Picks and pans from a Shorebird fan – 2012 edition

As has been the case over the last several years this series of Shorebirds-related posts will wrap up with this fan’s perspective. Henceforth until next spring I’ll go back to regular political programming on Thursdays, for the most part – it looks like I will have four in the Shorebird of the Week Hall of Fame Class of 2012 (Xavier Avery, Joe Mahoney, Manny Machado, and now L.J. Hoes.) I’ll do the induction post and update on present members around the first of December.

If you look strictly at attendance and not at the onfield product, the team had a great year this season. For the first time since 2002, the Shorebirds exceeded the 230,000 mark in attendance, breaking a bit away from residing in a narrow band between 210,000 and 230,000 by collecting 231,194 fans. This turns out to be an increase of nearly 20,000 over last year’s franchise-worst attendance of 211,993. But how did they succeed when the team was even worse?

Honestly, there are probably fewer than five out of a hundred fans who care about how good the team is. I’ll admit I’m a sucker and I would go even if they were 0-140. But I also would like to see us make the playoffs more than once a decade or so – unfortunately, that is mainly up to the Orioles and how well they draft and provide minor league talent for Delmarva.

I suspect the reason we did so well insofar as attendance goes – besides the fact we had generally dry weather and got all 70 openings in – was this young phenom named Dylan Bundy. When you look at the crowds he brought in and compare them to the usual early-season weeknight attendance, I would venture to say his four home starts added around 4,500 to our total attendance. Add in the extra 500 or so I would presume Brian Roberts drew in his rehab stint and it’s a nice round 5,000 bonus for the ‘Birds. Toss in the extra date and another 3,000 and that explains part of the increase.

But while we never know what kind of players we’ll get, the ballpark experience can be controlled, and obviously more people were satisfied enough to come out. Of course, there are a number of things I’ve had on my wish list for years: a new videoboard to replace the old one which is more than twenty years old, a CCTV system so one can watch the action while standing in certain concession lines (or the restroom), and someone to bring back the real Thirsty Thursday tradition of live postgame concerts.

But there is another suggestion I have which may make advance planning a little more of a headache for the team but may draw more people because of its flexibility.

A couple years back I was required for various reasons to cut back from being a full-season ticket holder to a half-season one. As part of the package I was (presumably) forced to select my list of 35 games before the season started – even though I renewed fairly late in the game, it was still a wild guess as to which games I could attend. I knew there were a few games I’d miss due to meetings or other items on my calendar; meanwhile Kim had no-go dates on her part as well. On the other side, there were promotions where we wanted to make sure we had our ticket.

The problem is that things change in life. A date which looked good over the winter didn’t always pan out in reality because something came up. One example: back in the early spring when I renewed I didn’t know my parents and daughter would visit during a particular homestand so those were three games I skipped.

The solution I would suggest comes from something I recall from years ago. The company my dad once worked for used to have season passes to the Toledo Mud Hens, which came in a book of 70 vouchers (one for each game.) But the vouchers were undated, so in theory I could use several one day and skip a few games if I desired. (Generally I was the only one requesting them; toward the end of the season they just gave the book to my dad. I think I went to the last fifteen games or so in a row that year.) Nor were these tied to a specific seat, so one day I could sit right behind the Mud Hens’ dugout while another day I might have decided to go behind the plate under the press box at the old Ned Skeldon Stadium.

While I like sitting in Section 111, I’m not tied to “my” seat anymore – as it turned out we had to move around a bit this season. I think having that sort of flexibility would be enticing to people who didn’t want a season ticket package but wanted to go to perhaps 12 to 35 games. Maybe a small premium can be attached to the regular price for this convenience, but even if the price is the same I think more packages could be sold for the best available seat.

There were a couple things which I thought were done right in 2012 as well. Whoever had the idea of adding the Chicken Fry Fry concession stand and the craft beers is a genius. The CFF stand added some pizzazz to a fairly staid, stale palette of menu options and made it more easily available than trucking all the way up to the third level or hoping the Angus stand was open. And of course, adding local beer is always a good thing.

Also, what could have turned into a disaster was saved by finding a good onfield host in a pinch. I’m sorry, but the original guy who started the season was pretty bad. Thank goodness Eric Sichau stepped in and once he grew into the job did pretty well, all things considered.

As always, the staff was very good. I thought the PlayBall magazines were well put-together this season, too. And since Bret Lasky is the guy who constructs them (and was recognized for his accomplishments) I should point out that we’re quite blessed to have a team which broadcasts all 140 games, home and away. There are a few teams in the league who don’t have full coverage, but we do.

Really, aside from a few hassles here and there with the ticketing department based on ticket exchanges (hence, my suggestion) this year was an enjoyable one. Unfortunately, we have 29 weeks until baseball returns – but when it does, look for that first Shorebird of the Week on April 4, 2013.