One game does not a season make, but the South Coast League has reason to be thrilled after its league opener in Macon on Thursday night.
Fans had to be turned away at the gate as the Macon Music had a sellout for their 5-3 win over the Bradenton Juice in the season opener for the South Coast League. The new independent league is trying to succeed where several other leagues have failed–bringing independent baseball to the Southeast. The Music drew 5,033 fans to the 4,000-seat Luther Williams Field. For fledgling independent leagues, you can’t ensure long-term success on opening night, but you can prove that your league is going to fail–the South Coast League passed it’s first test with an A.
I can speak from personal experience that getting 5,000 fans to anything in Macon is hard to do. Heck, free ticket giveaways were usually only good for crowds of around 3,4500. For five years I covered the South Atlantic League’s Macon Braves before watching them leave for Rome. During that time, the only 5,000+ crowds I remember shoehorned into the now 78-year-old stadium were a pair of John Smoltz’ rehab starts.
But the city has been without baseball for four years since the independent Macon Peaches folded after one season, which appears to have been enough time to get the city excited about baseball’s return. The new South Coast League also wisely set up shop in most of its cities months before Opening Day, giving the team’s chances to get their names out.
League chief executive officer Jamie Toole said that they have found that several of their new cities seem to finally be ready to support baseball again after losing affiliated clubs and being burned by indpendent league teams that have folded in past years. Time will tell if he’s right, but the first night of the league seems to offer some proof for his theory.