Reading helps Thunder shatter attendance mark
The nearly 30,000 fans that visited Waterfront Park since Thursday to see the Thunder host Reading sent a clear message to the Eastern League:
They want more than four games per-season played in Trenton between two of the EL’s closest, and most natural, rivals.
The R-Phils avoided a four-game sweep with a 4-0 victory in front of 6,058 at Sam Plumeri Sr. Field today, a total that helped the Thunder shatter a franchise record for the most fans (29,805) to watch a four-game series in the 17-year history of the stadium.
The previous mark that did not feature a major league rehabilitation assignment was 29,451 set Aug. 11-14 of 2000 against Norwich.
“Having Reading here means more to us than any other affiliate,’’ Thunder general manager Will Smith said. “Obviously, this being a weekend series in the middle of July with summertime weather, it was a perfect storm for us. But there is no doubt having Reading play here is good for business. This helps a ton.’’
Against Reading, the Thunder posted three of their top four attendance figures of the 2010 season, including bar-setting numbers of 7,953 Friday and 7,964 for Saturday’s dramatic victory that featured a decisive three-run home run by Justin Christian and a game-saving play at the plate in the ninth inning by reliever Kevin Whelan and catcher Austin Romine.
The previous single-game high this season was a gathering of 7,853 on May 16 against Binghamton.
In yet another quirk of an historically difficult-to-figure EL schedule, the four games since Thursday represent Reading’s only trip into Trenton this season despite the fact the two franchises play in the same division (Eastern) and are located a mere 83 miles apart.
Conversely, the Thunder will host New Hampshire _ located nearly six hours and 325 miles away _ 13 times in 2010.
“I don’t know why it was only one series this year, to be honest with you,’’ Smith said. “It’s not like we traded out of it, or that it got taken away. It’s kind of a bummer. I tried to swing a deal after the (2010) schedule was finalized, but it didn’t work out. The league is aware that we would like to have more games against them. We’ve tried. We’ve lobbied. (The schedule) is a product of various things, with league travel probably the most significant factor.’’
Thunder starter D.J. Mitchell (7-4) allowed a one-out, three-run home run to Reading first baseman Matt Rizzotti in the first inning and that was the beginning of the end for the Thunder (56-38) and their all-star starter, who did not allow a run the rest of the way (seven innings) despite three walks.
Eastern League Pitcher of the Week Vance Worley (9-4) was brilliant for Reading (45-48), yielding just three singles over eight shutout innings to snap a four-game Trenton win streak.
With a loyal following of Phillies fans in the area, Reading always has been a big draw for the Thunder at Waterfront Park with only Portland (Boston Red Sox) even coming close.
Yet, the EL has not been able to find a way to get the R-Phils into Trenton more often, a pattern that began when the league moved the Thunder out of the Southern Division in 1999 and into the more geographically unfriendly Northern Division.
Trenton enjoyed great success on the field following the realignment with five playoff appearances and two league championships.
However, the shift cost them more games at home against Reading, which is a proven moneymaker at the gate.
Smith confirmed that Reading will play two series in Trenton next season, but as this weekend’s record crowds can attest, that is not nearly enough.
“It’s definitely meaningful and the league knows this is important to us,’’ Smith said. “Then again, if we had six series against Reading would it be less special? I don’t know. Where do you draw the line? Would four series be good? Probably. I will look at the schedule again and see if there is any more jockeying that we can do, but it is probably too late for next season.”