Cleveland catcher Carlos Santana, left, congratulates pitcher Chris… (Tony Dejak / Associated…)
If a tree falling in a forest doesn’t make a sound, then the streaking Cleveland Indians in an empty ballpark must be just as insignificant.
With nearly 45 games complete, the Indians are one of the most surprising teams in the majors and are perched atop their division. But the Indians aren't the only team causing double takes for those who live by the saying: "If the season would end today ..."
The Orioles are leading the AL East over the likes of Tampa Bay, New York and Boston. The Nationals are leading the NL East despite being, well, the Nationals. The Cardinals, last year’s World Series winners, were left for dead with the exodus of Albert Pujols, yet they are holding on to a narrow NL Central lead. And the Dodgers have the best record in baseball, which might just be the baseball gods thumbing their noses at Frank McCourt.
But in the AL Central, it is Cleveland on top and on the verge of a three-game sweep of their division rival and a preseason favorite, the Detroit Tigers. However, as the Indians build their lead, their ballpark continues to be more empty plastic seats than loud, obnoxious fans.
The Indians have the dubious distinction of being the cellar dwellers when it comes to fan attendance, drawing 15,838 fans per outing, which is less than 37% of the 43,345 capacity of their stadium. The 2011 Indians that failed to reach the playoffs averaged 7,000 more fans than this year’s team.
The lack of fan support at the Progressive Field turnstiles has spilled out of the stands and has drawn the vocal ire of at least one member of the team.
"I don't understand the negativity. Enjoy what we have. You have a first-place team,” Chris Perez, the closer for the Indians, said earlier this week. “How many teams in the country would want that right now?”
Perez continued his rant by saying he was embarrassed that teams such as Oakland (22-23), Kansas City (17-26) and Pittsburgh (20-24) draw larger crowds than Cleveland.
In the eyes of some Indians fans, Cleveland is just a farm league for big-market teams, as they consistently see their superstars -- C.C. Sabathia, Cliff Lee, Victor Martinez, Jim Thome, Manny Ramirez and Sandy Alomar, to name a few -- become nothing more than trade bait as their all-stars near free agency.
The players have no loyalty to the Indians organization, these, fans say, so why should the fans have loyalty to the team. After all, when the money is on the table, the players are out the door.
Also, the been-there-done-that Cleveland fans have seen a fast start in the first half of the season followed by a complete collapse in the back half. At this point last year, the Indians were 15 games above .500, on top of the division and leading Detroit by seven games. By season's end, Cleveland was two games under .500, out of the playoffs and 15 games behind the Tigers.
And let's not go into what "The Drive," "The Shot," and "The Decision" have done to the psyche of Cleveland sports fans.
Last year, the embattled Dodgers averaged 36,236 fans per game -- that’s paid attendance, and anyone who attended a game last year knows Dodger Stadium was barren.
This year, the Dodgers are pushing 40,000 per game on the wings of a fast start, new owners and legitimate triple-crown threats in Matt Kemp and Clayton Kershaw.
The Orioles are averaging 22,361 fans per game. The Nationals come in at 27,331. And the Cardinals are packing in 42,050 fans per home game. All of these attendance figures, except for the Indians, are up from their last year totals.
For now, Perez and the Indians need to keep converting saves, hope the sun makes a rare appearance in Cleveland and pray that "Dollar Dog Night" brings in a few thousand hungry fans. And, more important, that John Adams, the Indians' superfan that sits in the left-field bleachers playing his bass drum at nearly every game since 1973, doesn't wake up the sleeping Tigers.
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