After last September’s heroics, where are Cleveland Indians fans?

Progressive Field

I wrote a similar piece last year and in 2012, but didn’t think I’d need to opine on the same topic again this season. I was wrong.

Last September, the Cleveland Indians seemingly regained fan confidence when, under the stewardship of veteran skipper Terry Francona, they won their final 10 games to finish 92-70, capturing the top AL Wild Card spot. Not bad for a squad that collapsed the August prior and fell to a 68-94 clip.

The Tribe finished an incredible 21-6 in September last season, including a remarkable 10-game win streak to close the campaign. This gave the city its first playoff appearance in six years and just the franchise’s second since 2001.

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Of all the myriad excuses for Cleveland’s lackluster 2013 attendance — they finished 28th out of 30 MLB teams — one was that fans “didn’t trust the team” to finish strong. That excuse is now clearly out the window. And yet, as of this writing, we somehow find Cleveland drawing fewer fans in 2014, and sitting last in all of baseball.

I talk the talk and walk the walk as often as possible. It only makes sense.

My wife and I made the 1,900-mile round-trip drive Labor Day Weekend to Indiana and Ohio, with one goal being attendance at the Indians-Tigers Sept. 1 battle. Weather was perfect for the 4 p.m. start, AL MVP candidate Michael Brantley bobbleheads were distributed, and two of the best pitchers in baseball dueled. Only 23,000 fans showed up, filling Progressive Field to just 52 percent capacity.

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But that wasn’t the worst news. Tuesday evening, again with great weather and another important matchup with the team’s arch rival, fewer than 10,000 spectators passed through the gates. Last night, again under optimal weather, Cleveland roughed up six-time All-Star Justin Verlander behind a shutout from rookie Danny Salazar. Yet barely 11,000 witnessed it, meaning three in four seats were unoccupied for the most important game of this season to date.

It’s inexcusable, considering all the aforementioned benefits, plus a fantastic facility to watch baseball in, cheaper food, drink and ticket prices than most stadia, good egress and ingress, affordable tickets, other promotions and more.

I’ve visited nearly all the current Major League Baseball stadiums, and few top “The Jake” when all angles are considered. I say that as a baseball fan, not a Tribe fan.

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As for the so-called “economic” angle, the same residents spend large amounts of money to watch bad football each autumn. Irrespective of season length, the Cleveland Browns — arguably the worst franchise in pro football over the past decade — charge up to 10 times the price for a game ticket, and the atmosphere isn’t half as fan-friendly.

And Cleveland isn’t a poor metropolitan area. The suburbs are as wealthy as anywhere. Detroit and Milwaukee, with very similar demographics, draw nearly 20,000 more per opening than Cleveland.

I could go on. The Tribe may fall short in 2014, but the Indians generally play their hearts out and currently sit just four out of the AL Wild Card. They are 40-27 at home too, one of the best marks in baseball.

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Max Scherzer, the 2013 AL Cy Young Award winner, pitches for the Tigers tonight at Progressive Field. Considering 2012 AL Cy Young Award winner David Price pitched Monday and 2011 AL Cy Young and MVP Award winner Justin Verlander Wednesday night, you’d expect a good crowd with 75-degree temps expected. But we know that won’t happen.

In arguably the biggest series of the season, Progressive Field will welcome about the same amount of people for four games as the Los Angeles Dodgers draw on a typical Saturday night. What a shame.

I suppose at least the Indians’ television ratings are up.

About the Author

AJ Kaufman

A former schoolteacher and military historian, A.J. now works in public relations. As an MSF columnist since 2009, he supports anything baseball-related. Raised in San Diego, A.J. has since resided in numerous parts of America, including Colorado, Florida, Indiana, Maryland, Minnesota, Nebraska, New York, Ohio and Washington State. After departing the coasts in 2005, he's traveled the back roads of all 50 states and prefers the Heartland. Married to Maria, A.J. is the author of three books and enjoys reading presidential biographies.