Vagabonds no longer
Vagabonds no longer, the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders found a new identity and a new home at PNC Field this season after spending the entire 2012 season on the road.
The New York Yankees' Triple A farm team drew 435,839 fans this year, a whopping 46 percent increase over the 298,098 who attended in 2011. And non-baseball special events, including the farewell event for the cast of the Scranton-based NBC sitcom "The Office," drove overall stadium attendance to 462,052.
Clearly, the publicly owned stadium and the Triple A franchise, which is now privately owned by SWB Yankees, a consortium of Mandalay Baseball Properties and the New York Yankees, have emerged from nearly seven years of doubt and controversy as a strong community asset.
The record-low 2011 attendance reflected four years of accumulated uncertainty about the franchise's future and ill will from the simmering controversy that was created five years earlier by the decision to sell the franchise.
It is notable that the team drew well while not playing well enough to make the International League playoffs, the reverse of the situation in prior years when attendance plummeted despite the team's consistent winning.
The $43 million reconstruction of PNC Field, which resulted from a revised deal by Lackawanna County to sell the franchise, clearly was a hit with fans.
So was the new management style personified by new General Manager Rob Crain. He orchestrated a warm, fan-friendly experience that sharply contrasted the aloof corporate vibe under prior years of SWB Yankees management. (Two rehabilitation visits by Yankees star Derek Jeter helped, as well, but attendance overall consistently was strong.)
The novelty of the new stadium might well wear off but the difference now, compared with prior years, is SWB Yankees' demonstrated commitment to creating a great experience for fans. It appears that 2013 was the just the beginning of a beautiful friendship.