April Whitzman came to London from Halifax in April — a fresh college degree under her belt and plans to stick with the Rippers for a long haul.
“I really thought they were going to stay the season and next year they’d hire me full time,” said Whitzman, one of five unpaid interns with the now-defunct baseball team.
It didn’t take long for the 24-year-old Campbellton, N.B., native to realize things weren’t going to be so rosy.
“From Day 1, we knew something wasn’t right,” said Whitzman, describing the reaction she and others received while handing out schedules in early May.
As the team knocked on doors and offered greetings from the London Rippers, people weren’t exactly rolling out welcome mats.
The team’s naming fiasco, although months old at that point, was obviously still on people’s minds, Whitzman said. Despite owner David Martin’s insistence that he wasn’t building a brand on the back of infamous serial killer Jack the Ripper, people weren’t convinced.
“People were telling us we shouldn’t be promoting rape, saying we should go get raped ourselves. Stuff like that,” Whitzman said Wednesday, a day after the Rippers ceased operations.
When it came to organization and communication, the Rippers were a mess from the get go, she said.
The right hand hardly ever knew what the left hand was doing, and middle-level managers couldn’t answer questions because upper-level managers didn’t keep them in the loop.
“I feel like we were trying to pitch a no-hitter all by ourselves without any defence,” Whitzman said.
By the end of June, everyone on the team’s staff was questioning if the Rippers would make it though the season, she said, largely because attendance was so dismal.
Team officials have publicly said average game attendance was about 856, but Whitzman said it was more along the lines of 150.
Ticket sales were tough, she said, because groups like schools and churches were put off by the team’s name.
Had Martin been willing to bend on the name and logo, things likely would have been much different, Whitzman said.
“(Martin) didn’t know his audience; didn’t know how the public would react,” she said. “If the name had changed … there’s no doubt in my mind we’d be sitting here prepared for a game with 1,000 fans.”
Majors step up to the plate
In the wake of the London Rippers going out of business, Labatt Memorial Park’s other tenant — the London Majors — is reaching out to now-jobless interns.
As they head into the post-season, the Intercounty Baseball League squad is offering temporary positions to all five Rippers interns.
“We want them to finish what they started in London,” said Scott Dart, co-owner of the Majors. “As a side benefit to them, they get to see how two different organizations work, so hopefully that helps with their learning.”