Budig: Baseball entrenched as biggest draw in sports

This brief essay on baseball has nothing to do with steroids. Rather, it is a remarkable story about an enduring love for the game.

More than 77 million men, women and children from the 30 major-league cities passed through turnstiles in 2007 to cheer on their favorites, setting an attendance record for the fourth consecutive year.

Nearly 43 million more people witnessed minor-league games, another record, and this one for the fifth straight season.

“Baseball remains America’s pastime,” Commissioner Bud Selig told me. “In truth, the game has never been more popular.”

The often-embattled commissioner deserves to be proud, for once again, Major League Baseball will post an attendance figure that will be larger than the combined ticket sales of the National Football League, the National Basketball Association and the National Hockey League.

And that does not include the totals from the flourishing minor leagues.

As the past president of MLB’s American League (1994-2000), I agree with Selig that the reasons for the continuing surge in popularity are the wild card, interleague play, increased balance among teams because of economic reform and the construction of fan-friendly ballparks.

Importantly, nearly two-thirds of the clubs were in contention for the playoffs as late as Labor Day.

As a co-owner of the Charleston RiverDogs, a Class A farm team aligned with the New York Yankees in the South Atlantic League, I want to emphasize that minor-league baseball continues to grow significant interest in the game. It is, and will continue to be, one of MLB’s most important, long-term partners.

Minor-league baseball is the game of choice for families, for those who live on limited incomes and tight budgets. Teams like ours in South Carolina cater to youngsters and their parents, teenagers, senior citizens and men and women in the service of their country.

Minor-league baseball offers family entertainment at bargain prices. A family of four can enjoy a game, complete with ballpark food, for about $50.

Communities with the greatest drawing power have new or recently renovated ballparks, ones where seating, concessions and rest rooms are near the field, and where the lights are bright and security is in evidence.

“Minor-league baseball is here to stay,” Selig has said, and I further believe it will continue to be attractive and profitable with vigilant owners who love and respect the game and its continued importance.”