At Double-A Bowie both excitement and attendance are up

For long-time fans of the Orioles minor leagues, it might come as a surprise. There were many seasons when the Double-A Bowie Baysox, playing in the shadow of Washington, D.C., struggled to draw fans.

But in the last few years that has turned around. There have been four nights this year when Bowie drew 7,000 or more and for eight Friday and Saturday dates this season, the Baysox have averaged 7,125 fans. 

From 2022 to 2023, Bowie ranked No. 3 out of the 120 full-season minor league teams with an average attendance increase of 34.4 percent. Wichita was No. 1 with a higher increase on average and Binghamton No. 2.

These are better days throughout the minors with overall attendance for all teams up 4.4 percent from 2022 to 2023. Double-A teams were up 5.3 percent and the Eastern League itself, of which Bowie is a member, was up 6.8.

Bowie is nowhere close to the top drawing team in baseball or even in its own league. But the gains are still impressive and ongoing into this season.

Bowie averaged 2,685 per home date in 2022 and that jumped up to 3,500 in 2023. This year’s average for 20 dates so far is 4,171 (7th in the Eastern Lg) with a season-high of 8,422 on Saturday May 11. The Baysox are up around 15,000 in home attendance from this point last year.

The Baysox have a winning team with several good prospects and the fans are finding them. They have been the last few years in better numbers. The days of Bowie always being a tough place to see a big crowd may well be over. 

Brian Shallcross is in his 20th year as the Bowie general manager. He’s about seen and done it all with the Baysox. He’s a veteran and savvy minor league executive who discussed with me the turn for the better with attendance at Baysox games.

“Here are some factors,” Shallcross said. “The first factor is one you might not think of, but it’s organizational stability. And what I mean by that, we only had a long-term lease here (at Prince George’s Stadium) since right before the 2023 season. We had years, many years, of negotiations with our county to get a long-term lease.

“Once we signed that long-term lease a few things happened. Our ownership (Attain Sports and Entertainment) wanted to invest in people No. 1. So, we were able to hire a significant more amount of people. We tripled our marketing budget. That let more people know who we are and what we’re doing.

“Just the fact we have a long-term lease, we had been going year-to-year for so long, is among the significant factors," he said.

And there is another factor that is pretty big too.

“And a fact that can’t be ignored, is quite frankly the Baltimore Orioles themselves,” said Shallcross. “If you look at the top growth in the minors, you have to throw (Triple-A) Norfolk and (Low-A) Delmarva in there. Delmarva grew 23 percent and Norfolk 13 percent. So, the fact that the farm system is exciting and obviously the Orioles being exciting, the energy around the Orioles has a contribution as well.

“Yes, our staff has done well and put in a lot of hard work, but the O’s success and their farm success is certainly a factor.”

And better days could still be ahead both in Baltimore and on its farm. While the Orioles and Ravens are getting millions from the state for future stadium upgrades and improvements, minor league teams are getting state funds as well.

Shallcross said a $200 million dollar bond bill was approved for Maryland’s minor league clubs. The Baysox will work closely with the Orioles and hope this leads to facility improvements and also more and better fan amenities.

“The Maryland Stadium Authority has been really good to work with to come up with plans that meet the Orioles future needs and desires while obviously meeting MLB standards as well," said Shallcross.

And the Bowie staff works hard in the community to cultivate future generations of Bowie fans.

“We work very hard with youth baseball. And I think the minor leagues is about cultivating minor league fans and eventually major league fans. I’m certainly excited to see the emphasis on youth baseball in our area

“I’ve never really been more excited about what is to come. We’re going to get significant state money and we’re really going to transform the ballpark into the player development envy of the country. Exciting times,” said Shallcross. 

Orioles head on the road now: After going 5-3 during the season's longest homestand, the Orioles (29-15) now hit the road for seven games in seven days in St. Louis and Chicago. 

Both teams have losing records, but St. Louis (20-26, .435) and Chicago (14-33, .298) have been playing better in some recent games. O's fans probably don't buy that about the White Sox after they got swept over the weekend by the Yankees. But even with that sweep, since beginning a miserable 3-22, Chicago is 11-11. And St. Louis has won five of its past seven after going through a 1-9 stretch.

But it will be interesting to see if the O's can have a big road trip against two teams with losing records. Meanwhile, the Yankees (33-15, .688) will now host Seattle for the next four games before then beginning a nine-game West Coast road trip.

While the Baltimore pitching continues to excel - with a team ERA of 2.28 the past 17 games - the O's offense scored 18 runs in the Seattle series versus a pretty solid pitching staff. Baltimore had 28 hits in the series and went 9-for-28 with runners in scoring position.

The batters now have 10 hits or more six times the last 11 games while averaging 4.7 runs per game in that span with 17 homers and a team OPS of .755.

Some individuals like Cedric Mullins, Austin Hays and Colton Cowser had encouraging moments and at-bats in recent games and the offense may be trending up again as the Birds hit the road where they are 12-5 this year. 




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