Gwinnett draws better than Bulls to start playoffs

MOOSIC, Pa. - The Gwinnett Braves drew their two smallest home crowds of the season and they still beat Durham at the gate during the first two days of the International League Governors' Cup playoffs.

Welcome to the upside-down postseason world in the minors.

Crowds for playoffs games in the IL - as well as most other leagues - are usually less than half of what teams attract in the regular season.

"It's always been a mystery to me," Gwinnett manager Dave Brundage said. "But it's the same everywhere."

Gwinnett averaged 5,965 per game in the regular season during its first year, but drew a total of 4,167 for its two home playoffs games against Scranton/Wilkes-Barre on Wednesday and Thursday.

That was better, though, than Durham - one of the more tradition-rich franchises in the minors. The Bulls, which averaged 6,783 during the regular season, attracted a total of 4,065 for their two games against Louisville.

The crowd for Friday night's Game 3 for the G-Braves at Scranton was the worst yet, although more understandable because rainy weather made a postponement seem likely almost up to game time. Just 1,388 watched at PNC Field.

The G-Braves' first playoff game drew 2,143 despite pregame showers and the second game, which attracted 2,024, was up against Georgia Tech's home football game with Clemson.

Durham drew 1,809 for its opener against Louisville and 2,256 for the second game.

Playoff attendance is impacted by students being back in school and competition with football. Another major reason for the dip is limited pre-sale time and promotional opportunities. Tickets in the postseason are also priced slightly higher.

"Everybody loves a winner and this is when the games really matter," said Brundage, who won the Governors' Cup at Richmond in 2007. "But the crowds just don't come out. At least you find out who the real fans are. You appreciate them."

G-Braves draw 423,556

Gwinnett's regular-season attendance of 423,556 ranked 10th in the 14-team International League, with Syracuse (392,518), Norfolk (387,153), Scranton (358,888) and Charlotte (320,427) finishing behind.

The G-Braves benefited because they were the only IL team not be rained out at home this season. Scranton had more than a dozen home postponements.

Columbus, which opened a new downtown ballpark, led the league with an attendance of 666,797, an average of 9,525 per date. Lehigh Valley ranked second, averaging 9,161 with a draw of 641,335.

The other teams to top 600,000 were Pawtucket (625,561) and Louisville (612,525).

Ballpark issues

in Scranton

Scranton had to move four home games elsewhere because of drainage problems at PNC Field during late June and early July. The games were played at neutral sites, with two at Lehigh Valley and two in Syracuse.

Grass was installed when the Yankees moved in to replace the Phillies three seasons ago, but the old drainage system for an artificial field remains from the stadium's opening in 1989. It will be replaced during the offseason.

The Yankees want major renovations, but the ballpark is municipally owned and both Lackawanna and Luzerne counties are short of funds, to say nothing of Pennsylvania. Moosic, where PNC Field is located, is outside Scranton toward Wilkes-Barre.

Philadelphia had its Class AAA team in Scranton until moving to Lehigh Valley in 2007.

SideBar: Heyward gets top honor

MOOSIC, Pa. - Another week, another honor for Atlanta Braves super-prospect Jason Heyward.

The 20-year-old outfielder from Henry County was named Baseball America's minor league player of the year on Friday, the honoring following a similar award from USA Today last week.

Heyward, the game's No. 1 prospect, jumped from Class A to Class AA to Class AAA this season, joining Gwinnett for the final three games of the regular season and the playoffs.

Only one other Braves prospect has won the Baseball America award. That was Andruw Jones as a 18-year-old in 1995.

Heyward hit a combined .323 in 99 games during the regular season, with 25 doubles, four triples, 17 homers, 63 RBIs and 10 stolen bases. He had 51 walks to 51 strikeouts, posting a .408 on-base percentage to with his .555 slugging mark.

- Guy Curtright