June 7, 2013

Minor League Baseball: the California League (Class A-Advanced).

Filed under: Baseball,Baseball: MiLB Class A — admin @ 8:26 pm

Minor League Baseball: the California League (Class A-Advanced)

I tried something different on this map. I have always been curious about population distribution within the state of California, so I decided to find city and metro populations in California. I listed them on the map and then I added circles radiating out from city-centers, to show where the greater metropolitan areas spread out to. {Note: see bottom of post for population sources.} All of the circles-which-represent-metro-areas emanate out from as central a point within a given city as I could depict, with the exception of Greater Sacramento, with the central-point being far to the east, because that is how the US Census Bureau defines Greater Sacramento. It makes sense, because most folks in the far outer reaches of the north-eastern edge of the Greater San Francisco/Bay Area metro-area wouldn’t be caught dead going to Sacramento for any reason. In Sacramento’s defense I must point out that their PCL ball club the Sacramento River Cats are one of the highest-drawing teams (at 8,455 per game last season) in the entire Organized Baseball minor league system (See link below).

2012 Affiliated Attendance by League [all minor leagues in Organized Baseball which charge for attendance (15 leagues)]‘ (

The California League is a 10-team Class A-Advanced level league, which is 3 levels below the Major Leagues. The other Class A-Advanced leagues are the Florida State League and the Carolina League. The California League gets pretty bad attendance, especially considering how populous central California is. According to the site {}, the California League averaged 2,293 per game in 2012, with just 2 of its 12 teams averaging over 3,000 per game (those two teams with the best attendance in the California League in 2012 were the Lake Elsinore Storm and the San Jose Giants). That means in Organized Baseball in 2012, of the 15 minor leagues which measure attendance, a whopping 6 leagues placed at the same level or lower than the California League outdrew the California League. Those leagues are: the Midwest League (1 level lower in Class-A level) at 3,730 per game in 2012; the Carolina League (in the same level as the California League) at 3,520 per game in 2012; the New York-Penn League (2 levels lower, in the Short Season-A level) at 3,290 per game in 2012; the South Atlantic League (1 level lower, in the Class-A level) at 3,279 per game in 2012; the Northwest League (2 levels lower, in the Short Season-A level) at 2,979 per game in 2012; and the Pioneer League (3 levels lower (!), in the Rookie League classification) at 2,317 per game in 2012.
[Note: here is a mitigating detail - If you throw out the worst-drawing California League team (Bakersfield Blaze, at 637 per game in 2012), the league average increases 183 per game to 2,476 per game in 2012 {see further below}.]

OK, so California has over 38 million people. And every California League team has several hundreds of thousands of people living within 1 hour’s driving distance of their ballparks. There is, with the notable exception of a few teams in the New York-Penn League and the Midwest League, by far more people nearby to every California League team (except High Desert Mavericks) than to most teams in the leagues listed in the previous paragraph. So why, with all those many hundreds of thousands of people close to every California League team, is it so hard for a Class A-Advanced team in California to even draw a paltry 2,500 people to a game?

What is the reason why Class A baseball in California is ignored by the vast majority of people in California? Maybe all the local news shows at the network stations in Los Angeles and in the Bay Area and in Bakersfield and in other inland cities within the Central Valley in the state don’t cover the California League at all, and potential California League ticket-buyers never materialize because there is so little media exposure. Maybe. But New York City sports media does not cover the minor leagues. By that I mean the major NYC sports media (ie, local network television stations in NYC and major NYC newspapers [the New York Times; the Daily News; the NY Post]). They all do not cover, on a regular basis, the Brooklyn Cyclones (based in Coney Island) or coastal New Jersey’s Lakewood BlueClaws. But why is it despite the major-sports-media blackout those metro-NYC-based-lower-level-minor-league teams regularly can draw over 6,000 per game? [Brooklyn Cyclones (NY-Penn League/Short Season A-Level) drew 6,553 per game in 2012; Lakewood BlueClaws (South Atlantic League/Class A-Level) drew 6,031 per game.] And granted, the economy in the Central Valley in California is really bad, and unemployment is above the national average. This has affected some teams’ gates (like the Rancho Cucamonga Quakes, who were getting 4,155 per game in 2007, but drew just 2,296 per game in 2012). But actually, as a whole, the poor economy in the post-2008 era has only made a very slight negative impact in crowd size throughout the California League – in 2007 the California League averaged 2,375 per game, so that is a drop off of only 82 per game compared to the 2012 league average of 2,293 {see this/I had to do the math to arrive at that 2,375 league-average figure for 2007 because the official California League site didn’t bother to}. So since the economy tanked in 2008, the California League has only seen a cumulative drop-off of less than 100 paying customers per game. In other words, the poor attendance in the California League is a problem that goes deeper than the poor economy.

I think there is a cultural mechanism at work here that is depressing lower-level minor league baseball attendance in California (and in Florida, with respect to the even-worse-supported Class A-Advanced league the Florida State League [which drew only 1,592 per game in 2012]). I think people in California and in Florida look at lower-level minor league baseball as something to avoid. I think they think it is beneath them to go to attend inexpensive lower-level minor league baseball games. They think it is beneath them, and they think baseball is boring, especially if its not being played in a large stadium. They don’t see going to a lower-level minor league game as a fun and inexpensive thing to do. They see it as pretty lame and devoid of anything they find entertaining. Whereas a significantly higher proportion of people in the Upper Midwest and in the Carolinas and throughout the Eastern Seaboard and in the small cities of the Rocky Mountains and even in the biggest cities on the East Coast see it as pretty fun and relaxing, and sure as heck cheaper than a whole lot of other recreational activities. And it supports the community. So the Class A-Short season team the Brooklyn Cyclones draws over 6,500 per game in the entertainment capital that is New York City (where there are hundreds of other entertainment options available), but the overwhelming majority of the people in the outskirts of Los Angeles or Miami or the Bay Area or Tampa/St. Pete or from the inland cities in both California and Florida avoid lower-level minor league baseball like the plague. And if you say, well, they have better stadiums in all those other lower-level minor leagues that outdraw the California League and the Florida League, well that is not true. Granted, the newest stadium in the California League, Banner Island Ballpark (which opened in 2005) in Stockton is hampered by the fact that Stockton is such a dangerous urban miasma these days {see this (}. But San Bernardino’s Inland Empire 66ers play in a stadium, San Manuel Stadium, that is 17 years old and it has been maintained well and it gets glowing reviews {see this, ‘San Manuel Stadium, San Bernardino, California‘ ( – but the 66ers, despite being a Los Angeles Angels’ farm team, and despite being part of a metro-area of 4.2 million (see the map for figures) cannot even get 2,500 per game these days.

And how come San Jose, right there next to that dynamic economy in Silicon Valley, still hasn’t moved beyond an antiquated stadium that was built in 1942 and that is filled with worn out paint-chipped bleachers (see photo further below)? The city of San Jose has a larger city-population than the city-poulation of San Francisco. San Jose has around 984,000 people (2012 estimate), making it around 89,000 larger than San Francisco (at 825,000). Yet the pro ball club from a city the size of San Jose (basically a city of 1 million) can only draw 3,101 per game. You could say San Bernardino (where the Inland Empire 66ers play, there in the Central Valley) is really hit hard with 15% unemployment, so it might be more understandable that their team, despite being surrounded by literally millions of people there on the edge of Greater Los Angeles, can only draw 2,400 these days. But San Jose, right there between all the money in San Francisco and in Silicon Valley, can only get 3,100 per game? Meanwhile, several (eight) ball clubs at the same minor league level or lower, in corollary situations with respect to there being a large Major League city within 60 miles of a minor-league team, can all draw well over 4,000 per game. Specifically, in Dayton, Ohio (8,532 per game for the Class-A Dayton Dragons) and Kane County, Illinois (5,587 per game for the Class-A Kane County Cougars) and Aberdeen, Maryland (6,447 per game for the Class A-Short Season Aberdeen IronBirds) and Wilmington, Delaware (4,235 per game for the Class A-Advanced Wilmington Blue Rocks) and Lakewood Township, New Jersey (6,031 per game for the aforementioned Class A Lakewood Blue Claws) and Wappingers Falls, New York (4,373 per game for the Class A-Short Season Hudson Valley Renegades) and Brooklyn, NYC, New York (6,553 per game for the aforementioned Class A-Short Season Brooklyn Cyclones) and Lowell, Massachusetts (4,547 per game for the Class A-Short Season Lowell Spinners). So, despite drawing the highest in the California League, you can see via the above 8 examples how San Jose should actually be drawing much higher.

Then there is Bakersfield’s Bakersfield Blaze – they have been drawing below 1,000 per game for 3 seasons now {see this article and the 2nd chart at}. There are 851,000 people in the Greater Bakersfield metro area, yet for two straight seasons they have failed to draw more than 637 per game to Class A-Advanced baseball games. Bakerfield’s metro-area is the 5th-largest metro-area in California, and the 63rd-largest metro-area in the USA {see this}. Yet still – 637 per game – for a pro team just three steps away from the Major Leagues. 637 per game is such a bad attendance figure for such a relatively large city that it is really hard to wrap your head around the concept.

Bakersfield’s ballpark is pretty inadequate (with no roof, for a team named after the blazing sun), but still…637 per game? That 637 per game was, in fact, the worst attendance in all of Organized Baseball in 2012. Towns 40 times smaller, with populations below 20,000, that have teams in the Rookie League Appalachian League (there are several) outdraw Bakersfield’s ball club. A town like Bakersfield, whose chief economic drivers are the nearby Edwards Air Force Base, petroleum extraction, and farming, shows its priorities here. And one of its priorities is ignoring its pro baseball team for over 20 years and leaving it to die a slow death by forcing it to play in one of the, if not the, worst ballparks in Organized Baseball. Here is what a commenter said at this article at the, …{excerpt}…’I don’t live in Bakersfield, but I have followed the plight of the Blaze closely over the years. Specifically, the fact that the team and city haven’t been able to come up with a plan for a new ballpark is very, very sad. Frankly, it makes the city look bad that its baseball team plays in such a second-rate facility as Sam Lynn Ballpark. Do you know why the Blaze has had so many different Major League parents? It’s because no Big League team wants its minor leaguers playing at Sam Lynn. I’ve visited just about every pro baseball park in America, and I’d be hard-pressed to tell you one that is worse than the one in Bakersfield.’…{end of excerpt from comment by joebaseballparks}.

If you just want to blame the politicians in Bakersfield and in Kern County for this, I ask you, why has the been no real public pressure to address this situation which has festered for over 20 years? And its not like there is that much competition for the sports entertainment dollar in Bakersfield and in Kern County, except for an ECHL team, and a NASCAR venue about 125 miles northeast of Bakersfield in Fontana. The closest major league sports teams and well-supported college teams are the teams from Los Angeles, around 100 miles south. So there is literally no sports entertainment competition to the Bakersfield Blaze for around one hundred miles and they still can’t get even close to 1,000 per game. In the photo further below you can see how stark and unadorned and bare-bones the Bakersfield Blaze’s ballpark is. The stands make it look like a high school stadium from a town with a low tax base. There is no roof to protect you from that inevitably blazing sun, and most of the seats are aluminum planks. You could probably get second-degree burns from those bleachers during a day game in August there.

The new ownership that bought the Bakersfield Blaze in 2012 have plans to build a new stadium using their own funding (and not the financial backing of the city of Bakersfield or of Kern County), see this, ‘Long-awaited plans unveiled for a new Bakersfield Blaze ballpark‘ (by John Cox at But as it says in that article, building a new ballpark in Bakersfield …{excerpt}…’carries financial risks for the team’s new owners. By their own estimate, the new stadium will have to draw an average of 2,500 spectators per game, or about five times the typical Blaze home game at Sam Lynn’… {end of excerpt}.

Below: the worst-drawing team in all of the Affiliated minor leagues – the Bakersfield Blaze.
Photo credit above –

The 3 highest-drawing teams in the California League -
the Lake Elsinore Storm, the San Jose Giants, and the Stockton Ports.

Lake Elsinore Storm, 3,243 per game attendance in 2012.
Photo credits above –

San Jose Giants, 3,101 per game attendance in 2012.
Photo credits above –

Stockton Ports, 2,868 per game in 2012.
Photo credits above -–Home-Cap.
Stockton Ports via

Photo and Image credits on map page -
Bakersfield Blaze,
Modesto Nuts,
San Jose Giants, at
Stockton Ports, [Stockton Ports' page at ].
Visalia Rawhide,

High Desert Mavericks,
Inland Empire 66ers,
Lake Elsinore Storm, SD Dirk at via (Southwest Riverside News Network site).
Lancaster JetHawks,
Rancho Cucamonga Quakes, Brandon S. at; Brandon S. at

For attendance figures thanks to, ‘Stats by League‘.

Thanks to JimIrwin at for the population-density map of California, at ‘Demographics of California‘

Thanks to the contributors to the pages at -
California League‘.
List of Combined Statistical Areas [USA]‘.
California statistical areas‘.

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