Monday Rockpile: The best performance of the year

Doug Pensinger

Colorado's baseball team didn't put on a display worth remembering in 2013, but its fans sure did.

Just in case you needed another reminder about where major league baseball's priorities lie, commissioner Bug Selig provided it on the 25th of September when he graced the national airways courtesy of the John Feinstein show and bluntly told the world that the attendance of the Tampa Bay Rays was "disgraceful".

Now in all fairness, Selig does have a point here. Despite making the postseason for the fourth time in the last six seasons and only winning less than 90 games once in that span, the Rays ranked dead last in attendance in 2013, even trailing teams like Houston and Miami who reached triple digit losses. As a fan, a part of me shares Selig's sentiment and finds it absolutely infuriating that a team as easy to root for as the Rays is being wasted on an atmosphere as underwhelming as the one down on Florida's Gulf Coast.

However, if MLB thinks it's a disgrace to have a team consistently near the top of the board in wins and at the bottom of the board attendance, isn't it also a disgrace to have a team consistently on the top half of the board in attendance and near the bottom in wins? Selig has spent this summer on a crusade to bring attention to the lack of attention the Rays get from St. Petersberg, but I must have missed the radio spots where he talks about the reverse situation where Rockies fans pack Coors Field on a consistent basis and get treated with nothing but kicks to the groin when it comes to the final standings.

Since Colorado became a franchise in 1993, only three teams have sent more fans through their gates than the Rockies. Two call the largest cities in America home (Yankees and Dodgers), and the other is arguably the best run organization in the sport (Cardinals). Then we have the Rockies who have surpassed the 83 win mark exactly twice in franchise history; and yet despite all the losing, the fans of this team just keep showing up in droves.

Now much of this is associated with the new franchise / new ballpark era from the late 1990's when attendance records were falling like dominoes in Colorado. That's already been covered over the years though and we don't need to go into detail with that again today. What's truly new and fascinating here however is Colorado's attendance number in 2013.

Despite coming off its worst season in franchise history (a 98 loss campaign in 2012), despite the club and the ballpark no longer being new, and despite making zero big moves last off season, the Rockies attendance INCREASED this year. Oh, and it didn't just increase by a whisker in a season where the numbers were technically flat either; the Rockies drew 2,017 more people per game to Coors in 2013 than they did in 2012, going from 32,475 fans a game to 34,492 fans a game. Considering the general feelings fans have towards ownership right now, that's amazing.

If you look at baseball reference's "change in attendance page", the Rockies ranked tenth in overall attendance in 2013 (despite putting up a bottom ten record for the third season in a row), and seventh in attendance increase from 2012. In fact, Colorado ended the season in a near three way tie for fifth in the attendance increase category with the Reds and Pirates and probably would have had a top five spot had it not been for an abysmal April weather wise (more on that in a moment).

Go through every other team at the top of the attendance increase ("Difference Per Game") category and there's much more obvious reasons for them to be there than the Rockies...

1) Blue Jays (+5,394 fans per game) - Huge offseason! Huge market! Big names brought in, expectations were high, and then there was also drew under 26,000 per game to the park in 2012 so there was room for a big jump.

2) Dodgers (+5,176 fans per game) - Even bigger moves made, payroll over $200 million, second largest metro area in the U.S. to draw from, and then of course they also won the division.

3) Nationals (+3,477 fans per game) - Coming off their best season in franchise history. Expectations were extremely high.

4) Orioles (+3,151 fans per game) - Coming off their first postseason appearance of the millennium and were competitive again 2013.

5) Reds (+2,103 fans per game) - Coming off a 97 win season and made the postseason again this year.

6) Pirates (+2,036 fans per game) - Stop me if you've heard this before: First winning season and playoff appearance since 1992.

7) Rockies (+2,017 fans per game) - Ugh, yeah...We must all be suckers.

8) A's (+1,609 fans per game) - Won their second consecutive division title after five straight seasons of failing to post a winning record.

9) Braves (+1,587 fans per game) - Second consecutive postseason appearance after surprisingly failing to reach October five times in six years between 2006 and 2011.

10) Cardinals (+1,329 fans per game) - Won the World Series in 2011 (as a Wild Card), came one win away from getting back there again in 2012 (again as a Wild Card), won more games than any other team in the National League in 2013.

(From here it drops off to +684 fans per game in Detroit, so these ten fan bases pretty clearly separated themselves in this category for 2013)

Now the two most obvious things fans might point to as reasons for the Rockies increase are Helton's retirement and and a strong interleague draw with the Red Sox and Yankees coming into town, but I'm not sure I'd fully buy that. Helton did not officially announce his retirement until just before the last home stand of the season and even when he did, the first four games of the Rockies final stay at Coors all drew less than the season average (34,492) despite an attractive opponent in town in St. Louis who was fighting tooth and nail for the central division at that point.

Then as far as the Rex Sox and Yankees matchups go, it only represents five games, one of which overlapped with Helton's official retirement party and drew 48,775 to the ballpark to close out the home season. Even if you throw out the five home games against the Yankees and Red Sox, Colorado still averaged 34,079 fans in the other 76 games and would have still seen an increase of 1,609 fans per game from 2012.

In addition, there's also a pretty strong argument to be made that the awful April weather cost the Rockies some attendance this season. Here were the five lowest attended games at Coors in 2013...

1) April 18th vs. Mets (18,341) - Game time temperature: 28 degrees

2) April 23rd (Game one of a double header) vs. Atlanta (19,124) - Game time temperature: 23 degrees

3) April 16th (Game two of a double header) vs. Mets (20,339) - Game time temperature: 36 degrees

4) April 16th (Game one of a double header) vs. Mets (21,510) - Game time temperature: 39 degrees

5) April 23rd (Game two of a double header) vs. Atlanta (21,724) - Game time temperature: 30 degrees

Once you get out of the ice box, only three other games all season drew less than 26,000 fans, suggesting that this team isn't having it's attendance propped up based merely on odd favorable schedule circumstance, this team is drawing large numbers because Denver really loves its baseball team.

Now it may be a deeply buried love, as there hasn't been much on field success to celebrate, but somewhere beneath that disgust for the current ownership that's often on display in the comments section here, somewhere beneath the bitter disappointment of the last three seasons, and somewhere beneath the success of the other Denver teams, there lies a deeply buried and passionate love for the Rockies. This team is an untapped gold mine, just waiting to be excavated.

I can't stress enough how difficult it is draw the type of attendance numbers the Rockies did this season in a small to mid sized market coming off a 98 loss season. I don't care how nice ballpark is, at some point these figures have to speak volumes as to how desperately this region is yearning to throw its allegiance behind a winning baseball team. It may not be as obvious as it was in the 1990's, but Colorado's support of its baseball team continues to be one of the most impressive displays of loyalty you are going to find anywhere in sports.

I just wish they would get rewarded for it at some point.

Links

Troy Renck thinks the Rockies should target a big Cuban bat this offseason, but it's probably not the one you're thinking of.

Purple Row's own "TheTulowitzkiGeneration" wrote a nice fanpost over the weekend discussing some of the extreme scenarios that could be on display in 2014 in his Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde post. It's worth a read.

It's several days old, but I have not seen much discussion on this story from Thomas Harding discussing how injuries did or did not impact the 2013 Rockies team. It also has this interesting summary quote from Tulo...

"We had our opportunities. You look at how well we play at home, but on the road again, we struggled. We've got to figure that out. In years we've been better, we've held our own on the road. We've got to figure that out. We played the division not too bad this year. We didn't do well against the American League, which is weird. A couple years back, we were one of the best Interleague teams there was. I can't sit here and say injuries are the reason we're sitting where we're at, because at times, we just didn't play good baseball."

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