There's so much baseball left to be played -- and watched -- this season, but Minor League Baseball's attendance numbers in the early going could be summed up thusly: so far, so good.
In the month of April, the industry's 11 leagues and 136 full-season clubs combined to draw 6,401,632 fans -- an average of 3,752 fans a game. This is an 11.2 percent increase over the 2011 campaign, and the largest April total of the 21st century save for 2008's 6.7 million. That year, Minor League Baseball set an all-time cumulative attendance record of 43.2 million.
Minor League Baseball president Pat O'Conner was, of course, pleased with the numbers. But he also cautioned that it's still early, and that "you can't read too much into it."
"We've had a good, robust opening, and that's partially attributable to the weather," said O'Conner. "As I recall last year, we played a lot of games in horrible weather. And those games were played for the schedule, not the fans."
O'Conner also believes that the slowly rebounding economy is playing a role in the attendance uptick.
"We're not going to be able to make strides if the economy doesn't come back," he said. "There are different sectors showing improvement from that perspective, so that deserves part of the credit as well."
A look at the league attendance leaders includes many perennial top performers. The Lehigh Valley IronPigs once again top all of U.S.-based Minor League Baseball, with an average of 8,078 fans a game, while the Round Rock Express aren't far behind at 7,583. The Richmond Flying Squirrels continue to find success in their outdated ballpark, The Diamond, as the team leads the Eastern League with an even 6,000. And, not surprisingly, the brand-new Pensacola Blue Wahoos are pacing the Southern League with an average of 4,823 fans per game.
The real test comes now, as teams need to not just sustain but expand their fan base as they move into the more amenable summer months.
"April was very encouraging, and I know that our clubs worked hard to get off to good start," said O'Conner. "We're going to look for these kinds of trends to continue into summer. Soon we'll be in the meat of the schedule, with school out and stable weather. I'm pleased with the results, excited by what we've been able to accomplish so far.
"We went into  looking for a good year, and early indications are that it just might happen."