Santana Claus returns to Venezuela

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Great story about Johan Santana’s annual trip to his hometown in the remote mountains of Venezuela, where he spreads holiday cheer:

He lives in Florida in the off-season, but late every year, he returns to Tovar, bearing gifts by the truckload. He
organizes the Cy Youngazo, or the Great Cy Young, where he hands out
Christmas presents to children and organizes local soccer and baseball
tournaments . . . During
this year’s event, young boys stood slack-jawed and old men whistled
their appreciation as he walked by. He was continually stopped by
people either asking for autographs or just wanting to shake his hand.

He also watches out for would-be kidnappers. He has a full security detail for him and his family, and the former director of Venezuela’s anti-kidnapping police unit, who now works for Venezuela’s professional baseball league, was on hand too.

My first impulse when I hear about Venezuelan players having their families kidnapped is to ask why any of these guys ever go back.  Then you read something like this piece about Johan Santana’s annual trip home, and you wonder how any of them can stay away.

Oh, and by the way: Santana says his elbow is “100 percent recovered” and he’s ready for spring training.

MLB crowds jump from ’21, still below pre-pandemic levels

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PHOENIX — Even with the homer heroics of sluggers like Aaron Judge and Albert Pujols, Major League Baseball wasn’t able to coax fans to ballparks at pre-pandemic levels this season, though attendance did jump substantially from the COVID-19 affected campaign in 2021.

The 30 MLB teams drew nearly 64.6 million fans for the regular season that ended Wednesday, which is up from the 45.3 million who attended games in 2021, according to baseball-reference.com. This year’s numbers are still down from the 68.5 million who attended games in 2019, which was the last season that wasn’t affected by the pandemic.

The 111-win Los Angeles Dodgers led baseball with 3.86 million fans flocking to Dodger Stadium for an average of 47,672 per contest. The Oakland Athletics – who lost 102 games, play in an aging stadium and are the constant subject of relocation rumors – finished last, drawing just 787,902 fans for an average of less than 10,000 per game.

The St. Louis Cardinals finished second, drawing 3.32 million fans. They were followed by the Yankees (3.14 million), defending World Series champion Braves (3.13 million) and Padres (2.99 million).

The Toronto Blue Jays saw the biggest jump in attendance, rising from 805,901 fans to about 2.65 million. They were followed by the Cardinals, Yankees, Mariners, Dodgers, and Mets, which all drew more than a million fans more than in 2021.

The Rangers and Reds were the only teams to draw fewer fans than in 2021.

Only the Rangers started the 2021 season at full capacity and all 30 teams weren’t at 100% until July. No fans were allowed to attend regular season games in 2020.

MLB attendance had been declining slowly for years – even before the pandemic – after hitting its high mark of 79.4 million in 2007. This year’s 64.6 million fans is the fewest in a non-COVID-19 season since the sport expanded to 30 teams in 1998.

The lost attendance has been balanced in some ways by higher viewership on the sport’s MLB.TV streaming service. Viewers watched 11.5 billion minutes of content in 2022, which was a record high and up nearly 10% from 2021.