TRENTON, N.J. -- Wednesday night is Freddy Sanchez Bobblehead night at Waterfront Park here in the capitol city of New Jersey. Those in the know are planning to arrive early.
Many fans want to get their hands on a bobblehead, but the gates are opening early, at 4:30 p.m., because Roger Clemens is scheduled to pitch for the host Trenton Thunder and the place promises to be a madhouse.
"Without Roger we would have been tracking in the low 5,000s because it's a Wednesday night bobblehead night," Brad Taylor, general manager and chief operating officer of the Thunder said in a quiet moment before batting practice on Tuesday. "We think we have a distinct possibility of being between 8,500 and 9,000. We think this is going to track past the biggest Jeter day in 2003. He was here for five days."
Derek Jeter, the Yankees shortstop, spent five days here in 2003 while rehabilitating an injury and an all-time Thunder record of 8,729 turned out for one of those games.
It was Taylor who had the idea for the bobblehead promotion. Long before he knew Clemens would be working himself into shape to join the Yankees, the baseball executive thought since the Portland Sea Dogs, Boston's Double-A affiliate, would be in town this week that it would be a good time to have a little harmless fun.
"We're really proud of him," Taylor said of Sanchez. "We kind of set this week aside to take a light-hearted jab at the Red Sox because this used to be a Red Sox affiliate and Freddy was one of our players."
The Red Sox initially drafted Sanchez, who batted .326 in 44 games here when Trenton was affiliated with Boston in 2001 and .328 in 80 games with the Thunder in 2002. Boston traded Sanchez to Pittsburgh in July 2003 and Sanchez won the National League batting title with the Pirates last season.
Many fans plan to get their bobbleheads, then head back to the parking lot to eat hoagies, put down some cool beverages on what promises to be a beautiful, warm evening. And maybe they'll get a glimpse of Clemens arriving in the Madden Cruiser, which is how the Hall of Fame-bound pitcher plans to make the trip from New York to this southern part of New Jersey. Yes, it's the bus used by former NFL coach and famed broadcaster John Madden, who has a fear of flying, when he travels the country during football season.
The Thunder have been planning for Wednesday night almost from the time it was announced Clemens was returning to the Yankees.
The Thunder, who normally have four or five reporters on hand for a home game, have had more than 70 requests for press credentials. Taylor said about 100 press types are likely to be on hand because some television crews come with three or four people.
Extra vendors and ticket takers have been added to the work force. There will be a lot more food for vendors to hawk. Taylor said the Thunder will double its own security force from five to 10; nearly a dozen security people from Strike Force, a stadium security company, will be present and local police authorities will beef up the force inside and outside the park.
Since the stadium parking lot won't be able to handle all the planned traffic, the Thunder will provide shuttles to take fans to a lot about a half-mile up the Delaware River. That lot will have security.
Thunder brass weren't quite sure on Tuesday what Clemens' routine might be during the time he's here.
Billy Connors, the one-time pitching guru who is now vice president of player personnel for the Yankees and who is based in Tampa, is expected to be here. Other Yankees officials may be on hand.
Trenton manager Tony Franklin laughed and said he has an extra locker in his office if Clemens wants to use it, but space has been created in the regular clubhouse.
"Before the game it's obviously going to be different," said Franklin, who has never met Clemens but had brushes with greatness when Michael Jordan tried baseball in the Southern League and when Bo Jackson once rehabilitated with Birmingham.
"But once the game begins I think all that goes away," Franklin said. "Before the game, that's when all the disruptions come in and when all the questions are being asked about what's happening is when you realize this is a pretty big thing."
Franklin knows there will be a game plan for Clemens.
"We're not familiar with what he does on a daily basis and I'm pretty sure he'll tell us exactly what he wants to do, how he wants to do it and when it wants to do it," the manager said. "And that's OK. I'm sure the Yankees have something in mind for what they want him to do, and whatever it is we'll follow it. He'll have some people to help him get through the day."
Thunder players seemed more anxious to watch Clemens at work that they were to ask him questions.
P.J. Pilittere is likely to catch Clemens.
"Getting a chance to work with Roger would be exciting," Pilittere said. "Hopefully, it wouldn't be the biggest point of my career, but I'll definitely be one of the highlights and something I'll be able to talk about."
Right-hander Brett Smith, who pitched seven no-hit innings before giving up a hit off his foot in the eighth inning of a 10-strikeout effort on Monday, said he has joked with friends about Clemens, asking them how many of them can say they've had a Hall of Famer for a teammate? "I wouldn't really have a question for him per se," Smith said. "I would enjoy watching him work. During a game, I know he's notorious for the amount of focus he has. I'll enjoy watching him go about his business. I'm not interested in asking him how he holds his fastball.
"His focus and his competitiveness are legendary," Smith continued. "I'm positive he's not going to be in there joking around and snapping towels at people. He's got an agenda, he's got a job to do and I'm interested to see how he does that."
This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.