RiverDogs co-owner takes his Citadel sports management class beyond his 'Fun is Good' mantra

Mike Veeck

Grace Beahm // The Post and Courier

River Dogs co-owner Mike Veeck laughs with his students during the sports management class he teaches at The Citadel.

The Citadel Bulldogs and Charleston RiverDogs once fought like cats. Now, on Tuesdays and Thursdays in Room 222 at Deas Hall, the pied piper of wacky promotions teaches Citadel cadets how to get joy and profit out of a professional sports franchise -- or any business.

"There is a big difference between supervisor and super vision," RiverDogs co-owner Mike Veeck tells 11 cadets in his Sports Sales & Management class.

Veeck, 60, is best known as the creative genius behind such minor league baseball stunts as Nobody Night (no fans allowed inside the ballpark), Silent Night (no cheering allowed) and Vasectomy Night (postponed indefinitely). He hired mimes to do instant replay. His "Fun is Good" book and speeches are popular nationwide.

Veeck is in his element as he paces back and forth before a classroom in his second year as a college educator.

"It's the greatest high I've ever experienced next to my family and starting up baseball teams," Veeck says. "And the cadets ... They're like sponges."

Roll call

He looks the part: Navy blue vest, white collared shirt, gray slacks, shiny black shoes.

Right away, with roll call, this is something different.

"Mr. Green?"

"Here, sir!"

"Hey, nice pipes, Mr. Green."

Veeck quickly gets on to the theme of the day, hammering home examples for most of 75 minutes.

"Service drives the experience, which drives the memory," he says.

"Today, I will attempt to convince you that customer service drives salesmanship and that increased awareness reduces the need for the sell."

'Fun is Good'

The man. The myth. The hot-selling book title.

"Fun is Good" T-shirts are available at Riley Park.

Veeck's class watches a "Fun is Good" video.

They get the point.

"How do you make customers want to come back?" Veeck asks the cadets.

"Creativity?" one says.

"Comedy?" another says.

Veeck smiles.

Veeck vs. The Citadel

A short history lesson:

--Citadel cadets often are credited with firing the first shot of the Civil War.

--Bill Veeck, Mike's legendary father and former major league team owner, is in the National Baseball Hall of Fame, partly because he was a civil rights activist who helped integrate the sport when his Cleveland Indians signed the first black player in the American League, South Carolinian Larry Doby, in 1947.

--The Citadel was struggling through its integration when Veeck was a part-time hippie.

--Even sharing the same beautiful ballpark, opened in 1997, the RiverDogs and The Citadel did not get along well during Veeck's first years as co-owner. Territorial jousting over things like billboards and concessions, mostly.

"I think they hate me over there," he once said.

Sponges

The cadets on Tuesday got a full dose of Chicago baseball lore: Bill Veeck owned the White Sox in two different stretches; a young Mike became infamous with his "Disco Demolition Night" in 1979; the Cubs are hopeless; etc. …

Veeck and comic actor Bill Murray, the fellow RiverDogs co-owner who shares strong Chicago ties, were part of a prospective group seeking to buy the Cubs a few years ago when they submitted a 21-point proposal.

Veeck shares the "Non-traditional Revenue Streams and Other Fun Ideas for the Cubs" plan with the class.

A few cadets like No. 12, "Make Bill Murray the Mayor of Wrigleyville," while others prefer No. 3, "Bring back the Marla Collins-type ball girl."

"I don't know what she looked like," a cadet says. "But if she was hot, that might be a good idea."

The facilitators

Veeck credits Citadel head baseball coach Fred Jordan and groundskeeper Mike Williams for smoothing over the rocky RiverDogs-Bulldogs relationship after poor field conditions at Riley Park marred the 2005 Southern Conference baseball tournament.

But Andy Solomon, a veteran Citadel athletic department employee who moonlights with the RiverDogs, has for several years worked behind the scenes to bond relationships.

The real hero of Riley Park harmony is Mayor Joe Riley, a baseball fan able to artfully convince both sides of the good fortune built into a grandstand view of the Ashley River.

Dr. Seuss 101

Mike Veeck gives his students a syllabus and a silly book: Dr. Seuss' "Sam and the Firefly."

"You have to be able to understand the basics of Dr. Seuss," Veeck says. "It's mandatory for business. I make them read it. Can't be too uptight if you read Dr. Seuss."

Family tree

"I never thought I'd be an academic," Veeck says with a giggle.

Don't let the man downplay family intelligence at the expense of a gag. These Veecks didn't become a royal baseball family without smarts.

Veeck's grandfather planted the vines that became the iconic ivy covering the outfield walls at Chicago's Wrigley Field.

Mary Frances Veeck, Mike's mom, might be the sharpest 90-year-old on the planet. Greg Veeck, Mike's brother, taught anthropology at LSU.

Night Train Veeck, Mike's son, is getting his MBA at Northwestern.

So it's probably academic: Mike might not be the last Veeck to teach at The Citadel.

Reach Gene Sapakoff at gsapakoff@postandcourier.com.