Excitement in Charleston for A-Rod's arrival
Alex Rodriguez is in South Carolina to start his minor league rehab with the Charleston RiverDogs of the Class A South Atlantic League on Tuesday and he's all the rage.
"We sold 3,000 tickets in 14 minutes," said RiverDogs team president and part owner Mike Veeck, who is in Florida at a convention but closely monitoring what's going on in Charleston. "Even dad couldn't make that happen."
His father was Bill Veeck, a Hall of Fame owner for the Cleveland Indians, St. Louis Browns and Chicago White Sox who dreamed up carnival-like promotions, the biggest being sending the smallest person ever to bat in a big league game.
A-Rod in Charleston will not top 3-foot-7 Eddie Gadel's pinch-hit appearance for the St. Louis Browns in 1961, but for Mike Veeck it might be the next best thing.
"Winning is the greatest promotion," he said. "In our society -- for better or worse -- celebrity in the second best."
Enter Rodriguez, who brings his celebrity and baggage to drizzly Joseph P. Riley Jr. Park (capacity 6,000), locally known as "The Joe." Veeck, whose job it is to sell tickets, is worried about what a rainout might mean because Wednesday's game is also sold out.
"Twelve thousand people want to see A-Rod," he said. And Veeck said that doesn't count the standing-room only tickets being sold up to game time.
Veeck, 62, thought he was following in his famous father's footsteps when he was promotions director of the White Sox. In 1979, he came up with the idea of Disco Demolition Night and the ensuing near-riot it caused knocked him out of his job the following year when his dad sold the team. He never made it back to the big leagues.
Veeck was rediscovered by Marvin Goldklang, a minority partner of the Yankees and owner of several minor-league teams.
"When Marvin Goldklang hired me it wasn't like he got in a bidding war," Veeck said. "He made me an offer and I jumped on it."
Today, Veeck is part owner of five teams with Goldklang.
"I don't want to be the king of disco demolition and vasectomy giveaways and all that," he said. "If I could just open the gates and people would flock in I'd never do another promotion. Unfortunately, that doesn't happen. After 10 years in the big leagues and 25 in the minors, I can tell you at any level, [only] 35 percent of your audience comes to see what happens on the field."
In the minors, Veeck has staged a "Nobody Night" so he could set the record for the lowest attendance, which he did at zero. Everybody bought in, except for the riled up 750 season-ticket holders who Veeck forgot to tell and were ultimately let into the game after the fifth inning.
But A-Rod will be his biggest promotion and it sort of fell into his lap. There was no advance notice from the Yankees. Veeck found out about it on Twitter by following his son.
"If I had him [A-Rod] just for the two nights I'd be thrilled," Veeck said.
Other rehabbing major leaguers have stopped by, with local Brett Gardner being the biggest attraction before the arrival of A-Rod.
"[Carl] Pavano and [Jon] Lester didn't do much," Veeck said. "This has really moved the needle."
RiverDogs publicist Sean Houston added, "Even if you are not a baseball fan people know who Alex Rodriguez is. He dates movie stars, he's one of the biggest baseball names of all time. You add to that, I guess, the controversy, the tweets. It truly is unprecedented."
What reaction does Veeck expect A-Rod to receive?
"Charleston is honored when they get people -- I'm speaking as a southerner from the south side of Chicago -- they roll out the red carpet," he said. "Ninety percent of the people are coming to pay homage to a major leaguer with some skill."
Veeck doesn't think anyone will mention steroids, saying, "I would be shocked in Charleston. I tell people you can sit through a green light and nobody will blow a horn, they pride themselves on their manners. They are just thrilled he is coming to town. It's 'Welcome neighbor.' "