Jays packing 'em inDespite terrible form and a lineup that looks like a triple-A squad, attendance is surprisingly up
By KEN FIDLIN, QMI Agency
|Blue Jays fans have still been coming out to the park despite the team's terrible run since the all-star break. The Rogers Centre averaged 31,107 fans per game during the 10-game homestand that the Jays wrapped on Sunday. (SUN files)
By just about any measure, the 10-game Blue Jay homestand that concluded with an appropriate 11-2 drubbing by the Texas Rangers on Sunday was an absolute mess.
With a lineup that stopped barely short of being Las Vegas North, the Jays won just three of the 10 games. They hit .218 as a team, with an on-base percentage of .273 and 89 strikeouts. Toronto was outhomered 17-8 and outscored 58-34. The pitching staff had a 5.38 ERA.
There was, however, one quite remarkable positive statistic to emerge from all that failure. In the 10 games, the Jays attracted 299,387 to the Rogers Centre and you have to go back as many as five or six years, into an era when announced attendance figures were ... well, let’s just say ‘unreliable’ to find a series when this team averaged 30,000 over an extended homestand.
You can only imagine how big the crowds might have been if the real Blue Jays had been playing and not rehabbing injuries in various parts of the continent.
It isn’t just this one series, either. The six-gamer (Oakland-Detroit) that preceded this one attracted more than 200,000 fans and the three games against Cleveland that kicked off the second half of the season after the all-star break drew 91,232.
In all, the 19 home games since the break have drawn an average crowd of 31,107, at a time of the season when injuries have ravaged the team and seen it fall to nine games under .500 with no hope of making the playoffs. Overall, on the season, the Jays are averaging 27,851 fans per game which should put them somewhere around the 2.1-million mark when all is said and done. It’s a far cry from the four million that packed the place in the early 1990s, but still a vast improvement from recent years.
Yes, probably many or most of those tickets were snapped up on the early-season promise this team showed but, regardless, it demonstrates the kind of sleeping giant the Toronto marketplace is.
“It’s just too bad we don’t have our full team,” one Blue Jay executive said Sunday. “The crowds would have been even bigger.”
Attendance is an important component in the team’s longterm plan to build a sustainable winner. President Paul Beeston has made it clear that payroll will only go up in lockstep with projectable revenues. The response of the public this summer to a team that, while feisty and fun to watch is still deeply flawed, has to be an indication that even a hint of success will bring the fans out of their long hibernation.
Alex Anthopoulos put the onus on his own shoulders last week when he pledged to upgrade the pitching staff, especially the rotation. He has plenty of young arms percolating in the system but the best of them are at least two or three years away.
“I know it’s probably hard (for people to accept) right now with the way we’re playing and the way things have gone with injuries,” he said during the homestand. “But it’d be one thing if we were playing this way and everybody was in the lineup and healthy. That obviously would be significant reason for concern.”
With people flocking back to the ballpark and some eye-popping television numbers, it’s clear that the time is ripe to expand the payroll and get back in the mix for some experienced big-leaguers to supplement Brandon Morrow and Ricky Romero at the top of the rotation.
“The rotation is where we still need to do some work, but it’s a lot easier going into an off-season when you have really one area to really attack, and every trade dialogue, every free-agent dialogue, can be geared to one area rather than having 40 balls in the air and having to fill three spots in the bullpen, two spots in the rotation, two position players,” he said.
Anthopoulos has talked in the past about making bold moves when the time is right. If this off-season is not the right time, then it’s really difficult to guess when that time will be.
The team as it’s constituted has generated enough buzz in the community to move an attendance dial that had been stuck in neutral for the better part of the last decade. At somewhere around $80 million, the Toronto payroll sits in the bottom third of MLB. Another $30 million of well-spent money could make all the difference.
Whether it happens through the free agent market or, more likely, as a result of trades, it has to happen soon, or the positive momentum AA has built over the past couple of seasons will be lost.
The injured stars of this team will be back soon enough to stabilize things. They need help to take this outfit to the next level.