Why it's wrong to attendance-shame Cleveland Indians fans during their record winning streak

From Francisco Lindor's nine-homer power surge to Corey Kluber's mound dominance, the Cleveland Indians have racked up ridiculous numbers as they've rolled to an American League record 21 consecutive wins.

One Indians statistic, however, seems insufficient to many watching this run: Attendance.

So far, overflow crowds at Progressive Field - capacity just above 35,000 - have not been part of the streak's narrative.

MORE ON THE STREAK

When the Indians returned from an 11-0 road trip with the streak at 15 games, they drew crowds of 30,000 Friday and Saturday against the Baltimore Orioles, and 21,000 for a game switched to Sunday night.

They won all those games, running the streak to 18, but while the streak lasted well into the week, the turnstile fever did not.

Just 18,521 saw the Indians win their 19th consecutive game on Monday, followed by crowds of 24,654 for the AL record-tying 20th win Tuesday night and 29,346 for No. 21 on Wednesday afternoon.

The final two games included walk-up crowds over 10,000. That was not enough to ward off the attendance-shamers, however. 

As any well-paid athlete knows, there's never a shortage of people telling you how to spend your money. That notion extends to fandom, as well, that if somehow your stadia are not bursting with blindly allegiant fans every night, your metropolitan area is somehow softer than others.

The heat gets turned up even more when the product is good. And right now, the Indians' product couldn't be better: A dominant team coming off a pennant-winning season in the midst of a record-breaking streak.

Yet, that doesn't mean the good folks of Cleveland should be derided for empty seats amid Indians fever.

Cleveland is shrinking: And has been for decades. It peaked in the 1940s, when more than 900,000 people called it home, but it's been a slow bleed since. The 2010 census saw Cleveland's population dwindle to 396,000, its 17% drop the biggest population loss among major league markets outside of Detroit.

The city is rallying - investments in tech, medicine and infrastructure have resulted in a gain in college-educated residents and jobs. Yet that only means the city is shrinking at a slower rate than before. The most recent Census Bureau estimate puts the 2017 population at 385,809, a 3% drop from 2010. And as the Cleveland Plain Dealer notes, the suburbs of Cuyahoga County have lost even more people - nearly 20,000 since 2010.

Still, the populace is expected to support three professional sports teams - and the Indians aren't the one with the world's most famous athlete.

Consider that down the road in Columbus - one of the USA's boom towns - the citizenry only has to support two major professional teams (Blue Jackets, Buckeyes). Its population: 860,090.

The Indians' attendance is commensurate with market size: There have been plenty of tweets of this nature in recent days: 

Well, it could have something to do with the fact that Cleveland is the 25th-biggest major league market, as calculated by Major League Baseball in the recently-expired Collective Bargaining Agrement. The Indians have since moved past the Phillies - the ninth-biggest market - and now rank 23rd, with an average crowd of 24,849.

Indians fans have responded to a winner: Average attendance is up 27% from last year's 19,650. The season-ticket base, in the wake of the 2016 AL pennant, went from around 8,000 to around 13,000. That's a very nice increase, but it still leaves a lot of seats to fill. That they've managed to bump the average gate to nearly 25,000 speaks well of the walk-up populace.

It's September: It's a problem for every major league team: The kids go back to school, life's pace quickens, football on every level sucks up a lot of attention. Would it be nice to drop everything and head to the yard simply because the local nine have run off a few wins in a row? Certainly.

But reality is far different for most working families. Just ask Ned Yost how it worked out when he expressed disappointment at a late-summer crowd in Kansas City.

It'd make better theater if more than 35,000 came to bear witness. If not, well, it's hardly anything Clevelanders should be ashamed of. 

© 2017 USATODAY.COM


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