While Early, Attendance Is Strong With Numerous Crowds of 7,000
Joke all you want about how everything seems bigger in Texas, but there is a certain truth in the early weeks of the Independent Baseball season with El Paso luring the biggest single game crowd (7,823) and Sugar Land reaching the 7,000 plateau in each of its first six home games.
Lone Star State teams in Grand Prairie, Amarillo and Laredo have had impressive top houses of 7,101, 6,518 and 6,616, respectively, while Camden, NJ, Lancaster, PA and Kansas City, KS also have been above 7,000 in the early going. SugarLand andLaredo were inaugurating new stadiums.
Another indication Indy teams may have a strong summer at the box office is that 18 teams are averaging crowds of 3,000 or more at this point which is the same number as for all of 2011, but three American Association teams above that figure one year ago (Winnipeg, Fargo, ND, Gary, IN) have not played at home. Sugar Land is at the top of the overall attendance scale with average crowds of 6,921, with seven of the eight Atlantic League teams above 3,000 and the league as a whole averaging 4,262, according to figures compiled by the official statistical house, Pointstreak. Seven of the 10 American Association teams that have played at home are averaging above 3,000.
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SugarLand on the Upswing
It is not a stretch to say that all eyes are being focused on the Atlantic League’s new team in Sugar Land, TX since it is a bold venture far from the Eastern base that requires all teams to take to the air, it has fancy, new Constellation Field and 20-year major league star Gary Gaetti is new to managing.
A rocky 1-9 road trip four games into the season piled on added pressure, but the Skeeters seem to have their feet under them after a second trip resulted in a 4-1 record in which they averaged nearly seven runs a game. This brings them to an eight-game homestand starting this very night (Thursday) with the first four against Butch Hobson’s Lancaster (PA) Barnstormers, who they trail by 2 ½ games (in third place) in the Freedom Division.
“This (baseball) is as pure as it gets”, Gaetti told this typist.
Can Home Run King Overcome Six-Year Layoff?
One Sugar Land player worth keeping an eye on is Kade Johnson in that he homered on the second pitch he saw this season, a shocker in its own right in that he was in the batter’s box for the first time since a four-game fling with Nashua, NH (Can-Am League) in 2006. Yes, six years ago.
But Johnson, now 33, still holds the single-season national junior college home run record when he blasted 38 round-trippers in 1999 for Seminole (OK) State which led to being selected by Milwaukee in the second round of the draft that summer.
“I walked away after a few shoulder surgeries” rather than face another long rehab, the sturdy, 200-pound catcher said. But when a cousin was trying to stick with the Skeeters this spring and Johnson caught some of the Sugar Land pitchers longtime major leaguer and current pitching coach Britt Burns talked him into trying to come back. “You have nothing to lose,” Burns said to Johnson, who now has six years of high school coaching under his belt.
Johnson is being used sparingly (3-for-10, four RBI) because of being plunked on the thumb in the third at-bat in the same game with the “surreal moment” of his welcome back home run, hit on Mother’s Day with four-year-old daughter (Kayden) and wife Angie, six months pregnant with their second child, both watching.
(This is an excerpt from the column Bob Wirz writes year round on Independent Baseball. Fans may subscribe for 2012 at www.WirzandAssociates.com, enjoy his blogs, www.AtlanticLeagueBaseball.com and www.IndyBaseballChatter.com, or comment to RWirz@aol.com. The author has 16 years of major league baseball public relations experience with Kansas City and as spokesman for two Commissioners and lives in Stratford, CT.)