The Cleveland Indians

The Cleveland Indians suffered among the deepest declines in attendance this year at Goodyear Ballpark. (Photo courtesy city of Goodyear)

After a cold, wet start, the Cactus League recently staged a late-inning rally at stadiums across the Valley.

As temperatures rose and skies cleared last weekend, Mother Nature’s clutch play drove up attendance at most Cactus League stadiums.

But nowhere was the impact more visible than at Mesa’s Sloan Park, where over 16,000 fans basked in the sun on St. Patrick’s Day as the Chicago Cubs – the Cactus League’s perennial meal ticket – helped propel a late surge in attendance.

The latest Cactus League statistics, through the March 20 games, show that Sloan Park and Cubs fans are the clean-up hitters in the Cactus League’s rally from the dismal weather that gripped the league when spring training began.

The Cubs had drawn 189,041 through 14 games, for an average crowd of 13,569.

Elsewhere in the League, the usual teams were leading in attendance at a level far below the Cubs’ benchmark. The Dodgers and the San Francisco Giants were locked in a close battle for second place in the attendance sweepstakes.

The Giants have drawn 128,041 to Scottsdale Stadium through 14 games – an average of 9,146 a game and an average 583 fewer fans than a year ago. 

The Dodgers have drawn about 300 more fans than the Giants, 128,475 through 13 games, but were still down 271 fans per game at Camelback Ranch in Glendale.

The Los Angles Angels of Anaheim had drawn 102,471 through 15 games for an average crowd of 6,831 at Tempe Diablo Stadium; and the Oakland Athletics had drawn 58,978 in a 10-game schedule, for an average crowd of 5,898 at Hohokam Stadium.

The Cleveland Indians suffered among the deepest declines in attendance this year at Goodyear Ballpark. The Indians had drawn 70,481 through 13 games – an average of 5,422, a decline of 1,045 fans per game.

A rare series of five rainouts throughout the league on March 12 seemed like a distant memory, however, as fans laid out on blankets in the sun on the outfield berm behind the left field fence at Sloan recently.

Even though the Arizona Diamondbacks were rained out at Salt River Fields at Talking Stick on March 12, the Cubs got in their game against the Cincinnati Reds on that cold, damp night and still drew 12,536 fans.

“The weather wasn’t perfect. It was cold, not Cactus League-like,’’ said Tim Baughman, president of the Mesa HoHoKams, a civic organization that raises about $500,000 a year for charity by parking cars and performing other duties at Sloan Park and Hohokam Stadium. 

Cactus League President Jeff Meyer predicted the strong finish, attributing the sluggish start to more games starting too early in February and the unseasonably cool temperatures.

“It’s down, but it’s early,’’ Meyer said, referring to league statistics that reflected a decline in the average number of fans per game at most Cactus League stadiums through March 12. 

“I’m optimistic about it. I think we will have pretty good success,” he added. “I can tell with the traffic.’’

Overall, incomplete statistics through 190 games for the season showed the Cactus League has attracted 1,440,976 fans – 355,427 fewer than last year so far, with an average crowd per game of 7,584, a drop of 126 fans from a year ago. 

With two sellout games against the 2018 World Champion Boston Red Sox, who as of print time were scheduled to make a highly unusual Cactus League appearance at Sloan on March 25 and March 26, it appeared the Cubs will easily erase an early season attendance deficit.