“They’re” seeing good baseball at the Stadium, and there’s lots of “them.”
Midway through the latest ULB season, the Roadrunners are drawing well, at nearly 2,400 a pop, which is almost 40 percent better than last year’s numbers. The atmosphere is hopping, especially Thursday through Sunday, and the fact that the team has led the league from the start only adds to the fun these days.
Saturday marked a doubleheader with the visiting Laredo Broncos, starting at 6 p.m. at 5:45 the field was dusty as the Sahara, only a handful of fans sat fanning and panting in the stifling humidity, and the most activity in the sultry dugouts was a constant battle against WhiteWings-size mosquitoes. But 30 minutes later, the game was on, the play was excellent, and people began to trickle into the park. Another solid crowd on a day that exemplified what has happened from one year to the next.
The Runners fell short, 1-0 but put on a super show, battling all the way. They have never given up on a ball game yet this season, and have a quality club all the way around.
Now the changes. While 2009 was somewhat slow, mainly due to new management taking over late in the spring and having to play catchup with promotions, relationships and personnel, general manager Doug Leary’s second season has been vastly different.
“I knew that we would struggle last year because of the time thing,” he admitted Saturday before the doubleheader. “But I’ve been in this business a long time and I knew if we could just hold on and work hard, this year would be way better.”
With a full offseason to work on getting ready, Leary and his staff have hit a ground-rule double, increasing attendance, signage in the outfield, and the number of special items on the game day routine.
For a guy who had worked all over the country with a variety of sports, this is more like it.
“The idea is for people to see what you got, they like it, and theykeep coming out, maybe the spread the word,” he said. “Now, I don’t have all the answers, I can still learn something about this business after 30 years. We just want to get people interested…we had to go through last year to prove ourselves, and I think we’re doing OK now.”
Manager Vince Moore, who has been a part of the Edinburg baseball for the better part of a decade, is also excited about the renewed enthusiasm with the franchise.
“The crowds have gotten better this year, you can really tell it,” said the man who won a title with the original Roadrunners back in 2004 and has been skipper for six seasons now. “And the team definitely likes that. Now, are the crowds as big as they were back in’04? Not yet, but you have to keep in mind, that was one of the great teams ever, we ran away with the league.”
There are still the diehards who would come to the ballpark even in a snowstorm. The Runners are trying to use the media, including social outlets like Facebook, to get folks on board. Inviting a different Little League baseball team every couple of nights is a good hook, and so are the usual games and antics between innings, paced by the dozen Diamond Dolls.
Moore and Co. understand that the second incarnation of the ‘Runners started out in 2006 (as the Coyotes) with a hill to climb. He’s stated many times that the way the city and the team battled back and forth was ugly and probably cost his club 1,000 fans.
“But sooner or later, bygones are going to bygones,” Moore suggested. “Meanwhile, we continue to come out here and play hard, doing out best. This summer has been encouraging.”
The combination is a winning one so far: sharp game management and preparation, energized staff, and a first-place ball club on the field. The visiting Broncos, whose attendance in Laredo is less than a third of Edinburg’s were envious of the park and the Diamond Dolls.
“Man, they got some nice stuff here,” said one as he craned his neck over the dugout roof to take a gander at the set-up. “This park is sweet!”