On the field, the Lexington Legends are, shall we say, struggling.
First half, the Legends won 21 and lost 48, the worst record in the South Atlantic League.
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Second half, after Wednesday's 2-1 loss to visiting Kannapolis, the Legends are 1-6.
But off the field, at the turnstiles, in line at the concession stands, things are not so grim.
”Minor League Baseball, I don't know if I would say its recession-proof necessarily,“ Alan Stein, the Legends' minority owner and chief operating officer, said Wednesday, ”but I think we're recession-resistant.“
Visual evidence concurs. It is a weekday afternoon for a struggling Class Low A baseball team, and yet there is a decent crowd enjoying the glorious sun at Applebee's Park. The in-park crowd is considerably less than the announced 6,224 tickets sold, but the old ballpark is far from a Ghost Town.
”On the business side,“ Stein said, ”considering the economy and the way the team is playing, we're about flat with last year, which we think is pretty good.“
Stein is wearing a green-and-white Legends shirt, a Makers Mark Club entrance sticker, and a salesman's disposition tempered by a realistic attitude.
He doesn't like that the team is not doing better on the field. But he is encouraged that the current administration of the parent club in Houston cares that the team is not doing better on the field. Tal Smith, the Astros' president, was in town to see Stein recently. So was Ed Wade, Houston's general manager.
”They know what's going on,“ Stein said. ”And it's not just us. It's the whole organization. Round Rock is like 15 games under .500. (Actually 34-45.) Same with Corpus Christi (31-45) and Salem (32-44). They're aware of the problem.“
The Astros want to fix it. They promise to be more aggressive about signing high draft picks, something the club got away from the last couple of years. Last year, Houston did not have a pick in the first two rounds, then failed to sign its third- and fourth-round selections. This year, the team has signed nine of its top 10 picks — and the 10th, Stanford catcher Jason Castro, just finished up in the College World Series.
Plus, in the past two years, the Astros traded prospects to Colorado for pitcher Jason Jennings (now with Texas) and more prospects to Baltimore for Miguel Tejada.
To fill the gaps, AA players were elevated to AAA; A players were moved up to AA, Rookie League players to A, etc. That's how a franchise ends up without one minor-league affiliate boasting a winning record.
”But really, having a bad team doesn't hurt too much if we take care of our business,“ Stein said. ”If we control the things that we can control, we should be OK.“
Things like a clean ballpark, desirable parking, affordable concessions, family atmosphere, smart promotions, friendly and helpful staff. Because of that, Stein thinks his attendance figures will come in ”the same or slightly better than last year.“
Still, he is a businessman, and businessmen worry. Yes, in these economic times, the Legends are helped that ”in the "stay-cation' environment, we're a close-to-home alternative.“ But much of the team's business comes from outside Fayette County, and Stein worries the fear of the economic future might cause patrons to keep a tighter watch on their wallets.
”We've had a lot of success through group sales and I'm a little concerned about that for next year,“ he said. ”But right now, we're doing well.“
They could always do better, however.
”Oh, a good team always helps,“ he said. ”And people pay attention. Everywhere I go, people ask me about the team and why we aren't doing better. And we will do better.“