Tri-City ValleyCats general manager Rick Murphy knows that one day the team won’t set a season attendance record.
But given the rate of success the ’Cats have had in drawing fans over the last few years, that day isn’t coming any time soon.
The ’Cats are in their 11th season in the Capital Region. The affiliate of the Houston Astros begins the New York-Penn League campaign Monday at the Vermont Lake Monsters. After playing there Tuesday, the ’Cats will host the Lake Monsters in their Joseph L. Bruno Stadium opener at 7 p.m. Wednesday.
Despite posting a 33-42 record and finishing third in the Stedler Division last season, the ’Cats set another attendance record, attracting 156,279 fans. It was the eighth straight year that the team topped the previous attendance record. The only year the attendance dropped off was in Tri-City’s second season, 2003. The ’Cats drew 103,984 fans, down a modest 4,425 from their inaugural season in the Capital Region.
“It’s a tribute to our staff,” Murphy said at the team’s media day Thursday at Bruno Stadium. “I know our staff is one of the hardest-working staffs in professional sports. We set our goals out at the end of the previous season, and we work hard to achieve them. Along with that is the Capital Region
really is the right size market for the New York-Penn League. We have a consolidated season. It’s a 15-week season, when you break it down. It’s 38 nights. It allows us to treat each game as it’s own event, and capture as much excitement and enthusiasm and target a particular demographic.”
Certainly, the ticket prices are reasonable. Costs range from $5.50 for a grandstand seat — purchased prior to game day — to $10.50 for a premium box seat.
And the ’Cats have a promotion every night. For example, there are 14 fireworks nights, including the first two home games and July 4-5. There is also “Tunes for Tuesday” that will honor all kinds of music.
The biggest promotion will come Monday, Aug. 20, when the ’Cats play the Staten Island Yankees. That promotion is Capital Region Baseball Heritage Night, and the ’Cats will honor the Albany-
Colonie Yankees by giving away a Derek Jeter bobblehead. Jeter played part of the 1994 season for the A-C Yanks in their final Eastern League season in the Capital Region.
New this year: Fans will be able to order items from the concession stand via their smartphone through the Snag Mobile app.
“Each year, the difficult thing is we have to keep challenging our staff to raise the bar,” Murphy said. “At what point do you level out? I don’t know. But it’s fun, it’s been a good ride and we’re excited about the upcoming season.”
Playing in front of large crowds at Bruno Stadium can only help the Tri-City players as they make their way up the system and one day, perhaps, be playing before even bigger crowds in the major league.
“It’s a real neat feeling for the kids to actually to get it in their first year of professional baseball when they see the people come out and support it,” said Stubby Clapp, who begins his second season as the ’Cats’ manager. “That gives them more inspiration to come to the field ready to play every day so they’re not embarrassed.”
The ’Cats practiced Thursday night and will have workouts through the weekend as they prepare for the first game.
Only two players hadn’t arrived yet, both from Arizona State. Pitcher Brady Rodgers was the Astros’ third-round pick in the draft earlier this month, and outfielder Andrew Aplin was taken two rounds later.
The ’Cats have three returning players from last year’s team — pitchers Jamaine Cotton and Juri Perez and infielder Neiko Johnson.
Clapp wasn’t sure about what the lineup will look like for Monday’s game.
“I’ve got a general idea, but there are still some open spots right now,” Clapp said. “I’m not going to sit here and tell you exactly who it is because it wouldn’t be fair to some of the players if I was wrong.”