By Kyle Nagel
Friday, June 08, 2007
Cincinnati resident Chris Heldman has tickets for Saturday's Reds game against the Cleveland Indians. As a lifelong Reds fan, he'll be watching closely, both because of his allegiance to the team and to the 2,594 other Reds fans he talks with often.
"I know if they lose, there will be a lot of debate on the site," Heldman said.
A co-founder of the popular Reds discussion Web site RedsZone.com, Heldman is in a unique position to judge the pulse of the Cincinnati fan base. Lately, as the Reds have fallen to the bottom of baseball, more and more fans have turned against their hometown team.
With a little more than one-third of the season completed and 53 home games remaining — beginning with tonight's three-game series opener against the Indians — some who spend time observing large amounts of fans say the Reds could be facing a lonely summer along the Ohio River.
Even if giveaway nights, minor-league call-ups and good weather maintain the attendance at GABP, those in the seats will likely be soured or mostly indifferent to the Reds, whose 9-21 record in May put them in a fight with the Texas Rangers and Kansas City Royals for the dubious bragging point of baseball's worst record.
As boos rained on seemingly every bullpen appearance, Reds fans came closer and closer to turning their attention to the Bengals, Heldman said.
"These are very, very pessimistic fans right now," said Heldman, whose site has more than 2,500 members. "They might end up choosing yard work over an afternoon at the stadium."
Very little optimism
On the popular social networking site MySpace.com, a cluster of 1,817 users has formed a group supporting the Reds. This Reds page includes a message board, where, on April 3, a topic emerged titled "reds finishing 1st?"
Since, as the losses have piled, so has the resentment. Using sarcasm and language usually saved for manager-umpire confrontations, the younger generation of Reds fans has revolted.
Lately, the topic titles have ranged from "Stop Going to their Games" to "I can't stand it any more," and those thoughts get response. On May 23, a user named Carlos wrote, "whats the name of the florence team? we should just start rooting for them lol."
The Reds' struggles are also affecting other parts of Cincinnati. At GameDay Sports Café, a popular Cincinnati bar less than a block from GABP, business has significantly dropped.
Mark Schroeder, a manager, said this week that GameDay hosted about 20 people watching road games against St. Louis. That number has dropped from the 50 or so who gather around the televisions when the Reds are winning.
"They lose seven games straight and we lose 70 percent of our customers," Schroeder said. "We've got every television package you can think of, but if no one's interested there's not much you can do."
Still some story lines
Chad Dotson's career has taken him to Wise, Va., where the longtime Cincinnati-area resident is now a state court judge. But, through his popular Reds blog Redlegnation.com, which he maintains with four friends, Dotson stays connected to Reds fans all around the country.
He hears the same aggravations.
"A lot of people wonder why they're not doing anything to try to improve the bullpen," Dotson said. "That's the main frustration."
Still, Dotson sees plenty of reasons to make the four-hour drive from southwest Virginia with his wife and two children for their usual 10 or 12 Reds games this summer. Homer Bailey, the Reds' top minor-league prospect, will make his major-league debut tonight, and many hope he enters the starting rotation. Outfielder Josh Hamilton, who missed nearly four years of baseball because of injury and drug abuse, has emerged as a potential star and one of the best stories around baseball this season.
Plus, Dotson said, the Reds could rally in a weak division. The Milwaukee Brewers, who lead the National League Central, have the worst record for a division leader in baseball. As of Thursday, the Reds trailed Milwaukee by 11 games, but they are six games behind sub-.500 St. Louis for second place.
"A good run is not out of the question," Dotson said.
But not all Reds supporters are as optimistic, so the team will likely battle fan malaise throughout the summer months as they struggle to fill the seats.
"I'm a Bengals season-ticket holder," said Heldman, of RedsZone.com, "and that's coming up fast in my rearview mirror."
As the Cincinnati Reds battle to avoid the worst record in baseball, the marketing machine has been working overtime to fill the stadium for an interleague homestand over the next nine games. Here is a sampling of some giveaways and events for fans:
Today Bronson Arroyo cap night
Saturday Cincinnati Zoo Bald Eagle Flight
Sunday A Tribute to Reds Broadcasters
Tuesday Bleacher Discount Special ($5 bleacher tickets)
Wednesday Aaron Harang Bobblehead Night
June 15 Ken Griffey Jr. Checklist Poster Night
Despite sub-.500 records, the Cincinnati Reds have drawn more fans in July and August than in April and May each of the past three seasons. Even though it can be easier to get to summer games, attendance hasn't fallen off like some would expect.
Year April/May Avg. July/Aug. Avg.
2004 25,749 28,982
2005 23,458 25,527
2006 23,644 30,366
2007 23,219 TBD