No Joy in Mudville 

If you care at all about baseball, it's tough to understand the lack of local fan support.

Equally depressing is this line from the Buffalo News: "The switch in games will create more revenue for the league because of the potential of bigger crowds here. Each team gets 45 percent of revenues, with 10 percent going to the league."

It's not hard to see why everyone assumed Buffalo fans would turn out in bigger numbers. The Bisons drew more than 4,000 people for each of the first two games in the series. In what turned out to be the final game of the year at The Diamond Sept. 13, the Braves lured in just more than 2,000 fans — and that was with rehabbing Yankees star and deodorant pitchman Jason Giambi in the Columbus Clippers lineup.

If you care at all about baseball, it's tough to understand the lack of local fan support. The International League is one of two American leagues at the level just beneath Major League Baseball. And the Braves are affiliated with the Atlanta Braves, one of the strongest franchises in the majors. This means that some of the finest emerging baseball talent in the world is in Richmond most summer days.

Is it the money? General admission tickets are $6 — less than a movie — and tickets for preteens and seniors are only $3. And unlike going to the movies, talking to your kid or whoever you're with is an integral part of the experience.

Is it a general lack of interest in anything that isn't NASCAR or college sports? The Richmond RiverDogs ended their season here with a double-overtime playoff game attended by 2,698 — and that was a thousand more people than showed up the night before. The team brought in reigning NASCAR Winston Cup champion Matt Kenseth for a ceremomial Zamboni ride around the Coliseum in January, but he ended up waving to mostly empty stands.

Is it the marketing and publicity? There's not much buzz around the Braves. The Times-Dispatch even had an intern covering them for a chunk of the season.

Is it the facility? Compared to Norfolk's Harbor Park and other, newer stadiums, The Diamond is dowdy. But it has the virtues of easy access and parking.

Is it the lack of star players? Again, these are stars in the making. Two of the four pitchers in a recent Style cover story ("Friday Night Fighters," July 21), Dan Meyer and Roman Colon, are now with the parent club in Atlanta. Colon has struck out Barry Bonds.

Maybe it's the siren song of the couch. Don't get me wrong — I'm a TV addict. I once had the privilege of serving as a preliminary judge for the Peabody Awards. Helping cull the field for the broadcast Pulitzers meant examining 75 entries that ranged in length from sitcom to miniseries. I spent a lot of time in a dark room with a University of Georgia professor, a grad student, a television, a VCR and pizza.

I loved it though it was hard work, even for someone who watches TV a lot. The Peabody board ignored some of our favorites, including the beautifully produced VH1 Fashion Awards and a fine movie based on the Kurt Vonnegut story "Harrison Bergeron." (My plea for "Beavis and Butt-Head," the Beckett of MTV, fell on deaf ears.)

I've been thinking a lot about another losing entry this week, the last thing you'd imagine getting a Peabody Award. It was from a small town station. It was a live broadcast of a high school football game. Getting it to air must have cost as much or more money than it made. But it was great to see broadcasters with limited resources overachieve.

We could have used those people in Buffalo last week. And we could have used their bosses in Richmond. Surely there's someone else out there who'd watch our city's team play for the championship.

If there's not, you can only wonder how much support there will be for a new stadium, which is the very thing that would rekindle interest in casual fans.

It's also sadly ironic that local interest in professional baseball appears to be waning as Central Virginia continues to turn out top-notch baseball prospects like pitcher Justin Verlander of Goochland County. In June, he was the No. 2 pick in this year's Major League draft.

But this week, there's little joy in Mudville. All parties involved — except the players and coaches — have struck out. S

Mark Mobley — no relation to International League President Randy Mobley — is editor in chief of Style Weekly.

Opinions expressed on the Back Page are those of the writer and not necessarily those of Style Weekly.

Letters to the editor may be sent to: letters@styleweekly.com



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