In May 2018, the Charleston RiverDogs received the following review from Helen McGuckin, a Level 7 Local Guide on Google:
"Just drove by, 2 out of 5 stars."
This minimalistic assessment, honest but seemingly unfair, prompted the RiverDogs to embark on a quixotic quest: find Helen McGuckin and do everything in their power to change that two-star review to five. When the Class A Yankees affiliate released their promo schedule this past March, Helen McGuckin Night was scheduled for July 9.
"Helen, we hope this message reaches you," the RiverDogs wrote in their promotional schedule press release. "We promise an unforgettable night at the ballpark that we hope ends with a new review: '5/5 would do again.'"
The RiverDogs were determined to provide McGuckin with a five-star experience (Emma Dau)
"Trying to track Helen down, we made a graphic with her review on it and put it on the videoboard," said RiverDogs director of promotions Nate Kurant. "The graphic said, 'Helen, give us a chance!' and then had our phone number. It was on the videoboard every game, and sometimes on social media."
Helen McGuckin Night took place on Tuesday at the RiverDogs' home of Joseph P. Riley, Jr. Park. This would lead one to assume that the RiverDogs were successful in their quest to find Helen and host her at the ballpark. But were they? The answer to that is yes ... and no.
"One of our season-ticket holders had a connection to her," Kurant said. "And a couple weeks ago, she called in. Someone told me 'Helen McGuckin is on the line,' and I thought it was a joke. But it was her! ... She was definitely caught off guard, but she got it. She thought it was funny. We told her, 'You'll get the best seats in the house. VIP parking. If you want to hear a Billy Joel song, then you'll hear Billy Joel. If you think Contestant A should win a between-inning contest, then that contestant will win.'"
McGuckin was on board, at least initially, but a scheduling conflict caused her to renege on her commitment just a few days prior to the promotion. The RiverDogs quickly concocted a Plan B: go through with Helen McGuckin Night, but with another woman in the role of "Helen McGuckin." The five-star show must go on.
"We asked our office manager, Cynthia Linhart, if she'd be willing to play along," said Kurant. " [Cynthia's] tremendous, but not someone who's used to being in front of a lot of people. We just said, 'Pretend it's Administrative Professionals Appreciation Day. Just be yourself and have fun. But if people say "Hey, Helen!" feel free to wave at them.'"
"Helen McGuckin" was treated like a VIP throughout July 9's RiverDogs game (Emma Dau)
Linhart, in the role of McGuckin, was then treated to the ballpark experience of a lifetime. Everything was about her, down to the smallest detail. When she chose incorrectly in the videoboard "Hat Shuffle" contest, for example, fast-acting staffers in the RiverDogs' production room changed the answer so that it matched hers. This was to be a five-star evening for "Helen," and therefore she could do no wrong.
"We showed player videos welcoming her to the ballpark. They were into it, they'd seen the message on the videoboard all season long," Kurant said. "There were a couple who even wanted to catch her first pitch, and usually that's like pulling teeth. We had one of our employees fanning her all game, and when it looked like it was going to rain, we held an umbrella over her so she'd stay dry. ... Our mascot brought her flowers in-game, and there was a table and tablecloth for her food."
Meanwhile, the RiverDogs' promoted the real Helen McGuckin's Google Review prowess via a contest.
"We read Helen's reviews of other local businesses and the contestants had to guess how many stars she gave," said Kurant. "Her review of the Food Lion was that the produce was good and the apples shiny. And the contestant guessed correctly. It was a four-star review."
Despite the real McGuckin's inability to make it to the ballpark, Kurant deemed the night in her honor a success.
"We ended up with a number of new five-star reviews last night. People bought into it. They had fun," he said. "[McGuckin's] review was just so unique. It wasn't mad. It wasn't thrilled. It was just bland. And she has a funny name, and in Minor League Baseball that was just a humorous perfect storm that got us an entire theme night."