helmet, his 2016 team. He hit a pop up to right, and this time the sun couldn’t delay the inevitable. With that, it was all over.
As Somerset walked onto the field to slap hands, the fans stood and applauded. The Bridgeport Bluefish died that day, joining the New Haven Ravens in the graveyard of defunct Connecticut minor league baseball teams. Cause of death: benign neglect. In a league where everyone else wants to be somewhere else, it turns out the fans in Bridgeport did as well. The Connecticut Post covered the whole story here.