CLEVELAND: The Indians might be out of the race for the playoffs, but they are embroiled in another competition as one of four teams trying to stay out of last place in attendance.
So far, the Tribe is holding its own against the Rays, Athletics and Astros. At the moment, Houston ranks 27th in average attendance with 21,140, Cleveland is 28th with an average of 21,021, Oakland is 29th (20,351) and Tampa Bay is last (19,925).
A difference of only 1,215 fans per game separates the Astros from the Rays, who along with the A’s play in front of sparse crowds even though they are in contention for the postseason.
What perks come with finishing at the bottom? The following season the last-place team doesn’t have to hire a huge crew to clean the ballpark after games. One guy operating an Oreck with a long cord will do.
The Indians know what that feels like: They finished in the cellar in 2010 with an average crowd of 17,181 and total attendance of 1,391,644. Last year, thanks to the club’s early success, attendance increased sharply to 1,840,835, a rise in the standings to 24th place.
But that momentum quickly dissipated this year. Even though the Indians remained in the race into July, their inconsistency kept fans from buying in. And since the past month’s Great El Foldo, any chance to recoup lost attendance has been frittered away and the Tribe probably will draw about 1.7 million.
How does the team feel about playing before sparse crowds? Obviously, Chris Perez made it clear earlier in the season that he didn’t like it or understand it.
“A player’s focus should be on playing the game,” manager Manny Acta said. “Once the game starts, who cares who’s in the stands and how many are there? You’re competing one on one with the pitcher.”
Before returning for this homestand, the Tribe spent three days in Oakland, where the entire upper deck (except for a small area behind the plate) has been covered with canvas for years, closing off about 12,000 seats. Even on the road, players prefer large hostile crowds to small gatherings.
“Every player would rather play in front of a sellout crowd,” Jason Donald said. “That’s what makes it fun. When there’s a big crowd, a little more adrenalin is flowing. At home, a big crowd is your home-field advantage. But even if it’s a small crowd, you know [they are die-hards] cheering for you.”
Sheldon Ocker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Indians blog at www.ohio.com/indians. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/SheldonOckerABJ and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/sports.abj.