Want tix? Spring training crowds down this year

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KISSIMMEE, FLA. (AP) - Fresh from pitching against solid Atlanta hitters, Jake Westbrook faced a far trickier test: Guess how much fans paid for box seats to watch the exhibition game.

“Hmmm, I have no idea,” the St. Louis starter ventured. “Twenty bucks?”

Gotcha! $54 for top tickets sold Tuesday at the Braves’ ballpark at Walt Disney World Resort.

“Wow,” Westbrook said.

All over Florida and Arizona, teams are paying the price. Spring training attendance is off and several things are to blame, aside from pricey tickets _ early start, cold weather and lineups depleted by injured stars and players dispatched to the World Baseball Classic.

The dip is nearly 14 percent lower than it was on this date last year, STATS said.

Games started about a week earlier this season because players wanted to get in shape for the World Baseball Classic. That meant games were scheduled before many fans arrived for vacation and spring break. By the end of February, several teams had already played for a week.

“I think we started about eight or nine days too early. That means a whole lot,” Philadelphia manager Charlie Manuel said.

The weather hasn’t been ideal, either _ a freak winter storm out West and a cold snap down South.

Normally a big draw wherever they go, the Yankees played to a crowd of 3,213 when they visited the Houston Astros. Then again, the glitziest name in New York’s split-squad lineup that day was Matt Diaz.

The Orioles often sold out home games versus the likes of the Yankees, Boston and Philadelphia. Not this year in Sarasota, Fla.

“With the WBC and a whole different start, people plan spring training according to spring break. People have other things going on in their life,” Baltimore manager Buck Showalter said.

Big league exhibitions began on Feb. 22 and averaged 5,789 fans through March 12. They started on March 2 last year and averaged 6,703 by that same date, with several teams on their way to setting attendance records.

Major League Baseball drew 30,895 per game during the regular season last year, its best mark since 2008.

Oakland A’s manager Bob Melvin noticed the empty seats in Phoenix.

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