The announced crowd at Turner Field on Monday was 25,046. I’d guessed the actual attendance as 15,000 and thought I was being kind. But no matter the number, the image was clear.
Another big baseball game in the A-T-L.
Another unpacked house.
And here I’m supposed to get all righteously indignant and say something like, “It just goes to show what a lousy sports town this is. If this game had been in Boston or Chicago or New York, you couldn’t have gotten a ticket.”
But you know what? I’m not going to say anything like that. Because I don’t really care about the folks in Boston and Chicago and New York. (And anyway, I just came from a Patriots game in Foxborough, where Gillette Stadium was officially sold out but empty seats were apparent.) Besides, this time I feel no call for indignation, righteous or otherwise.
As I tried to note last night, this is a weird sort of stretch drive. It crept up on all of us, the Braves included. It wasn’t until last week that things got interesting, and when the Braves returned home only 2 1/2 games behind Colorado they were facing some powerful mitigating circumstances.
School’s in session. The economy’s adrift. Lots of locals are still bailing out basements after last week’s rain. And let’s be honest: The Braves haven’t been flavor the month for more than a months of Sundays. Lately we’d gotten in the habit of keeping one eye — one only — on the Braves and saving our real enthusiasm for the Falcons or the Dawgs or Tech or even the Hawks.
But now the Braves are in a race we never saw coming, and we’re only just catching on. I’d imagine the crowds will increase as the week unfolds, and if the Braves keep winning I’d expect 40,000 on Friday night and that many again on Saturday afternoon. And Sunday afternoon, if the game is meaningful, could well be sold out. (The Falcons are off this week, FYI.)
And I’ve long since stopped associating raw attendance numbers with depth of fan interest. We didn’t ever tune the Braves out; we just followed them a bit less closely. These hadn’t become the dark days of the ’80s, when, as the joke went, you could leave two Braves tickets on your windshield and come back and find four. Most of us will have no trouble finding our way to the ballpark this weekend. We’ve all been there before, many times.
And even if there were only 25,000 (or 15,000) on hand Monday, it wasn’t a bored corporate gathering. These were folks who knew what was going on and who’d come to see baseball. “The crowd was into it,” Bobby Cox said afterward, and it was. It didn’t feel like just another night at the ballyard. It felt like a night at the races.
And, on another Braves-related matter: Getting way ahead of ourselves, we wonder how the playoff rotation might look. Maddux, Glavine, Smoltz? Vazquez, Jurrjens, Hanson? And what happens to Derek Lowe?