On Saturday afternoon, Boston College honored the Wounded Warrior Project in an emotional day at The Heights. Wounded Warriors gave the day a special feel with ceremonial first pitches, and a Star Spangled Banner and God Bless America sung by a member of the US Army struck chords with all in attendance, while Justin Dunn electrified on the mound for the scouts and fans in attendance.
Those last three words are the ones people should be hanging on - fans in attendance. Boston College baseball is becoming spring theater playing out in a small auditorium on the back side of Alumni Stadium. This past weekend, more than 1,000 fans packed into Shea Field to watch the Eagles take on Virginia Tech. While the draw of the Wounded Warrior Project no doubt helped, the fans in attendance helped create an atmosphere that is uniquely possible at a place like Boston College.
"The atmopshere in the Birdcage has been just awesome," said head coach Mike Gambino during this past weeked. "The students have been out, and those students that are up there watching - they're having an effect on these games. Our boys get so fired up seeing all these students out there. It's a huge home field advantage because of them coming up and having a blast on the roof and the parking deck. It means so much to have everyone out here."
The numbers might not be on par with some of the other ACC schools, but there's been growth this year at BC. The first conference home game came on April 1st against Florida State on a Friday afternoon (3 PM start); that game drew just 314 fans. On Sunday, against Virginia Tech with a start time moved back to 11 AM on a Sunday, the Eagles drew just about the same amount (334).
Over the course of the season, that type of growth is something that can be with a couple of trends. Friday games typically draw the worst of the weekend given a start time while most people are either in class, at work, or traveling. Saturdays typically draw the best, and Sunday tails off but still is able to outdraw a Friday.
|Saturday||5/1/16||Virginia Tech||1,070||WWP Game|
|Sunday||5/2/16||Virginia Tech||334||11 AM start time|
What can this teach us about baseball game attendance? First, as the weather's gotten nicer, more people are coming out to a game. I think that goes without saying why simply because there's an obvious correlation there. More people tend to want to do outdoor activities when the weather's nice. Even though the Birdcage is typically colder because of the wind tunnel effect with Alumni Stadium, the parking deck where most people stand can remain in the sunshine.
Couple that with the team's potential run at the ACC postseason. All of a sudden, baseball games in the spring become something to do to an extent.
Second, attendance is boosted by the opponent. Obviously Louisville is likely to draw better numbers than anyone given their massive fan support. The same likely would've gone for Florida State had Saturday and Sunday not been cancelled due to freak April weather.
Third, while BC attendance numbers don't touch some of the other ACC schools, they're making inroads in their own way. The student atmosphere on Saturday provided something of a party going on at the baseball game. From the parking deck at Alumni Stadium, there was music and shouting, with a loud cacophony of yells every time a foul ball either ricocheted off the parking garage or made its way up to the people.
It's that last point from where Shea Field derives its home field advantage. The field is awkwardly shaped because of the outfield fence with right center field at 366 feet but left center field at 385 feet. A foul ball to right field send a defensive fielder in the direction of Alumni Stadium's concrete pillars, which are padded for protection but still an ominous juxtaposition for the right field line. The left field foul territory has a hill that's in play. Because of the parking deck, the fans are directly on top of play, meaning their shouts are right on the game, creating an atmosphere that's loud, even if the numbers aren't there.
This means that there is attendance potential for the Eagles with the right stadium. It's a topic I've brought up time and time again throughout the season - needing to build the right edifice to house the Boston College baseball team. In terms of support, the Eagles are growing their base. If they had a stadium with proper lighting and the right capacity, Friday games, where attendance is typically the weakest for a late afternoon start, could be held at night, allowing for more students and fans to be able to attend.
With BC attendance growing with the team's success this year, the school needs, once again, to get this stadium right. If built properly, the opportunities for growth continue to expand. But the responsibility is on the institution to do this right and to help this program break through a glass ceiling the lack of facilities currently impose.