Friday, May 6, 2005

Be Thankful For What You Got

Columbus, Savannah, and Augusta seem to take turns as the second largest metropolitan area in Georgia. Atlanta, of course, is tops by far. Latest figures show Augusta 2nd, with Columbus 3rd and Savannah 4th.

Throw in that Columbus is only 30 minutes away from a major university (Auburn), and one might think that sports teams would have lots of success in the city. But that's not the case.

I'm a baseball fan. And I enjoy going to the local team, the Columbus Catfish of the South Atlantic League. Class A baseball isn't Major League Baseball, but it's baseball, and it's fun. And cheap.

You ever been to a MLB game? How much did you pay for a hot dog? Go to Turner Field in Atlanta. Unless they have some Clark Howard special or something going on, you'll pay $6.50. For a hot dog!

You want a Coke? You've now spent over $10 for your meal. Add fries with that? You might get $5 change back from a $20, but I don't think so.

Oh, did you buy a ticket? How much? $12? Watch for low-flying aircraft. Oh, your seat's behind home plate? That cost you $53, didn't it? How'd you get there? Drive? Where'd you park? How much? $10?

Okay, at the game, parking, getting a hot dog, fries, and a Coke, and sitting behind home plate cost you $78. For one person.

Go to the Catfish game instead. Free parking, $2 hotdogs, $2 fries, $2.50 Pepsis, $7 box seat. That's $13.50.

After the Braves game, try to get a player's autograph. For free.

I love minor league baseball.

Back to my point. I'm in the minority. Columbus is the 2nd largest minor league city in Georgia, but draws barely 1,000 fans per game. And that's up from last year. And well over twice two years ago.

With attendance like that, we won't keep the team long. They'll leave for a city that will support them.

That's what happened to the team that was here from 1991-2002. Part of the problem with the Columbus RedStixx was the 1996 Olympics. They completely renovated the stadium for Olympic events, and the RedStixx had to play home games at Columbus State University. Attendance dropped from 128,816 to 45,010. After the move back to the stadium, attendance never fully recovered. And, by 2002, the team was gone.

In 2003, eight days before the season started, the dispute the South Georgia Waves were having with the city of Albany, Georgia led to a parting of the ways. And the South Georgia Waves played the 2003 season in Columbus, averaging about 500 a game. When the deal to move to a city in Indiana fell through, the Waves were stuck in Columbus. So, they changed their name to the Columbus Catfish. In 2004, the Catfish averaged about 800 a game. This year, they're averaging over 1,000, but not by much. And if it doesn't get better, they'll leave.

Lots of local sports teams have done just that. Or just folded. Friday's Columbus Ledger-Enquirer had a column about that very thing. Columnist Troy Johnson, who I've never met unless I stood behind him in the line at the Wal-Mart, penned the article, inspired by the recent departure of the Columbus RiverDragons of the NBDL (NBA Developmental League).

Pretty soon, there won't be any more room in Columbus' professional sports graveyard unless somebody wants to start a collection for a roomy above-ground mausoleum.

Right now, we're at headstone-to-headstone capacity with the remains of the Columbus Mudcats, Comets, RedStixx, Wardogs, Georgia Pride and Riverdragons all keeping each other company, all wasting away together along with the empty seats and unfulfilled promises.

Johnson goes on to suggest that folks have overestimated the city's commitment to sports. And he's right.

Even the Columbus Cottonmouths, the one franchise that seems to have thawed the hearts of prospective ticket-buyers, have reason to question how much they're truly appreciated. They won the Southern Professional Hockey League championship, but couldn't even get a victory parade.

A common lament among younger residents is that there's nothing to do in Columbus. If we fail to support the pro teams that are left, the Cottonmouths and Catfish, that will undoubtedly become the case.

If the Cottonmouths and Catfish fade from view, we'll know what killed them. It'll be the same cause of death listed for the Riverdragons, Wardogs, RedStixx, Mudcats, Comets and Pride.

Community apathy.

I wish he was wrong. But he's not. I fully expect the Catfish will be gone within two years, if not earlier. And, while I'd be disappointed, I would understand. If I owned the team, I'd probably do the same thing.

Can people really not care? Or do they just not know? And is it just Columbus?

Go to a minor league game, if there's one nearby. Minor league baseball is fun. It's cheap. You'll see some stars. Heck, I saw Eric Gagne throw a 100 MPH pitch in Savannah a few years ago. Can you say that? I've seen Major League All-stars play ball up close, before they were stars. And I've met some fine young men. There's hope for the future of this country, if the minor league players I've met are any indication.

They love to hear the cheers. And it's great encouraging someone to excel.

If folks here all went to just one game, the Catfish would lead the league in attendance instead of being 16th (last). Folks here need to be thankful we have a team.

If there is a minor league team near you, check them out. Go to one game. Just one, is all I ask. You might enjoy it. It's baseball at its best.


  1. i saw Gagne lose a game! of course, i had to pay Major League Baseball prices to see it, but it was worth every penny!

    just 'cause i'm a Giants fan, and he lost the game for the Dodgers in my home team's park....

    i saw on the news that he pitched a fit in the dugout afterwards...poor baby! at least his saves streak wasn't broken!

    GO CATFISH! or, maybe i should have said STAY CATFISH!!!

  2. I get a whole pile of tickets to our local minor league team every year. And yes, they're almost as cheap, but I pay $5 for a ticket (they're AAA-level).

    However, I bet they don't average much more than 1,000 people a game, either, especially on weekdays. Then again, Charlotte is SO NOT a sports area, it's insane. Here sporting events are social events -- most people don't even know there's games going on.

    I don't know your team will leave -- there's not a lot of places they can go when there's already 200+ different professional baseball teams throughout the country. Heck, within 50 miles of my house I can see 3 different teams!

  3. The Knights are averaging 3,379 a game, which is next-to-last in the International League, which is a shame. But, it's still over three times what Columbus pulls.

    It wouldn't suprise me to see the Catfish move 90 miles to Macon, or even across the state to Athens.

    You're fortunate to have so many teams close by. Folks here won't go to the local team, there's no way they'll travel 80 miles to Montgomery (Biscuits, AA: Southern League) or 90 miles to Atlanta (Braves).

  4. 3,379? No. They might be averaging 3,379 tickets sold per game, but I'd bet about 2,000 of those are coporations with season box seat tickets that don't get used. I go to these games. The only times you see 3,000+ people is on Saturday and Sunday -- weekdays you'll see less than 500 some days.

  5. Wow. Reminds me of the old days of the Braves and Falcons.


Please choose a Profile in "Comment as" or sign your name to Anonymous comments. Comment policy