DENVER -- Baseball's most loyal fans
have turned their backs.
After years of attending games no matter what
happened on the field,
Rockies fans are staying away. For the first time in the club's
10-year history, Colorado's season-ticket base has dropped below 20,000.
Whether it's from a shaky economy or seven straight years of missing
the playoffs, support for the Rockies has clearly waned.
"We got rid of our season tickets," Carolyn Myers of Thornton said
before Colorado's home opener against Arizona Friday. "We couldn't make
it to all the games. It just wasn't worth it and we couldn't get anyone
to take them."
Rockies fans set a high standard from the start.
At Colorado's first home game, on April 9, 1993, a league-record
80,227 fans packed into Mile High Stadium. The Rockies won just 67 games
that season, but nearly 4.5 million still came out to support the home
team, breaking the league record by over 400,000.
And it didn't stop there.
Despite making the playoffs just once, in 1995, Colorado led the
league in attendance from 1993-99. The Rockies averaged more than 40,000
fans per game their first eight seasons and had a 203-game sellout
streak from 1995 to 1997.
"One thing about playing there is we have tremendous fan support,"
Larry Walker said. "That's a huge factor. So many organizations
don't have that."
But in recent years, more seats have gone empty.
Colorado's attendance has declined each of the past five seasons and
was just 2.7 million last year -- the first time it dipped below 3.1
million. The Rockies never had drawn a single-game crowd smaller than
30,000 until last year, when it happened 29 times.
The trend has continued this season.
Despite a Coors Field record crowd of 50,622 for a chilly home opener
on Friday, Colorado's season-ticket sales are down to about 18,300 -- a
25 percent drop from last year.
"From what we've been hearing, a lot of it has to do with the
economy," said Kevin Fenton of Colorado's ticket operations department.
"It's tough on groups when one of the partners has to back out. When
someone loses their job or have to take a job that doesn't pay as much,
it's tougher to handle 81 games."
Particularly when the team isn't winning.
Since 1995, Colorado has failed to win 80 games four times and has
finished no higher than third in the National League West. Fans were
willing to fork over money for a losing team when it was relatively new,
but the novelty has worn off.
"Our fans have been tremendous through the whole process," Rockies
owner Jerry McMorris said. "We're going through a tough period right
now. Some of it is our play on the field, some of it is the economy and
the war times that we're in. We need to put a good product on the field,
we know that, and we are committed to that."
But the Rockies can still count on certain segment of the fan base.
"It's obvious why I'm here," said Antonio Chacon, father of Rockies
Shawn Chacon of Greeley, Colo. "I'll be here every five days."