Mets attendence is down, but it's not as bad as it looks

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Thumbnail image for citi field.jpgThe New York Times has an article up today about baseball’s decline in attendance, and it singles the Mets out as the biggest decliners since last year:

After 22 home games, attendance at Citi Field is down 6,852 fans a game,
the largest decline by number in Major League Baseball. That translates
to an average of 31,892 fans at games this season compared with 38,744
last season. The Mets are also 11th in average attendance in the major leagues,
down from seventh last year.

Dave Howard, the Mets’ executive vice president for business
operations, blamed the early-season decline on bad weather in April, the
team’s disappointing play in recent years and the economic downturn.
(The weather in April was warmer and drier than normal in the New York
area.)

I like that last parenthetical because, yeah, blaming the weather is kind of bogus. It’s been bad the last week or so, but April was actually way lower on rainouts across baseball than most years tend to be. Still, this article is overstating the problem, at least with respect to the Mets.

This biggest problem is that the article appears to be comparing last year’s full-season average to April and May of this year.  The 2010 Mets have yet to play with school out, with mid-summer promotions or with marquee opponents such as the Yankees or Phillies in town.  I’m not saying all of those things are going to even up attendance to last year’s average, but it’s going to close the gap a bit.

Moreover, while the article does talk about the novelty of new stadiums wearing off quicker than it used to, such a phenomenon is now the norm, not the exception, so singling out the Mets on this score seems rather unfair.  The Mets had a nice run-up in attendance at Shea between 2006 and 2008, but really, their average draw for the previous decade or so was between 20,000 and 34,000 in a park that brought in way less revenue per person than the current one does.

I’m not saying that things are fabulous on the attendance front. I’m simply saying that it’s easy to overstate the problem. Even if all you care about is head count, the team is not in uncharted waters here, but from a
business perspective, they’re doing just fine.  The fact is that last year’s Mets team didn’t do a ton to inspire big gate in the early going this year. It happens.

If they play well as the season goes on, things will tick up.  If they don’t, it won’t.  It’s the oldest story in the business of sports.

Mets owners get some breathing room on their Bernie Madoff settlement payments

New York Mets owner Fred Wilpon stands on the field before baseball's Game 3 of the National League Division Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers, Monday, Oct. 12, 2015, in New York. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)
Associated Press
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For years the central fact of life of the New York Mets has been that their owners, the Wilpon family and Saul Katz, lost a ton of money after investing it with friend and business partner Bernard Madoff, perpetrator of the biggest Ponzi scheme in history. It has hampered their payroll and led to huge amounts of borrowing and restructuring that, before last year’s pennant run, seemed like it’d be a millstone on the Mets competitive prospects for years to come.

In addition to losing money, it was later determined that Katz and the Wilpons unfairly gained in some other respects and thus they ended up having their phony earnings clawed back via a settlement with the trustee managing the fallout of the Madoff scandal.  The upshot: the Wilpons and Katz, in addition to their losses, were ordered to pay nearly $60 million dollars back, half payable this week, half payable next year. That’s a lot of money for anyone to fork over and this week’s payment loomed large.

Now, however, Adam Rubin of ESPN New York reports that the Wilpons and Katz will get some breathing room. Specifically, they have modified their agreement with the trustee and some of the owed money has been deferred. Instead of some $29 million payable this week, they will only have to pay $16 million. The remainder will be paid in four installments — from 2017 through 2020 — with an interest rate of 3.5 percent on the unpaid balance, Rubin says.

Now, there obviously was no promise that the $13 million saved this week be invested in the baseball team, but it’s probably a good thing overall for the Mets if their owners’ debt payments are reduced a bit.

Mike Napoli hit a homer for a fan with cancer

CLEVELAND, OH -  MAY 30: Mike Napoli #26 of the Cleveland Indians rounds the bases after hitting a solo home run during the sixth inning against the Texas Rangers at Progressive Field on May 30, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
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Last night a fan named Kathi Heintzelman showed up at Progressive Field in Cleveland with a sign asking Indians first baseman Mike Napoli to hit a home run for her and to give her a hug. But there was a reason beyond her love for Mike Napoli. She’s starting chemotherapy today and the hug and homer would be a nice thing.  Hard to disagree with that, even if everyone knows that ballplayers can’t hit homers on demand.

Well, most players can’t. Mike Napoli did the easy part before the game, giving her a hug. Then in the sixth inning, he went yard:

 

Whether you believe that such things can be fated or if you merely acknowledge that Heintzelman asked Napoli for a homer at a good time — he’s on a hot streak right now and has hit bombs in four of his last 11 games — it’s a great story.

 

The Twins recall Byron Buxton

Byron Buxton
Getty Images
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Byron Buxton has been recalled from Triple-A Rochester by the Twins.

Buxton will replace Danny Santana, who was placed on the disabled list following a hamstring injury. But the bigger picture here is that Buxton will get a fresh go-around to show that he is the future of the Twins like so many assume he will be. The 22-year-old hasn’t hit so far in the majors, but he batted .336/.403/.603 with six homers, four steals, and a 26/11 K/BB ratio over 129 plate appearances after his demotion to Triple-A last month.

At this point the Twins, who stink on ice, need to just put their top young player in the game and let him learn to swim at the big league level rather than try to squeak out a few extra relatively meaningless wins with guys who won’t be part of the next contending Twins team.

92-year-old World War II vet throws a nifty ceremonial first pitch

Screen Shot 2016-05-31 at 9.04.09 AM
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Think of how many bad ceremonial first pitches you’ve seen. From the worm burners from local business owners and pillars of the community at minor league games to ex-big leaguers who obviously haven’t picked up a ball since they retired to the famous celebrity ones that go viral the next day, there are probably a lot more bad first pitches out there than good ones.

But when the good ones come, they’re really enjoyable. And few are more enjoyable than the one which preceded yesterday’s Padres-Mariners game in Seattle. The pitcher: Burke Waldron, a 92-year-old veteran of World War II. He did it in his dress whites. He ran out onto the field beforehand. And though his catcher didn’t set up the full 60 feet, six inches away from where Waldron threw it, it was still a spiffy pitch. Way better than most: