I recently attended a Tampa Bay Rays game at Tropicana Field, and the lack of fans in attendance left me stunned. I had made the trip from Orlando to watch Felix Hernandez pitch for the Seattle Mariners. He did not disappoint.
Unfortunately, the Mariners lineup did not disappoint either. They followed the same script they had been using for the last two years. There was great pitching backed up by limited production at the plate.
As will happen at baseball games like this, a conversation sparked among the fans in my section. I asked them about the lack of support and the reasons for it. They placed the blame on the facilities and, or history.
They kept referring back to the New York Yankees and Legends Field. Sure, the Yankees having their spring home in Tampa does make for a strange dynamic. However, it does not alter the fact that the Rays are playing quality ball.
Yeah sure, Tropicana Field is not the best venue to watch baseball, but man the Rays are good. They are really good.
Eventually, our conversation turned to fans in other major league cities.
We discussed the Chicago Cubs. It doesn't seem to matter how well they play. The Cubs are averaging 38,815 fans per game over the last six years. They currently own a 12-18 record, are last in the NL Central and are averaging 37,307 fans per game.
We spoke of Boston prior to 2004. Even after years of crushing disappointment, Fenway was always at, or near, capacity. On September 02, 2011 Fenway Park sold out for a record 700-straight game.
After answering my questions, the Rays fans asked about Seattle. They were unanimous in their praise of Safeco Field. They would love to watch their Rays in a state-of-the-art venue. They asked me, "Why aren't fans filling the seats for the Mariners?"
"If we had those facilities," they seemed to say, "we would sell out every game."
Although I was ready with an answer for this question, I first asked the other M's fan in my section what he thought of the apathy in Seattle.
He lamented on the fickle nature of so-called "bandwagon" fans and repeated the age-old mantra of the die-hard, "Support your team whether good or bad!"
It was an impassioned argument, rooted deep in team fervor. That being said, it is flawed.
Die-hard fans support their team through the good and bad. However, the majority of us are not so resolute. We are awash in the grind of our daily routines. After all, bills must be paid. Often, we are dealing with lives that have not met our expectations. Why would we want to pay for that same experience?
In other words, although we follow our teams year-in and year-out, we support teams that are winning. We want to identify with success. We want to be uplifted by that success or, at the very least, by the success that we hope is around the corner.
Hope is the product we are buying.
Most of us are watching, waiting for the Mariners to give us something worthy of our hope. That's it. We want to know that there's light at the end of the tunnel.
From 2005 to 2007, the M's averaged over 30,000 fans per game. This was not because of the product they put on the field, but hope that fans still held. That hope had been built up on the successes of the previous decade. Each year the Mariners met expectations, fans were able to stash that hope away like money in a savings account.
Well, the account is overdrawn and the empty stands represent our overdraft fees. Although deposits have been made this season, it is imperative the Mariners continue to increase the balance. They can ill afford an outcome similar to those of the last two years.