BY MIKE ECKERT, Sports writer
---- — Kingsley resident Larry Smith was at Wuerfel Park early on Wednesday.
"I'm a pretty good fan," Smith said. "I've only missed one or two games."
Smith bought season tickets for the first time last year and watched the Traverse City Beach Bums come a game away from the postseason. This year, no drama was needed as the Beach Bums opened the Frontier League playoffs against Southern Illinois on Wednesday as the No. 1 seed.
With seating for the playoffs being general admission, Smith took advantage of a perk for season ticket holders — entrance to Wuerfel Park 30 minutes prior to the gates opening for the general public. He was there and ready to go in the same seat he's sat in all year when fans began streaming in at 6 p.m.
Smith was excited for the playoffs. So were the 70-plus that were lined up as the gates opened.
But not many followed as a sparse crowd took in a 1-0 Miners win.
Getting homefield advantage gave the Beach Bums a few, well, advantages. Since they locked it up over a week ago, they could set their pitching roster just the way they like it. And if there's a decisive Game 5 next Monday, it will be in Traverse City.
The homefield advantage, though, came with one big drawback. The schedule. While Traverse City gets games on Wednesday, Thursday and Monday, if it goes that far, Southern Illinois got the weekend with Saturday and Sunday games.
Homefield advantage — great for baseball, horrible for business.
Attendance was listed at 1,256, more than 3,000 fewer fans than Sunday's regular season finale.
Those at Wuerfel Park on Wednesday were behind the Beach Bums, but something was missing.
Kids. Or more specifically, the families which line the rows to watch the Beach Bums on a summer night.
Summer, though, ended this week as kids headed back to school on Tuesday. And on the second day of school, things like homework, sports practice and getting a good night's sleep took precedent over playoff baseball for the families who frequent Wuerfel Park.
Team owner John Wuerfel could relate. Even his grandchildren, who usually help out at Beach Bums games, sat this one out.
"(Playing on a school night) is a tough time for families, I understand that," Wuerfel said. "But, this doesn't come around every year."
Wuerfel is right. And those at the park like Smith took advantage of the chance to watch playoff baseball. But, it's also hard to argue with families sitting this one out.
It'll be interesting to see what happens as the playoffs progress and families get settled into a fall routine. Perhaps they'll come back to Wuerfel Park. Perhaps they won't.
Either way, there are good seats to be found.