I made it pretty clear in my column last week how much I love baseball. So when I drove past Rent One Park in Marion earlier this week, it hit me like a ton of bricks.
I couldn’t help but think how much I’m going to miss the Southern Illinois Miners games this summer. Not just because I worked there for 13 years as an official scorekeeper, but because there will be 50 fewer opportunities for people in our area to watch professional baseball.
I absolutely hate that Rent One Park – a beautiful facility – is devoid of nighttime activity except for maybe a handful of concerts.
There will be no more minor baseball in Marion. There will be no more that rare guy who climbs all the way to the Majors after making a brief pit stop in southern Illinois, which makes us say, “I remember him when.”
In news that surprised many fans, the Miners folded on Wednesday after 14 years.
There will be no more Lucky and his Little Luckies parading down the field and taunting the opposition in the cutest way. There will be no more music to hear before the batter enters the batter’s box. More visual effects from a new, large video board. The Glass Doctor ad will no longer play every time a foul ball leaves the stadium.
People also read…
There will no longer be special theme nights for fans attending games like Star Wars Night, Super Heroes Night or Cardinals vs Cubs Night. No more first pitches. There will no longer be auctions of game-worn jerseys or other sports memorabilia to raise money for a good cause.
There will be no more fireworks after Friday night home games. The Godfather’s music will no longer play in the background while manager Mike Pinto rants and raves with a referee. There will be no more silly and fun games for kids and adults between rounds.
There will no longer be any area Hall of Fame coaches recognized and immortalized with plaques in the team suite. No more Grounder or Big John. No more miniature golf. No more bag games. No more home run derby or play areas for children.
And most importantly, another form of relatively inexpensive family entertainment has disappeared while there are few valuable options here in southern Illinois.
The first two years (2007 and 2008), sold-out crowds were routine. In fact, the Miners were the best draw in the entire Frontier League. They were the toast of the town, baby. People were eager to get to the ballpark.
But interest began to wane in the years that followed, although the team continued to be successful. Crowds of 5,000 to 6,000 became crowds of 2,500 to 3,000, and then eventually 1,000 to 1,500. And it was prepaid attendance. Actual attendance for most parties in recent years has been 500 or less during the week. Only Friday and Saturday evenings have attracted well in recent years.
A combination of things, I would say. People’s attention spans, for example. Baseball has become a much longer game than it was decades ago. An average nine-inning game today lasts around three hours, and some, worryingly, are approaching 3 1/2 to 4 hours. It’s just too long, even if there’s no school the next day.
The fact that the Miners were not part of a Major League Baseball-affiliated franchise may also have hurt attendance. I’ve often wondered how many more people would have come if the Miners were related to Cardinals or Cubs.
And it didn’t help that there were very few players from SIU, let alone from the Southern Illinois region, who found their way to the underage roster. Add to the fact that there was always a high volume of staff turnover and one could argue that Southern Illinois fans had no one to identify with on a regular basis.
Team owners John and Jayne Simmons are to be commended for taking the leap 15 years ago and making the Miners a reality. It was good for Marion. It was good for southern Illinois.
And while some area high schools and colleges will continue to use the facilities for games, professional baseball is gone. All we have left are memories.