Braves return home to a crowd (but whose?)

Boston fans cheered the Braves' Derek Lowe (formerly of the Red Sox) at Fenway Park. But they'll invade Turner Field by the thousands to back their own team this weekend. (AP photo)

Fortunately, they will be checking tickets and not allegiances this week at Turner Field.

Revenue isn’t the worst fallback. You take what you can get if you’re the Braves, particularly when three of the visiting teams on a home stand — the Cubs, Yankees and Red Sox – come with overstuffed caravans and the term “meaningful games” locally appears to have a decreasing shelf life.

But if the Braves want to excite somebody other than Bob in accounting, this would be a good time to start. June is melting into July, and a .500 record is starting to resemble some lofty objective. Hammering home the reality of it all, the home team ranks 19th in attendance, creating ample room in the parking lot for incoming convoys from Chicago, New York and Boston.

“We picked up a couple of games on the Phillies in the last three days and we’ve just got to keep grinding,” Braves general manager Frank Wren said Sunday before the Braves finished a series in Boston. “That’s what you’re looking for – a team that will grind and won’t quit. But we know that at some point you can’t just grind, you have to win games. We’re getting close to that point where we have to start winning series.”

Actually, they’re probably at that point. The Braves lost in Boston, 6-5, Sunday. They dropped two of three at Fenway. No shame there. But they lost all three series on a 3-6 trip and have failed to win a series since sweeping Toronto May 22-24 (0-5-3 in series and 9-16 in games since).

How will the Braves do on this home stand?

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The Braves own one of the worst home records in baseball: 15-17. It’s not a great backdrop for a 10-game stretch against Chicago (makeup of a rainout), Boston, New York and Philadelphia.

The sellouts at Turner Field will be a nice change of pace. But they’ll be an aberration if this team doesn’t start impressing the masses. For all the spin about bad weather hurting attendance to this point and the expectation of crowds increasing now that school is out of session, franchise officials know this is a hard-to-please market.

Sports fans already seem to be counting down the days to football season. Or even football practice. The Braves never will have a better chance to grab some attention.

Wren understands the crowds this week will be largely opponent-driven.

“You wish that weren’t so but that’s the reality,” he said. “But in past years when we’ve played against teams with a large number of fans, when we play well our fans drown them out. And when we don’t fare well, we hear it from their fans. This isn’t any different from what we’ve seen in the past.”

Slightly more pronounced, perhaps. The economic component can’t be ignored. But there’s also the hangover of three missed post-seasons and failed expectations, particularly last season and this one. The bottom line: The Braves’ average home attendance of 24,828 is down nearly 4,800 per game through 32 home games compared with 2008 (29,622) and is on pace to be the Braves’ lowest average since 12,100 in 1990 at Fulton County Stadium. (Since moving to Turner Field in 1997, the team has averaged under 30,000 only once: 29,399 in 2004.)

Fans want championships, sure. But more than that, they just want a good product. They want a reason to pay, a reason to believe ownership and management are trying off the field and players are trying on it.  Somewhere along the way, a lot of people have stopped believing.

The Braves knew the Yankees and Red Sox games would be the year’s hot tickets. It’s one reason why they initially sold them only through multi-game packs, also hoping to limit the presence of New York and Boston fans. But that plan didn’t fill the stadium. Individual game tickets eventually went on sale three weeks ago.

The pitching this season has been solid. The offense, “has shown signs of coming around,” Wren said. This would be a good week to prove it. Crowds will be watching.

98 comments Add your comment

BBrown

June 21st, 2009
5:27 pm

BBrown

June 21st, 2009
5:31 pm

A 7-3 homestand sure would be a huge boost. If significantly less, Wren may need to think about a fire sale come the trading deadline.

NCBravesFan

June 21st, 2009
5:33 pm

JS – nicely put and I would add one thought to the last paragraph … the defense has been way too spotty. Braves better tighten that up (especially on the left side of the diamond) or the hitting and pitching won’t matter a heck of a lot.

Powder Springs Jacket

June 21st, 2009
5:37 pm

Lowe, Jurreins and Vasquez are a combined 16-17 this year, but their combined ERA is only 3.42…that is ridiculous…unless we can get someone like Matt Holliday, or bring Mark DeRosa back, or even trade for Brian Roberts, this team is not going anywhere. Heck, the Rockies have a better record than the Braves do right now.

The Dust

June 21st, 2009
5:43 pm

Rock bottom was today. Chipper as hot as he as ever been and ejected. Yunel making a bad defensive play (again). Jurrjens pitches well enough to win and doesn’t (again). Bennett blowing the game (again). Former Brave Nick Green and a journeyman until this season, makes the Braves pay on one pitch in the ninth. Why come home at all? Phone the rest of the season in already.

Keith

June 21st, 2009
5:45 pm

BBrown are you that big of a loser? “First?” Were you waiting around all day in order to be “first?”

BT

June 21st, 2009
5:45 pm

Well written Jeff. Wren is not being a realist, everyone who has watched the Braves know that the hitting has been almost non-existent. No immediate help in the minors.

BT

June 21st, 2009
5:46 pm

You are correct NCBravesFan but saying the defense has been spotty is rather kind.

Sowega Dawg

June 21st, 2009
6:01 pm

Listen closely-the fat lady is SCREAMING!!!

Will

June 21st, 2009
6:01 pm

It’s amazing!, another player that the Braves Head Office traded has come back to beat us. If it’s not a pitcher we traded away, it’s a hot young prospect, that can’t seem to be coached well with our team, but goes to another team and not only starts for that team but is hitting well every game. What has happened to our team?

Shoeless Joe

June 21st, 2009
6:07 pm

By the end of the month you’ll be able to turn out the lights on this season. Phil’s and the rest of the division are really struggling and we’ve been unable to make-up any ground. If we’re sellers at the trade deadline, we can only hope that what we get in return fits in with some comprehensive plan to make this team better next year, and thereafter.

Having good starting pitching is nice, but having neglible offense with no team speed, makes this a very boring team to watch.

Sox Fan in ATL

June 21st, 2009
6:09 pm

As an Atlanta resident who is from Boston and a diehard Sox fan I think it is great that Atlanta fans don’t support their team. It allows Sox fans like myself to get tickets at a reasonable price while making it seem we are at Fenway…..Get used to hearing “Let’s Go Red Sox!!!”"

Ted Striker

June 21st, 2009
6:15 pm

Sox Fan, if you can scream loud enough for the noise to make it to Athens, I’ll hear you. Otherwise….

reality

June 21st, 2009
6:17 pm

Nothing like a former brave (nick green) to beat us today. Maybe if Smoltz pitches and Wren hears the crowd he will realize just how wrong he is.

Tim and Jim

June 21st, 2009
6:20 pm

Why does Bobby Cox keep bringing in Bennett to pitch,he should have enough sense to realize that Bennett is a lousy pitcher who can’t pitch.Why isn’t he giving Medlen more pitching from the bullpen, Medlen is a lot younger and a helluva better pitcher than Jeff Bennett.Bennett definitely needs to be DFA and let Medlen get more experience. Bobby Cox always says that Bennett is the long man in the pen, Well Medlen can be also, he has starting experience and has looked good from the pen, at least he has looked better than Bennett.Also Cox needs to think about putting Tim Hudson into the bullpen when he returns.My husband and I both think that Hudson would be an excellent closer and should be given that opportunity. Remember when Smolts was our closer how well he did.We both believe Hudson can do the same.
Jeff Bennett has got to go.

Stenger

June 21st, 2009
6:31 pm

Will, you really oughta check Nick Green’s ticket stubs before you post. He’s a journeyman who didn’t have a single major league at bat last year. He worked his butt off in order to try to make the big league team but didn’t get a shot until their regular short stop was on the DL. He’s worked hard to keep the job. To say that he was uncoachable while with the Braves is ridiculous. He was blocked. There were guys at every position that could play better than he was and he was tradeable. I’m very happy that he’s doing well in Boston, but you make it sound like he’s the MVP that got away and that’s simply not the case.

john

June 21st, 2009
6:33 pm

please tell me why bennett is in and not soriano in the 9th and why gregor blanco is allowed to play

varodrunner

June 21st, 2009
6:46 pm

More than anything – I’d like the the publicity department to tone down the hype. Now that’s their job, but somehow, when are clearly in a rebuilding and hope mentality and to say otherwise is (lol) “false advertising”. This team has no chance of anything except embarrassment. Wren did a good job of beefing up our starting rotation, but somewhere in the process, he forgot about the other aspects of the game. Shuerholtz took a look at the entire program and its needs. Wren appears incompetent to perform his job to its full expectation.

Don’t sell us hype! Put a competitve team on the field and quit wrecking our farm system to get hand-downs and trash. Your bonus should be non-existent Wren!

Brownie

June 21st, 2009
7:03 pm

Vorodrunner, you are dead wrong on this one. Sure, in the 90’s with an uncapped payroll, JS was a “genius” (and he also had 3 HOF Cy Youngers) and the results were incredible. But after the turn of the century, with a restricted budget, JS made a mess of the Braves. He literally gutted our farm system to bring in rental players, e.g. Drew, Renteria, Sheffield, Castilla, Wickman, Kotsay, and the worst trade ever…Texeira. None of these teams were built to win a world series, yet JS kept doing it, and you saw the last 3 years what we had left (especially the pitching). He then retires and hands over the keys to a broken down bus to Wren, who in less than 2 years has rebuilt the starting rotation and a pretty solid pen (notwithstanding Cox’s mismanagement of it). “On the cheap” he also brought in Garrett Anderson (who you will note is getting his stroke back), McLouth and Kotchman – all of whom are an upgrade to what JS had here.

I like most of the decisions Wren has made. He didn’t overpay for Burnett, gut the team to bring in Peavy, get stupid to bring back Furcal, resign Smoltz (yeah, I like him too, but after last season there is no way the Bravos could afford to pay out millions to a huge question-mark for part of the season). The only major mistakes Wren has made is letting Josh Anderson go and signing Glavine in the first place – they didn’t need him, and it was only going to end in disaster: either as it did or with TG literally throwing batting practice to our opponents.

It takes time to rebuild a playoff caliber team with a limited payroll (and it may be impossible in today’s baseball economics)….we’ve got to give him some more time.

Oh, and by the way, its been a great run, but it is time for Cox to head to Adairsville.

blazerdawg

June 21st, 2009
7:22 pm

The Braves draw fine enough crowds and have finished higher in attendance than in the standings the past few years. They even drew 3M before the Yankees did back in the 1990’s, and at one time owned the NL all time attendance mark, wth 3.8M, before the Rockies played in Mile High with a 75,000 seat per game capacity.

There is alot to do in ATL. I imagine that if Turner Field’s capacity were reduced by 15,000, was moved to Peachtree and W. Paces Ferry, and that winter were three months longer in ATL; then the Braves would draw just as well at the Cubs or the Sox, because that is the situation that they have.

GO BRAVES!

Jan

June 21st, 2009
7:24 pm

“Got no where to run…no where to hide” was a popular song years ago. It fits these bumpkins pretty well. Too many holes on the field, in the bullpen, and with the bats. No changes in the years to come unless major bucks are spent to upgrade RF, 2nd, and LF. “Bye bye birdie” was, also, a cult hit song. Wish we could be singing “By bye Bobby”. It would be nice to write and read about something else as all writers have been saying the same thing for months (2 years?). Still intrigued with Furman Bisher’s thought to trade Chipper if we aren’t going to pay to play with the big boys. This year and last year are not fun to watch.

Ken Stallings

June 21st, 2009
7:35 pm

Jeff, last I checked, the unemployment rate for Georgia crept over the 12% mark. That means when you add in those who aren’t even actively looking for a job anymore along with those who aren’t confident spending the money for a ballgame, it’s logical to believe around 25% of the Atlanta population are no longer in the economic position to attend a Braves game.

Why is it that sports columnists cannot comprehend that “loyalty” is among the last reasons locals aren’t attending games right now?

You offered several additional points couched in the language of “excuses.” School in session, weather, and home record are still not central to the real reason. People are suffering an economic downturn worse than at any time since the Great Depression.

Again, Jeff, 25% of Braves fans who would have paid to attend a game last year aren’t going to do so this year simply because economically they feel a more vital need for the money. That’s the real reason. That you could not devote a single sentence to that reason reveals again you are out of touch with the people of Atlanta, and perhaps the nation itself.

You can do better than this, Jeff. I sincerely hope you will in the future.

Reid Adair

June 21st, 2009
7:37 pm

Jeff, at this point, Frank Wren and Terry McGuirk should be happy to sell tickets – even if it’s to fans of the Cubs, Yankees and Red Sox.

Dropping today’s game at Boston, which the Braves could have won, is just another disappointment – and another example that there are still unresolved issues with this lineup and roster.

DHD

June 21st, 2009
7:48 pm

I can understand fans who moved here from Boston and New York. It makes sense that they would move way from those cesspools. .I understand them cheering for their teams. what I don’t understand is people who are from Atlanta being so weak as to cheer for another team. I say cheer for YOUR hometown team. Otherwise, you’re a loser.

sad brotha

June 21st, 2009
7:52 pm

Get rid of McGiurk! He is the problem.

Mike

June 21st, 2009
7:52 pm

A 7-3 homestand? Exactly when has that happened this season? I keep asking…….when will someone do the ERA of the bullpen from the 7th inning on. It has got to be close to double digits.

NRBQ

June 21st, 2009
7:56 pm

Get a clue, Will.

Here’s one: Green hasn’t had a major league job in two years.

Mitch C

June 21st, 2009
7:58 pm

What is most disheartening about the Braves is that if they could have gone, say, 5-4 on this trip, and played a stretch of 500 ball in the last ten days to two weeks, they would only be one or two games out of first. The Phillies and Mets are stinking up the division, big time. Philly has lost six in a row, and the Mets eight out of ten. Eventually, the Braves need to hit a hot streak, if they want to have any hope, because one cant expect Philly and the Mets to keep playing as badly as they are. One of them is going to get hot, at some point.

It’s amazing to think that as badly as the Braves have played, that they are only four and a half games out of first. If Philly and the Mets continue to falter for the next week or so, and the Braves could have, say, a six and four, or seven and three homestand, very questionable considering the opponents due, and how the Braves have played, maybe the Braves could really get into “Contention”.

This homestand is the most important of the season. We need to play well, now. We should know at the end of this ten days whether or not we still have a chance for something in 2009, or whether we need to look ahead to 2010. Hopefully, it will be the former.

Mitch

Supes

June 21st, 2009
8:06 pm

I can’t believe I’m going to say this…but good job Jeff Schultz. I agree wholeheartedly with your article/blog.

Chuck Uga

June 21st, 2009
8:11 pm

There are way too many sportswriters and fans who live in a world of denial. The Braves are NOT contenders for anything. They do not have the money nor the management to bring in the right players, and Cox has one foot into retirement. I am a Braves fan, but I cannot see how anyone could think they actually have a chance. Trade some of the “fan favorites” and maybe they would improve their offense. I just don’t see the committment from the current ownership for anything more.

Jeff Schultz

June 21st, 2009
8:14 pm

NCBravesfan – Good point on the defense. That’s how the Braves got it down through the 90s: pitching and defense.

TheDust: Who was that, and what has he done with Nick Green?

KenStallings: So the fact that the Hawks’ attendance went up, and Georgia attendance didn’t drop 25 percent (or at all), and the Falcons’ attendance will go up next season – how does the economy and the unemployment rate fit in there?

Supes: We’ll keep that our little secret.

dd

June 21st, 2009
8:45 pm

If any of the sox fans or any other northern teams fans don’t like Braves fans and are unhappy with what they see and hear in Atlanta, let me throw one thing out to you that the late, great Lewis Grizzard used to tell yankees with big mouths who could only be critical and put down the SOUTH.

“DELTA IS READY WHEN YOU ARE”

We would love to see you go!!!!!!!!!!! Actually, we might help you pay for the ticket.

JSS

June 21st, 2009
8:56 pm

Left you a message on your last blog (coughing at that insinuation), too bad they have too much class to poison the food in Squirrel Hill… Best T-Shirt I ever saw on the Strip in the PGH (AKA the ‘Burg)
: Ebola, HIV, or Swine Flu (All are preferable to being named Jeff Fill in the seven letter blank!)

blazerdawg

June 21st, 2009
8:58 pm

JS – Gwinnett is averaging 7,000 a night; that w/ the economy (and the poor weather early) may account for some of the attendance.

RC35

June 21st, 2009
9:01 pm

“They want a reason to pay, a reason to believe ownership and management are trying off the field and players are trying on it. Somewhere along the way, a lot of people have stopped believing.”

This is it in a nutshell. Thank you for stating what Braves players and management seem oblivious to. Frank Wren trying to sell us used plow mules and Shetland ponies as Kentucky Derby contenders is transparently fraudulent, and players who show less “want to” than slow-pitch softball players on a hot night after a full day at work do not excite those of us who remember when the players gave it a major-league effort every day.

jj

June 21st, 2009
9:07 pm

I just don’t understand why Escabor gets blamed for everything.If people look at that play and can say for sure Escabor was to blame,my question is,why was Chipper not blamed?Is it because Boog and Chipper’s personal cheerleader,Joe Simpson,said so?Escabor ain’t perfect,but I don’t think he should be made the scapegoat for the Braves failures.

Supes

June 21st, 2009
9:12 pm

You can give legit reasons for the down numbers in overall attendance, but the bottom line is this: If the Braves were a 1st place winning team with players who the local fans cared about and wanted to see, the numbers would be a lot better inspite of the bad economic situation our state and country are in right now.

You know in 2011, when Freeman, Johnson, Heyward are all up here and Tommy Hanson is an established ace, I guarantee attendance goes up.

Chuck Uga

June 21st, 2009
9:25 pm

Supes:
Great points, but you have to fear Frank Wren. He will have traded every one of those prospects by then for a 1/2-season/single season “rent-a-player.” Hell, Scott Boras will not even negotiate with the Braves organization anymore. He stears his clients elsewhere. Hence we will be waiting a LONG TIME before we see another Braves team in the post-season. Wren and Schuerholz BOTH need to go.

WildBill

June 21st, 2009
9:36 pm

Who in their right mind would watch the Braves today instead of watching the US Open Golf Tournament. The Braves had better sober up and get serious about their future. Even the most loyal Braves fans will admit the Braves are falling short of even the lowest expectations.

MIKE lump

June 21st, 2009
9:49 pm

last place Braves… it’s not a matter if? as much as it is a matter of Wren!

mike

June 21st, 2009
9:51 pm

If the Braves were in the American league they’d be an also-ran most years. This team is no longer serious about winning. They’re serious about “trying” to win on a lower tier budget. Face it. We don’t have the Oakland front office making decisions for the Braves. Atlanta will get exactly what it pays for.

Clue

June 21st, 2009
9:56 pm

Hello…..can someone tell me where a guy by the name of Wren is? I understand he’s been looking for me.

NO MORE BOBBY

June 21st, 2009
10:19 pm

Red Sox fans have a lot of class and I love the way they actually watch the games. I hate going to Turner and always people around me asking what just happened. Watch the game!

NO MORE BOBBY

June 21st, 2009
10:22 pm

MIKE lump – The Wren comment was clever.

it's time

June 21st, 2009
10:25 pm

Keith, there are losers on every blog who apparently wait all day to be ‘first’. With a capital ‘L’.
John, is French so much better than Blanco that we’re better with him? Finally,
this upcoming homestand is the rubber hitting the proverbial road. With our top three starters era under 3.5 and yet they have a cumulative losing record, the rubber hit the road already, and the rubber lost. Unless FW is able to work some magic soon, the season is lost and attendance will drop like the batting average at second base.

George

June 21st, 2009
10:42 pm

The Diaz at bat is emblematic of what is wrong with the Braves. Swung at a high fastball that is no where close to the strike zone. We will not contend with Jeff F and Kelly J batting at the pace they are going. I was happy though to see Chipper show a little fire in his belly. Maybe a little of that pointed at the non-producing members like Jeff F and Kelly J could start something…

George

June 21st, 2009
10:45 pm

Jeff Bennett needs to go the way of Blaine Boyer. All our relievers have a tendency to pitch behind in the count and sooner or later that comes back to bite you.

KingfishStevens

June 21st, 2009
10:48 pm

As Jed Clampett would say, pitiful just plain pitiful.

bravesfan27

June 21st, 2009
10:56 pm

hey lets puy it this way. we are only 41/2 games out.I think the fire the team showed today will give us a pretty good homestand. Im looking forward to a good week .LETS GO BRAVES

Jack G.

June 21st, 2009
11:08 pm

JSS

The best T shirt i ever saw was worn by a well endowed young lady, and simply sait ‘YES I DO BUT NOT WITH YOU’