Excuses, Please

I admit it. There has been something weighing on my mind for some time now and it has only expanded in recent days.

It is the painful and at times unbelievable lack of attendance at Pringles Park, home of the Cubs' fine Double-A affiliate and the 2005 first- and second-half Northern Division Southern League Champion West Tennessee Diamond Jaxx.

This season, the Jaxx averaged only 1,654 fans per home game--last in the Southern League behind Mobile's distant 2,929 mark. Many thought those numbers would increase once the Jaxx began post-season play, but they have only headed further south.

Attendance for Wednesday's West Tenn versus Carolina playoff opener was a dismal 627 (no "typo" involved). The following night, 1,009 fans packed the stadium and only 936 arrived to see the Jaxx clinch a berth in the Southern League Championship series the night after. That's an average of 857 fans per night for a three-game playoff series. Those numbers are not acceptable even by short-season Class-A standards, let alone for a Double-A franchise.

It begs the question: do the majority of citizens in Jackson have a legitimate excuse for not going to games?

The Jaxx at one point had the best record in all of minor league baseball and have sent four players from Jackson to the big league club this season: Matt Murton, Adam Greenberg, Rich Hill and most recently team MVP Ryan Theriot. Felix Pie would have been sent up as well if not for an ankle injury that ended his season back in June.

From the standpoint of pure talent, the Jaxx are still as good as anybody in minor league baseball. (Some might even wonder how they'd match up against the Cubs' major league squad on certain nights.)

Then there is the actual stadium itself.

Pringles Park is a beautiful 6,000-seat complex conveniently located off exit 85 from Interstate 40 in Jackson. The park is hardly an inconvenience to get to, despite Jay Mariotti's arrogant assertions - among other things - in an April 2002 write-up for the Chicago Sun-Times.

The facilities in and around the ballpark are kept up to date, and there are plans for the construction of a new sports complex adjacent to the stadium beginning in 2006. The fans who are in attendance are just what you'd expect from a typical minor league community: friendly, laid back, chatty, and genuinely caring.

Next, the team's front office and marketing staff.

The Jaxx have once again held up their end of the bargain by doing a better than average job of marketing the team with catchy promotions, events and family oriented activities all throughout the year.

Just last July, country music legend and Jaxx fan George Jones performed during a pre-game concert at Pringles Park. In Tennessee, Jones is about as big as they come in terms of country music popularity. Next to Willie Nelson, he might be the greatest country music singer to ever embrace the music industry. (Nelson himself, along with fellow music legend Bob Dylan, performed live at Pringles Park in August of 2004.)

While covering this year's Southern League All-Star Game in Mobile, Ala., I sat down with Jaxx General Manager Jeff Parker in addition to Robert and David Lozinak, who all share ownership of the club. We were also joined over dinner by Bart Barker, the Sports Director at WBBJ, Jackson's ABC-TV affiliate. Parker and the Lozinak's both shared ideas with Barker and I on how to improve attendance and promote the quality that is Diamond Jaxx baseball. Barker and I of course commented on what our respective outlets were doing to provide the Jaxx with the proper coverage any Double-A team deserves.

For anyone associated with organized baseball, Parker and the Lozinaks, much like their team, are as professional and media-friendly as they come. They're also pretty smart, too. They see a failing business product and have made every attempt possible to remedy it before it becomes too late, which it almost has. They can't go at it alone, however, and that's where the city of Jackson has to come in.

Therefore, I issue the following challenge to the Jackson community: Write to me with your reasons for not supporting this club. Surely, there must be some. I will publish all responses from those in or around the community. You will find my e-mail address conveniently attached below.

Actually, let's make it two challenges. First and foremost, go by playoff tickets at Pringles Park and enjoy the product the Cubs and Jaxx put on the playing field. You'll be glad you did.

(And to ensure this reaches beyond our normal audience and syndication partners such as Yahoo! Sports and FoxSports.com, I've taken the liberty of classifying this particular piece to the Tennessee Volunteers and Memphis Tigers' sites on the Scout network.)

The Diamond Jaxx have done their part. Time to "play ball," Jackson.

Write to Steve: staff@insidetheivy.com.

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