Bridgeport, CT— At the conclusion of Wednesday’s game at The Ballpark at Harbor Yard, the players patiently waited for their turn. One by one, members of the Bridgeport Bluefish peeked their heads in and out of the manager’s office. All of them looking for an opportunity to have one last conversation, to hear one last memorable Tommy John story and to say one last thank you.
With the sudden news of Tommy John’s resignation, the Bridgeport Bluefish will begin the second half of the Atlantic League season without their jovial manager by their side.
John will be leaving the team to join Sportable Scoreboards, a scoreboard manufacturing company, as a sales consultant in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.
“I didn’t want to leave the team but we have two or three things happening right after the All-Star break, and I have to be there for that,” said John. “It was either take it now or not take it at all.”
The 66-year-old manager broke the news with the team before Wednesday’s game and told general manager Todd Marlin and Bluefish owner/CEO Frank Boulton Tuesday night.
“It was shocking. We never expected anything like that,” said Marlin. “The team was really coming together under his leadership and we were looking forward to going into the second half.
“We completely understand the situation. Whenever there is an opportunity to make yourself better or put yourself in a better place in life you have to take that opportunity.”
John managed Bridgeport for two and a half seasons, leading Bridgeport to a 160-176 record with no playoff appearances.
“When he came into the clubhouse today you could kind of tell in his voice that something was going on,” said starting pitcher Dan Reichert. “In his first couple of sentences you couldn’t get the jist of what was going on; but then he let the cat out of the bag. You could definitely tell by the crackle in his voice that he was sad and that he is going to miss 25 great men.”
Reichert pitched Bridgeport to a 6-4 victory in John’s last game as manager, but it won’t be the moments on the field that Reichert will remember.
“He has always been a positive guy regardless of what happened on or off the field,” said Reichert.
“Every manager you play for, you take away something and with Tommy it was how to hit a good driver or how to read a green,” said a laughing Reichert. “I’m happy for him. He will make some other people smile, crack up and think ‘wow, this guy is kind of a goof ball.”
It has been the unforgettable and numerous stories that John has told that have made such an imprint on his players.
“Playing for Tommy is a relaxed situation. He keeps it loose,” said Luis Lopez, one of the first players to embrace John after the game on the field. “He’s always telling jokes and I think that’s the way you have to be. This game is a lot of pressure. It’s a game of failure. You just have to be relaxed.”
In his last game, John looked quite relaxed as he trotted out of the right field corner in the end of the third inning dressed as Watson in the hot dog race. The manager finished in an honorable last place.
“I was a smoked wiener,” a smiling John said.
John always brought a smile to The Ballpark at Harbor Yard and wherever he went on behalf of the Bluefish. Wednesday night, the Bluefish teamed up with Rita’s Ice of Bridgeport for a players scoop night. No one was sure if John would still show up, and at 7:45 p.m. John brought one last set of smiles to Bluefish fans as he rolled on in. With a big grin on his face, he asked, “So what should we do first, scoop or sign autographs?”
Participating at these community outreach events was one of John’s favorite memories from managing in Bridgeport.
“Every day was a special moment here, but doing the Channel 12 Scholar Athlete dinner was really neat,” said the former Major League pitcher. “I was a valedictorian in high school and I enjoyed talking to the kids about how tough it is to be an athlete and keep your grades up.”
Relief pitcher Andy Weimer hopes to have a similar impact next season at Utica College.
“I hope to develop a jovial relationship with the players like he had here,” said Weimer. “Everyone loved him as a person and a coach. It’s hard to dislike a guy like that.”
Bench coach Willie Upshaw will take over the managerial duties for the rest of the season with John’s departure. Upshaw, the first manager in Bluefish history, spent three years in Bridgeport from 1998-2000. The former Major Leaguer led the ‘Fish to the team’s lone championship in 1999 with a record of 78-42.
After hearing the news, Upshaw said, “I’m not a reaction guy, so it was almost like I went right into combat mode. I think it’s a great opportunity and I’m just going to try and work at it every day.”
“I’m sure I have my own stamp. What it is, I just can’t put into words right now,” said Upshaw. “I want the players to be aggressive, but it depends on if they can do it. That’s what I want to do and I’ll let them know. Hopefully, they go out there and do it.”