Upshaw realizes importance of being visible
Willie Upshaw is the real man about town.
The manager of the Bridgeport Bluefish could sit in his office, write up a lineup card, manage a ball club and call it a day. His predecessors did.
But the third-year manager, who is in his second stint as skipper of the only professional baseball team in Fairfield County, realizes there is more to being the manager of the Bluefish.
He's part showman, part promoter, and a very successful ex-ballplayer. Upshaw hit 128 career home runs, drove in 528 runs in 10 seasons in the majors.
"The community loves him," Bluefish general manager Bob Goughan said. "That helps us in a lot of respects."
To top it all, as long as he has been the manager of the Bluefish, he's been a Fairfield resident. His daughter, Courtney, is a 2000 graduate of Fairfield High School, and he's at many local functions.
"I've been here a long time, I know a lot of people," Upshaw said. "I'm sure we could do more."
More InformationFact box
To do more, would be to pile on Upshaw's already swamped schedule. He served as a guest hitting instructor at Baseball World in Westport on July 27, and has been on hand for ribbon cuttings, baseball and softball opening day ceremonies, as well as, golf outings in the county as both a former big leaguer, but as the face of the Bluefish.
"It's good to be visible," he said. "Getting out and meeting people...I think it helps get them out here."
But what Upshaw is most successful at is getting his teams to win-- especially in the second half of the season. Since Upshaw took over before the start of the second half in 2009-- when Tommy John unceremoniously resigned-- Bridgeport is 107-78 in the second half of the season, compared to just 68-65. Bridgeport was just 32-31 in the first half this year.
"We would've liked to have won the first half," Upshaw said. "We lost some games we shouldn't have lost. We're a team that works together out on the field."
That second half magic is holding true this year, as Bridgeport is 29-17 entering Thursday's doubleheader at Southern Maryland.
"He holds everybody accountable," outfielder Steve Moss said. "He manages a good clubhouse, and keeps it loose."
Bridgeport's successes have likely fooled the area, though, because Bridgeport is last in the Atlantic League in attendance, drawing an average of 2,212 per game.
Tuesday night's win-- a 10-3 number which capped a three-game sweep of the postseason-bound Lancaster Barnstormers-- was attended by just 2,023. The series drew just 4,034 people.
"Of course you'd like a packed house here every night," Moss said. "But the fans who are here are definitely involved and they want to see a winning club."
This is why Upshaw obsesses about winning. The old adage "everyone loves a winner" doesn't lie.
"We want a winning franchise," he said. "I think Bridgeport and the surrounding towns understand that and they want to come out and see good baseball and see a good team."
Goughan also knows that having a manager who has played in the majors, who coached the Cleveland Indians and San Francisco Giants at the big league level can also provide the Bluefish a few big name former big leaguers-- like Antonio Alfonseca, Esteban Yan and Luis Lopez-- to the club.
"He has a lot of contacts," Goughan said. "It makes getting players here easy."
But all that is reserved for the winter. For now, Upshaw has his eyes set on the postseason. If Bridgeport can hop Long Island-- it trails the Ducks by just 1/2 games in the Liberty Division standings-- or hold off Southern Maryland, the playoffs will return to Bridgeport for the second straight year, an achievement not been accomplished by the `Fish since 1998-99.
"I think we're pretty focused," Upshaw said. "That's what we've been trying to achieve."