Breaking News Bar

Complacency can ruin a good thing: Miners battling to remain relevant

 
updated: 6/19/2019 3:26 PM

Are the Southern Illinois Miners being taken for granted by the people of the region?

Based on league attendance figures, it would certainly appear so.

Once the Frontier League leader in paid attendance, Southern Illinois currently ranks sixth out of 10 teams. Gateway, Schaumburg, Joliet, Evansville and Florence, Kentucky are all outdrawing the Miners as we head toward the latter part of June.

Only Lake Erie, Washington, Pennsylvania, Windy City and River City are lagging back of S.I.

Through 14 home games, the Miners are averaging 1,938 fans per night. In their heyday -- 2007 through 2010 -- they consistently averaged over 4,000, leading the league each year. By comparison, only once this season have the Miners drawn upward of 4,000 fans and that was this past Friday night with a reported 5,700-plus audience.

And we're talking paid attendance here, not actual butts in the seats. In reality, only a few hundred fans attend on those nights not starting with the letter "F." And that's unacceptable.

This is not just a Marion concern; it's a regional concern.

Nobody will ever mistake the Miners for the Cardinals or Cubs, but it is professional baseball and it costs a whole heck of a lot less.

As someone who has worked for the team as an official scorer for 12 of the team's 13 seasons, it is my take that the Miners could run the table -- not lose another game -- and I'm not sure the turnout would be significantly altered.

In short, people don't seem to have the patience they once had. The younger generation looks for instant gratification. They're far too enamored with social media than to watch a nine-inning game. You simply won't find too many teens, or 20 and 30 somethings at a ballgame that runs anywhere from 2½ to 3 hours in length. Or if they do show, they won't stay to the end.

Baseball -- from the Majors on down -- understands that adjustments must be made to the game in order to speed things up a little, keep fan interest. But too many changes chip away at the game's integrity.

In visiting with Miners Manager and COO Mike Pinto, it wasn't hard to see his frustration over the lack of numbers at Rent One.

The baseball part of the equation works to the Miners benefit. The team has been a clear-cut success since the gates opened in 2007. Southern Illinois has enjoyed a winning season 11 of the first 12 seasons, and all indications so far this year point to yet another winning season.

"We're the winningest team in Frontier League history over that period of time," Pinto said. "And there is nobody with a better winning percentage. We've won four division championships and the one league championship (2012). We've really been successful from the baseball side of things," he said.

Even with the Miners out of the equation, Rent One Park has played host to a variety pack of events -- high school and college baseball; graduations and proms; some top-notch concerts, a winter wonderland; Colt League World Series, and now a professional women's softball team that just so happens to be the Canadian national team preparing for a run a the Olympics in 2020. "These are some of the best players in the world right here in this park," Pinto said.

And there have been myriad changes within the stadium itself. What used to be an inflatable games zone for kids has been changed to a Wiffle ball field in an area down the left field line. The area behind the center field fence has been turned into a miniature golf course. The right field concourse area now houses The Hot Corner with Ping-Pong tables, Foosball games, big-screen TVs and a bags area for kids and adults.

There is also rail seating for adults to enjoy a beverage from one of the better vantage points of the ballpark. Additionally, there is a home plate bar and new table seating for those who want the best view of the game.

If that weren't enough, owners Jayne and John Simmons invested $700,000 in a new state-of-the-art high-definition video board and will also purchase new field turf.

With a will to adapt, Pinto has embraced the teachings of Disney to enhance the overall experience for Miners fans.

"We're always looking at what could be different, what could be better than what we already have," Pinto said.

But is it enough?

Will the people of Southern Illinois rally around the franchise and turn out to watch the games and keep this business vibrant, or will the lack of interest grow and thus lead to the company's demise.

Sometimes, people don't realize just how good they have it until they don't have "IT" anymore.

"We are part of this community," Pinto said. "Although born and raised in Chicago, I've spent so much time here in Southern Illinois. We believe in giving back to the community. Our players go the local schools and libraries and read to kids. We participate in an anti-bullying campaign sponsored by Peoples Bank. Our Miners Charities raise money for the people of this region. And we'vw collected used sporting goods to be distributed to kids in need."

They're doing their part. Will Southern Illinoisans return the favor?

  • This article filed under:
  • News