One week away, one week before the Texas Rangers open the new season, and the outlook is …
Good. Actually, very good.
And that outlook is thanks to you. Yes, you. The fan.
It obviously has nothing to do with what the club — from the ownership level, to the baseball department, to the playing field — has done in the last six months to inspire this “very good” 2013 outlook.
Flashing back to last September, there was the historic final-month-of-the-season collapse, there was the hasty exit in that gimmicky postseason game, there was the long silent winter of repeated failures in free agency additions, there were roster departures of fan favorites …
(I’m pacing myself at this point) … there was price-gouging galore when ownership decided on a hefty 2013 ticket price increase; the Arizona spring training on-the-field developments have been so-so; the baseball front office still isn’t making moves, and, finally, out of nowhere, the Nolan cloud popped up, and still hangs there, as does, I guess, Mr. Ryan’s decision to stay or go.
But then there is you. You, the fan.
Despite a club that unfortunately seems to be making a worrisome drift into the area of Cow-Mav mismanagement, the fans are hanging in there, and the loyalty is showing by the use of the hip pocket.
Ticket sales have been strong.
Season ticket sales have reached the 21,500 level. All ticket sales, including individual, have reached near the 1.9 million mark. Compared to a year ago in late March, the ticket numbers are like dead even.
But dead even is actually a gain. A year ago, the Rangers, who would end up drawing a record 3.5 million, were coming off back-to-back World Series appearances.
Club officials I spoke to last week said the worry in ticket sales this spring centered on how 2012 ended on the field, no trades or acquisitions (see Yu Darvish a year ago) that excited the fans, and the decision to hike ticket prices after a bad finish by the team.
Those same club officials also worry about a fan backlash if Ryan leaves the club, particularly with the perception that the most beloved and respected member of the organization was forced out through an ownership decision to demote him.
But so far, so good, at least with the fans.
Those bean counters in the organization who decided to price-gouge the fans are now privately saying, “See there.”
But the smart ones in the organization also know that fans have a long, long memory. The fans are paying now because these are unprecedented times for the club. The Rangers have finally reached a point where the Cowboys have been, the Mavericks have been and the Stars have been.
The ballpark is the place to go. The place to be seen. Even in the summer-time blast furnace it’s cool to be at the ballpark.
And there’s nothing wrong with that. But be careful. I call it the “Norm Sonju Theory,” because the long-ago general manager of the Mavericks was the first I ever heard use the term “soft house.”
The Mavs were packing Reunion Arena every night in the ’80s, but Norm knew it wasn’t necessarily the true fan, it was the “be seen” kind of fan.
Those fans can and will leave you in a hurry. And they did leave Norm’s Mavs as soon as the winning stopped.
The Boston Red Sox have the longest sellout streak in sports at Fenway Park. But the Boston media ridicules the streak, due to the empty seats the last few seasons. And even the Red Sox are now saying the sellout streak will end in April.
By the way, the Mavericks have the second-longest streak in sports, but those in the media who cover the Mavs regularly say that streak is now greatly fudged and has been for two years.
Admittedly, I also wonder if the “Sonju Theory” applies heavily to baseball. Basketball and hockey, yes. We’ve seen it apply many times to the Cowboys (see the early 2000s, when the crowds shrunk to nothing), and at the moment, Jerry’s Big Yard in Arlington is the only fan draw for a mediocre team.
But rank-and-file baseball fans are usually more hardcore. The Rangers’ success on the field drove the 3.5 million last season, but the loyalty of the most devoted Rangers’ fandom has been strong for the most part, even when there were continuing years of inferior products.
In no way, however, is that downplaying the impact of win, win, win.
Obviously, when the Rangers take the field in Houston for the opener next Sunday night, it’s not as strong a club as the last three years. The “if” factors are many. A club loaded with “if” factors is worrisome, to say the least.
This will be a season judged on the past three seasons, when the Rangers averaged 93 wins. At the moment, the fans are buying into that same kind of club for this season. Las Vegas, however, has the over/under win total on the Rangers at only 87.
What happens on the field, of course, will dictate if the buyers continue to respond.
For now, the very best thing by far that has happened to the Rangers over the last six months is the hip-pocket loyalty of the fandom.
Being greatly loved in that area is always a good place to start the season.