Gil LeBreton

Empty seats shouldn’t be a surprise to sputtering Rangers

Rangers first baseman Prince Fielder has been hitting the ball all over the park, but he hasn’t been hitting it out of the park.
Rangers first baseman Prince Fielder has been hitting the ball all over the park, but he hasn’t been hitting it out of the park. Star-Telegram

If you’re turnstile-watching on the Texas Rangers in this, the second week of April, here’s a news scoop:

There are going to be lots of “lowest crowd since …” nights this season, as was the case Monday night.

It’s not the first time that bluebonnets and empty seats have flowered in early spring here, and it won’t be the last.

After a lineup-depleted, 95-defeat season last year, season tickets are reportedly down by “four or five thousand.” Which means that coupled with last season’s decrease, the bandwagon fans from the World Series years have virtually abandoned the bandwagon.

The Rangers are back to pre-World Series attendance levels. Which makes sense, because so is the team.

For the record, the people at Rangers, Inc., are not blaming the empty seats on anybody but themselves. They are blessed with great fans, loyal fans, both players and the front office crew will tell you. No one was whining Tuesday about parents and kids not showing up Monday on a cloudy, somewhat chilly, school night in April.

But the club ought to know how the attendance game is played. If you give them something good to see, they will come.

That means scoring runs. Competitive starting pitching. Maybe a home run every now and then.

It’s the exact formula that they erupted for Tuesday night against the Angels.

But the Rangers began Tuesday night’s game with a team batting average of .199, fourth-lowest in the major leagues. Their OPS, on-base plus slugging percentages, was .570, 14th of 15 teams in the American League.

They also began the night with only four home runs, all hit on the same afternoon last week in Oakland.

Note to Rangers: Chicks dig the long ball. It took until Tuesday night to get the memo?

Prince Fielder, who once hit 50 home runs in a single season, has been peppering line drives and hard grounders to both sides of the infield, and his .394 average entering the night showed it. But he hadn’t hit a homer yet. The long ball just has not been a regular part of this team’s arsenal.

Subtract Nelson Cruz, Ian Kinsler and Josh Hamilton from a lineup, though, and this is what happens. That trio began the day with a combined four home runs and 14 RBIs, and Hamilton hasn’t even played yet.

His final chapter here turned ugly, but Hamilton’s best major league seasons were in a Texas uniform — his best seasons, statistically, spiritually and soberly.

Hamilton reportedly remains in the Houston area, stuck in baseball limbo. The Angels apparently are trying to build a breach of contract case against him. The players union thinks the Angels owe him every penny of his remaining $90.2 million contract.

The Rangers need to be following what happens to Hamilton. The move would be controversial — polarizing to fans, probably. But former manager Ron Washington always contended that Hamilton was at his best, in more ways than one, when he was with the Rangers.

If the Angels ever decide to part with Hamilton cheaply, the Rangers need to make a call. A rehab assignment, of sorts, in Round Rock would tell them if it was worth it.

If you give fans a reason to think they will be entertained, they will come. Hamilton, even at the end, always offered the promise of entertainment.

All outbursts against the Angels aside, the current lineup needs an infusion. The Rangers need to find a way to consistently score runs, or it’s going to be another long, quiet season.

Quiet, as in no more bandwagon. That’s a fact, not a news scoop.

Gil LeBreton, 817-390-7697

Twitter: @gilebreton

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