The late-inning magic has returned to Jacobs Field this year. So have the good times. The only thing that hasn’t come back are the large nightly crowds.
Despite being one of Major League Baseball’s winningest ballclubs throughout this season, the Indians rank 25th in the 30-team circuit in attendance at 23,344 fans per game.
That theme continued on Wednesday evening, when just 18,614 bothered to attend the Tribe’s game against the Oakland Athletics.
The ongoing lack of interest is a surprising development that no one — in or out of the organization — is able to explain.
“I think (we’re) an exciting team,” Cleveland manager Eric Wedge said. “We just go out and play as hard as we can to win every night. I certainly enjoy watching the effort I see on a daily basis.”
The Indians have certainly done all they can to bring people back to the ballpark, winning 26 of their first 37 home games — the second-best record in the American League behind the Los Angeles Angels.
And they’re not doing it via low-scoring snoozefests, either. The Detroit Tigers are the only team in baseball ringing up more runs than the Tribe (6.1 and 5.4 per game, respectively).
Yet, the only franchises averaging smaller crowds than Cleveland are Tampa Bay, Florida, Kansas City, Pittsburgh and Washington — all terrible baseball markets with losing teams.
“Obviously, we’d love to have a packed house every game,” Wedge said. “But I know this much: We love playing here at Jacobs Field and we love being at home.”
Northeast Ohio fans, however, appear to love staying in their homes more than seeing Indians games in person. Local television ratings on SportsTime Ohio and WKYC-TV 3 continue to be strong and are among the highest in all of professional sports.
Large numbers of TV viewers, though, don’t pay the bills or payroll — and they don’t stop national baseball writers from pointing fingers of shame at Cleveland.
Considering the number of discount ticket packages the Indians are offering on a daily basis, the coast-to-coast criticism is deserved.
If the season ended today, the Tribe would be one of MLB’s eight playoff qualifiers, but attracting 10,000 fewer fans per game than the other postseason contenders (including Milwaukee and San Diego).
Facts like that make Cleveland’s record-setting 455-game sellout streak seem like it happened a lifetime ago, even though it’s only been six years.
“It’s tough for me to speculate on (the difference between then and now) because I wasn’t here when that happened, but it was a special time,” Wedge said. “You can only worry about things you can control and I’m just focusing on this team here. It’s a great team.”
At some point, perhaps local baseball fans will figure that out, as well.
Brian Dulik may be reached at (330) 721-4059 or BRISports@hotmail.com