Erie Crushers outfielder Tim Binkoski drops down a bunt during
a recent Frontier League game at All Pro Freight Stadium. The
team has been drawing an average of 2,863 fans per game in its
first season in Avon. (West Life photo by Larry Bennet)
find success in Avon
By Jim Horvath
Published Aug. 5, 2009
has found a new home in Avon.
In less than a year, the Lake Erie Crushers professional
baseball franchise has gone from the planning stages to one of the
most successful organizations in the 12-team Frontier League.
Heading into last weekend’s showdown series with first-place
Kalamazoo, the Crushers had won 10 of 14 games since the mid-July
All-Star break and were making a serious bid to win a berth in the
upcoming FL playoffs in September.
team is winning at the box office as well, averaging just under
2,900 fans per game at the new All Pro Freight Stadium. The league
average, according to Lake Erie general manager Ryan Gates, is around
So far, so good at the intersection of routes 2 and
“We’re very happy with our attendance,” Gates said
last Friday afternoon. “We had a sellout for opening day, and once
we got past that I think people got curious as to what we were all
“By the time the July 4 weekend came around, word
of mouth had spread,” Gates said. “We had two great days in that
stretch, with fireworks on Friday and Saturday night. Our parking,
concessions and game day staff all ran very smoothly, and our overall
numbers were great. Attendance wise, we had our best Thursday, our
best Friday, our best Sunday and our best Monday of the season.
On top of that, we just missed our best Tuesday by a few people.”
Gates said there was a distinct difference between
starting the Crushers and getting a similar franchise started in
West Virginia, his previous stop.
“I came from a totally different set of circumstances
in West Virginia,” Gates said. “It had a different set of battles
to win and a different fan base. There, the team meant a lot to
the people from a social aspect.
“Here in Avon, the people really get into the game
and how the team is performing. They also get into the players here.
They get to know them and follow their progress game to game. It’s
been a great surprise, and great to see,” he said.
view behind home plate is always best, but there isn’t a bad
seat in the house when watching a Crushers game at Avon’s new
All Pro Freight Stadium. (West Life photo by Larry Bennet)
About the only glitch, Gates said, was the team’s
attendance figures for Saturday night games.
“Saturdays have been an anomaly,” Gates said. “Our
numbers aren’t bad, but we’ve actually been drawing more fans to
our Sunday games than the ones on Saturdays. We’ve bounced a lot
of ideas against the wall to try and remedy that.
“We’ve had a great response to our 5:05 p.m. start
time on Sundays,” he said. “We don’t have a lot of cover from the
sun at our park, so starting later allows a more comfortable setting
for our fans. It also gets the game over sooner so parents can get
their children to bed and get themselves ready for work the next
Gates said the team has toyed with the idea of an
earlier start time for Saturday games and may try something different
“We’ve done some day games this season, so we’re not
ruling that out for next year,” said Gates. “We don’t have the preliminary
schedule yet for 2010, but once we do we’ll check out all of our
Gates is also pleased with the performance of the
team on the field. Led by manager John Massarelli, the team has
steadily improved throughout the season and has put itself in contention
for the FL playoffs. The two division winners, as well as the two
teams with the next best records, will make the playoffs, which
should begin Sept. 8, according to Gates.
“Putting together a team for the first time always
presents an unknown,” said Gates. “You bring together who you think
are the best 24 players, but you don’t always know how they’ll mesh.
“One thing we noticed early is that this group seemed
to have a solid team mentality,” he said. “They took that onto the
field with them once the season started and have kept it going since
then. I think that’s a tribute to Mass, his leadership and the successful
approach he brought with him from his years at Washington. He won’t
bring this up, but he led that team to the playoffs all four years
he was there.”
Gates noted the slump prior to the All-Star break,
but said the team has been playing solid baseball since then. He
mentioned players like pitchers Paul Fagan and Brent Lysander and
position players Andrew Davis, Tim Binkoski and Gordie Gronkowski
as players who have brought a level of consistency to the team night
in, night out.
“We got off to a solid start, and consistency has
been the key so far,” said Gates. “A couple of pitchers have been
wild cards for us. We didn’t know, for example, that Fagan would
be 10-1 at this point and lead the league in wins. And Lysander
has really come on lately to give us a nice boost to our rotation.
“Our other pitchers feed off that. And we’ve got players
like Davis, Gronkowski and now Tyler Johnson who have been solid
contributors. We added Johnson not too long ago, and he brings a
nice combination of power and speed. I think within a month you
could see him move into the league lead in stolen bases.”
The Crushers also added Westlake native and St. Ignatius
graduate Chris Rigo to its pitching staff on July 17, adding a local
flavor to the team.
With the league drawing relatively well, Gates said
independent league baseball has begun to find its nitch in the world
of professional sports.
“I don’t know if the independent leagues are growing,
per se,” said Gates. “There’ always been a lot of hopping around
by certain teams. But there is a trend of newer stadiums in our
league, for example. I think that leads to more stability and allows
teams to get more recognition than in the past.”
The Crushers are a case in point. The expansion team
replaced the Chillicothe Paint and brought with it the brand new
ballpark in Avon. Lake Erie is sure to eclipse the attendance mark
of 67,253 set by Chillicothe last season, ranking the Paint dead
last in the FL.
Attendance, however, has climbed league wide since
2003. That year, the FL attracted more than 1.1 million fans for
the first time since the league began in 1993. That number grew
to 1.3 million in 2004, 1.2 million in 2005 and just under 1.3 million
in 2006. Another boost came in 2007 as a record 1.5 million attended
gamed throughout the league. Last summer, the FL drew 1.46 million
fans and drew over 9,000 to its All-Star Game festivities at the
new Wuerfel Park in Traverse City, the home of the Beach Bums.
Construction on two new stadiums is slated to begin
this year. One of those stadiums will be built in Waterford Township
in Michigan and house the Midwest Sliders. The Sliders are currently
playing their home games on the campus of Eastern Michigan University
All 12 teams, of course, run a steady diet of promotions
throughout their respective seasons. The Crushers are no different.
On Fri., Sept 4, the team will host Pack the Park
for the Cure when they host Midwest for a 7:05 p.m. game. The Crushers
will wear pink jerseys and donate $2 per ticket sold that night
to the fight against breast cancer.
“We want people to pack the park that night so we
can write a nice, big check for breast cancer research,” said Gates.
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