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G-Braves not fazed by loss of exhibition

LAWRENCEVILLE -- Everything started so well.

In the first-ever scrimmage between the major league team and a team of its top prospects, Coolray Field packed its stands with a record crowd to watch the big-league team slip past the prospects in a rain-shortened affair.

Perhaps the rain acted as harbinger.

In its fourth season in Gwinnett, the Class AAA franchise saw its attendance drop to an average of 4,592 per game, the lowest in franchise history. And that game that drew the big crowd?

Moved to Class AA Mississippi's Trustmark Park for next season -- and it didn't count toward regular season attendance for Gwinnett.

"We knew this game was set-up to be a revolving game," G-Braves general manager North Johnson said. "We were hoping that because we did such a good job and the community supported the game so well that there may be an opportunity to have a game in Gwinnett every year, and that's being discussed.

"We're excited for Mississippi. All the teams in the organization should have an opportunity to host this game."

In terms of average attendance, the team bumped up last season to a little more than 5,000 per game before taking the dip again this year. In terms of wins and losses, this is the most unsuccessful Gwinnett Braves team, but competitiveness at the minor league level isn't always the draw. The G-Brave did lose the Fourth of July date, a large crowd from a season ago, and they expect large crowds today and Saturday.

"It's a number of things," Johnson said. "We are not like other triple-A teams where the ballpark is located in the downtown. That's what we have to figure out and it is taking us longer to figure it out than we thought we would."

But the lower numbers are not taking the effort out of Johnson and his staff, which has seven more home games before the season's end and is planning the annual Fan Appreciation Day for Aug. 30 with a 2,000 replica jersey giveaway, more T-shirt promotions and other fan-oriented events.

From there, the offseason and planning for next season begins. The G-Braves will open the season at home against Charlotte on April 4 at 7:05 p.m. Some of the schedule, including start times, hasn't been finalized and the team expects a full schedule to be ready in the coming days.

"Are we where we want to be? Absolutely not," Johnson said. "We are not going to be where we want to be until we are full every night."