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.
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.