- Associated Press - Thursday, September 23, 2010

CINCINNATI (AP) - When the Reds called up crowd-pleasing reliever Aroldis Chapman at the end of August, players hoped his 103 mph fastball would finally fill the seats at Great American Ball Park.

“We were talking about it a little bit in the bullpen,” Cincinnati reliever Sam LeCure said. “We were saying, ‘I hope when Aroldis comes, they can get more people in the seats.’”

Not even his blink-of-an-eye pitch could pack ‘em in.

The Reds are on the brink of securing their first playoff appearance in 15 years, but they’re having trouble drawing much of a crowd to see it happen. Attendance is up roughly 4,000 per game at Great American, but the Reds still rank near the bottom of the National League.

They’re not alone, either. Atlanta, San Diego and Tampa Bay are struggling at the gate while they fight for a spot in the postseason.

Heading into games on Thursday, all four were in position to make the playoffs as either division champions or wild-card teams. None of the four ranked higher than ninth in attendance in their leagues, according to STATS LLC.

_San Diego is on track for its first playoff appearance in four years, but ranks 11th in attendance at 26,038 per game. Last year, the Padres drew 23,735 per game.

_The Reds rank 12th at 25,379 per game, an increase from 21,579 last year but still a disappointment. They sold only 12,061 tickets _ their smallest crowd of the season _ when they clinched their first winning season in 10 years on Sept. 13.

_The Rays have been going back-and-forth with the Yankees in the AL East all season, but their attendance has gone backward. Tampa Bay is selling 23,081 tickets per game, a decrease from 23,147 last year. That ranks ninth in the AL.

_Atlanta was second in the NL East and led the wild-card race by a half-game over San Francisco. In Bobby Cox’s final season as manager, the Braves have experienced a slight rise in ticket sales. They’re averaging 30,042 per game, up from 29,304 last year.

Each team has a different dynamic at work. The Rays have a history of struggling to sell tickets. The Reds just broke a streak of nine consecutive losing seasons, which made them an afterthought heading into the season. San Diego and Atlanta also are surprising contenders, and warm weather on the West Coast and in the South presents other options besides going to a ballpark.

There’s one common thread.

“I understand with the economy the way it is, some people can’t afford to come out to the game,” LeCure said.

Attendance overall is down minimally in the majors this season, from 30,215 per game last year to 30,078. The economy has cut into not only baseball’s crowds but those for other professional sports as well.

Beyond that, it’s anyone’s guess.

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