A lot has been made of the poor attendance over this current four-game series against the White Sox. Despite being in the heart of a playoff race and playing another first-place team, the Orioles managed to draw fewer than 15,000 fans on all three nights. Today's game, with the 12:35 p.m. start time, promises to be even more sparsely attended.
Bloggers and fans have said for years that if the Orioles were winning, the fans would return. The swaths of green seats seen on television screens across Maryland the last three nights say differently. So why have the fans stayed away? Actually, the last two nights notwithstanding, they really haven't.
First, fans need to understand that so far, attendance is up roughly 20 percent over last year's numbers, and the Orioles are averaging roughly 24,900 fans per game. On the surface, that all looks good; it is an increase as the team has played better and certainly an improvement over the steady decline in numbers over the last decade. But we all know that it is not good enough, and it is an embarrassment to see as the Orioles finally get national attention. We forget that the Toronto weekend series drew more than 25,000 fans each game - that gets erased by the stunning sight of an empty park.
Of course there are reasons. School started Monday for every district in the state and for the first time in at least the last couple of years, the Orioles played a home game on day one. You can go through the attendance records of the last few years and see a distinct dip in attendance during the last week of August and the first week of September. So there is a definite precedent for these types of numbers at this time.
The White Sox may be in first place and a playoff team, but they are not the biggest draw on the East Coast. I am certain a divisional opponent would have drawn more people into the stands. Moreover, this is the last home series that is not against a divisional opponent. The next 14 home games will be played against American League East rivals in September as the Birds make a playoff run. If I am a fan, with limited resources, and I am looking at the calendar, which game am I going to? The game against the White Sox, or one of the 14 against the AL East next month where I will be able to go to statue dedications for Cal Ripken Jr. or Brooks Robinson?
Of course these are all simply excuses that may have some bearing but mask the real reason: the 14 years of losing. The diehard Orioles fans are certainly excited, but Joe Casual Fan might not be a believer yet. Orioles fans have gone through so much pain in the last months of seasons and have seen so many seemingly impossible collapses. It is not shocking that there is still a significant portion of the fan base that remains waiting for the other shoe to drop.
At the end of the day, I feel that too much is being made over a low turnout for this series. There are some significant mitigating factors, but overall attendance is up and I am certain that, if the Orioles keep the push alive, it will continue to climb. Hopefully, fans will be able to look at that series as little more than random outliers versus the start of some sort of significant trend.
James Baker blogs about the Orioles at Oriole Post. His observations about the O's appear as part of MASNsports.com's season-long initiative of welcoming guest bloggers to our site. All opinions expressed are those of the guest bloggers, who are not employed by MASNsports.com but are just as passionate about their baseball as our roster of writers.