For a paper in one of my classes back in my freshman year of college, I sat down with the General Manager of the Trenton Thunder (NY Yankees Double-A affiliate), Will Smith, to talk about what it is like to be a GM at the minor league level. Of course, one of the major points that I wanted to touch on was how to consistently put butts in the seats, which is the goal of any GM in sports but especially minor league baseball. He went through the laundry list of business promotions, the focus on selling to groups, the whole nine yards. But minor league baseball has a unique attendance draw that nobody else has.
Now, he was clear that they do not ever root for a player to get hurt just so that there will be the inevitable rehab assignment. But these assignments are such a huge draw. Where else can you see major league stars play while sitting in a $10 seat in the first row?
Alex Rodriguez, the New York Yankees third baseman recovering from hip surgery, recently began a 20-day rehab assignment through the Yankees’ minor league system. A-Rod’s presence was certainly felt, drawing huge crowds (Single-A speaking) out to the ballpark.
The assignment began in Charleston, N.C. with the Riverdogs, the Yankees’ low-A affiliate. According to Bleeding Yankee Blue, last year the Riverdogs averaged just under 3,800 fans per game. Their stadium seating capacity is about 6,000. On July 2nd, the first game that A-Rod played in Charleston, an impressive 8,255 fans came out to Joseph P. Riley Park. It was the second largest crowd on head at the park, just behind its opening day in 2007.
After another night with the Single-A Riverdogs and another night above capacity, A-Rod made his way down I-95 (Hey, that’s us!) to play for the high-A Tampa Yankees. The night prior to A-Rod’s arrival, Tample had a crowd of about 1,500 fans. The very next night with A-Rod in the lineup, the Tampa Yanks more than doubled the attendance with 3,148 fans in attendance.
As A-Rod moves his way up through the system, more of the Yankees’ farm system will feel the power of having a superstar major-leaguer on their field. With likely stops in Double-A Trenton and Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, A-Rod’s name will be a huge draw. Eduardo Nunez recently finished a rehab game with Trenton on the Fourth of July and Derek Jeter has been in Scranton/Wilkes-Barre for a few days.
Although Thunder GM Will Smith said that they certainly do not root for players to get hurt, he certainly does not mind the extra faces in the stands. The Thunder are one of the more successful minor league franchises and even after a couple of days of fireworks and a retirement party for their long-time bat-dog, Chase, A-Rod’s presence will surely bring the best crowds of the season.
Follow Kevin Rossi on Twitter @kevin_rossi.