It has become a tradition for the Tri-City ValleyCats to be home on July 4.
Sure, there is a baseball game to be played. But the big draw is the spectacular postgame fireworks show that dazzles the fans at the Joseph L. Bruno Stadium.
And it has become a hot ticket at The Joe, which has a seating capacity of 4,500. Another big crowd is expected tonight when the ’Cats host the Lowell Spinners at 6:30 tonight.
The ’Cats have averaged 5,932 fans for the game in the first 12 years of their existence in the Capital Region after moving from Pittsfield, Mass., in 2002. They have drawn over 6,000 fans for six straight years, and seven of the last eight. The largest July 4 crowd was in 2011, when 6,888 fans watched the ’Cats beat the Vermont Lake Monsters, 4-0.
Only twice has the attendance been below 5,000. Still, the games in 2002 (4,573) and 2007 (4,683), both against Vermont, were sellouts.
“I think Independence Day, a baseball game at The Joe and fireworks seem to run synonymous to people when they’re planning for their Independence Day festivities,” ’Cats general manager Rick Murphy said.
With a huge crowd expected tonight, plenty of preparation goes into making sure the fans enjoy the experience and everything goes off without a hitch. The biggest priority is to make sure that there are plenty of food and beverages for the fans.
“Food and beverage, which represents a third of our business, they have the logistical challenges of [the game] being on a Friday, making sure that you have adequate supplies to meet the demand,” Murphy said. “Where we run into a challenge from the food and beverage side is, typically, we have challenges with storage. In the past, we’ve brought in refrigerated trucks to allow us to increase our inventories. We’ll probably do it again this year, given that we’re home Saturday and Sunday, as well, and it’s difficult to get deliveries on Saturdays and Sundays. So, we have to plan for the three home games throughout the weekend.”
The lines will be longer at the concession stands and bathrooms. Moving around the concourse could be tough with the enormous crowd. That could lead to some frustration for the fans.
Murphy wants his staff to make sure that the fans enjoy their experience.
“We have 250 employees, and that’s what it takes to run a game at The Joe, when you look at the parkers to the ushers to the food service personnel, and everybody needs to bring their ‘A’ game to the ballpark, and in particular [tonight],” Murphy said. “Having 12 years experience has helped us better prepare for [tonight].”
The ’Cats are catching a break. While the rest of the league’s teams played Thursday, the ’Cats had the night off. Plus, they just completed an eight-game road swing at their Stedler Division rivals, the Spinners, the Connecticut Tigers and the Lake Monsters.
“This year, we’re fortunate to be on the road for eight days, and then have the off day Thursday,” Murphy said. “By being on the road or being off and the being the Fourth and starting a homestand, it gives us additional time to prepare for that date,” Murphy said. “In the past, if the fourth fell in the middle of a homestand, you don’t necessarily have enough time to plan for that date unto itself. We should be better prepared this year, given the fact that we’re coming off of the road.”
Of course, the one thing the ’Cats can’t dictate is the weather.
“There’s things you can control,” Murphy said. “The message that we work off of is let’s control the things that we can control. Mother Nature has created some challenges for us in the past. If it happens, we will just deal with it accordingly. If, for some reason, we get rained out, we’ll just go right back at it [Saturday].”