If you watch professional baseball on TV, like I do from day to day, you will witness the cameras panning around stadiums during breaks in the game action. The cameras are looking for creative signage like “Hey its my birthday and my Mom took me to Fenway,” or someone catching a foul ball while holding a beer in one hand and their child in the other or a fan dancing to the “YMCA” song on the loud speaker. Cameras pan around these stadiums looking for clips that can be used to entertain the audience at home. And the cameras also pickup the hundreds of empty seats at professional baseball stadiums. Some capture entire sections of seats with not a soul in them. Some capture the seats behind home plate, which are completely empty – even in the 3rd inning of a tie ball game. So where are all the baseball fans and what has happened to attendance numbers at professional stadiums?
Here is a snapshot from http://www.espn.com showing attendance numbers over the last 15 years at professional baseball parks.
If you watch youth, interscholastic, and amateur baseball games in person, like I tend to do here in Rhode Island, you will find a very different scene. Moms, Dads, guardians, grandparents, neighbors, brothers, sisters, sometimes dogs (where allowed) all flock in huge, enthusiastic numbers to local baseball games. There is no “Jumbo-Tron” with a massive video screen, just a standard score board with individual boxes for runs, sometimes pitch count, and innings – just enough information for 90% of the audience in attendance. There are plenty of “seats” along the grassy section of the first base line that just so happen to fall under a huge, shaded tree. You can almost always find a comfortable seat in the bleachers, behind home plate, out in center field in some ballparks – or just do what I do and sit wherever you like. The concession stand is famous for pumping out great hot dogs, cold drinks, and a friendly smile to greet you. Tickets are very reasonable and more often than not, absolutely FREE. And the play on the field is exciting and emotional because your son or daughter, his/her neighbor or best friend is at the plate or on the mound. So, there is a true connection from the fan to the baseball player on the field. That connection is what draws fans to the games in large numbers every single summer here in Rhode Island.
So where are all the baseball fans here in Rhode Island? They are at McCarthy Field in West Warwick to watch the RI Middle School and High School Championship games. They are at Old Mountain Field to watch the Ocean State Waves. They are at Cardines Field in Newport to watch the Newport Gulls. They are at Acotes Field, Wilson Park, Slater Park, Jim Rooney Field, The Pit, Trombino Field, and Deerfield Park watching youth baseball games. They are at Babe Ruth Tournaments, Little League District games, and Cal Ripken State Tournaments. You can sit next to the President of a local youth baseball league and talk baseball, local business, or wherever the conversation leads you. You can meet and greet friends and family members at home games or halfway across the state. The real fans of baseball here in Rhode Island flock to local fields every night, sometimes several times on weekends to watch their favorite youth baseball player or amateur baseball team compete and hustle and play the game of baseball. The connection the true fan has to the player or players on the field is what drives them to watch games in 30 degree weather in April and 99 degree weather in July/August.
As a side note, I know that professional sports spend a lot of time, energy, marketing, and money on driving fans to attend their games. They have fireworks, promotional nights, give out merchandise to the first 100 people who arrive at the gates. I get all that and applaud these professional teams for making the effort to draw fans in. But the connection to the players is missing in all of the hoopla and pomp and circumstance. Just this summer alone, I have met hundreds of baseball players, parents, New England Collegiate Baseball League players from California, press box regulars, stadium announcers – just by attending local baseball games. On social media and in person, I have formed friendships and connections in Rhode Island baseball that have made me an even bigger fan. I have a true connection to just about every local baseball town here in Rhode Island. And have met some really incredible baseball fans along the way in the many, many baseball towns I have visited.
I salute you Rhode Island Baseball Fans and will see you again soon at one of our amazing baseball fields.