Daily News

Valley Blue Sox Finish First in League Attendance

SPRINGFIELD — According to Ballpark Digest, the Valley Blue Sox posted average attendance of 2,121 fans per game in 2016, enough to rank them 11th nationally out of 169 summer collegiate teams. This placed them second in New England overall to only the Worcester Bravehearts of the Futures League and first overall in the New England Collegiate Baseball League. This year marks the first year in league history that any team outpaced the Newport Gulls for the league’s attendance crown.

Concurrently, the publication’s ‘mega list’ that ranks both professional minor-league teams and summer collegiate teams had the Blue Sox ranked 154th overall, with the team beating out 20 A-ball teams and three AA teams. The total attendance per game jumped almost 600 fans from 2015.

“I feel it is reflective of the quality and value our product provides,” said Blue Sox Owner Clark Eckhoff. “It proves you don’t have to have a $30 million facility to put out a minor-league caliber product for your fans. We’ve certainly got a ways to go in a lot of aspects, both from a facilities and fan-experience standpoint, but we’re pleased with the direction we’re headed in and are very thankful to our fans and the community for being so supportive of the Blue Sox.”

Every year, Ballpark Digest releases its rankings as a means to track growth in the summer collegiate baseball industry.

“I feel that this is a market that’s been hungry for baseball and is even hungrier for viable, affordable family entertainment,” said Blue Sox General Manager Hunter Golden. “For half the cost of going to the movies, you can spend the evening in our park watching some great action. The food is affordable, the tickets are affordable, and the players are accessible. We feel these numbers are a direct response to all the things I just mentioned. There’s a need in the region, and we’re simply filling it.”

Currently, work is underway at MacKenzie Stadium in Holyoke to improve a variety of amenities at the park. Next season, fans will see a brand-new playing surface, new bullpens, and fences that will be brought in closer to home plate. In addition, new concessions and bathrooms will be added to the park, while the old field house will be demolished.

“Especially when it comes to the bathrooms and concessions, we knew we needed to be aggressive in advocating for our fans,” Eckhoff said.

Added Golden, “the great thing about the improvements we have coming in right now is that, not only can they be leveraged by us to create a much better fan experience, but they can be utilized throughout the community and beyond. This field has a chance to be an epicenter for the baseball community in Western Mass. The location is fantastic, it’s got lights, stands, modern bathroom and concessions facilities — and now a brand-new playing surface. This’ll not only benefit the Legion teams, Elms College’s baseball program, and the high school, but can be used for prospect camps, showcase tournaments, college tournaments, and the like. It can be used as a magnet to both Holyoke and the region.”

The high degree of success off the field this past year was complimented by a winning effort on it; as the Blue Sox advanced further in the NECBL playoffs than ever before in franchise history, coming within five outs of an appearance in the NECBL Championship Series.

“I think, at the end of the day, there’s no replacement for old-fashioned hard work,” concluded Eckhoff. “We’ve put massive amounts of sweat equity into this to help it grow — and with the help of some amazing sponsors, host families, a great group of players over the years, and a hardworking staff, we’ve been able to produce a winner in fairly short order. We’re looking forward to continuing that momentum into 2017.”

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