TORONTO - Chicago White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen has been surprised by the number of empty seats inside Rogers Centre, where the Toronto Blue Jays drew a record-low crowd earlier this week, suggesting the team could solve the problem by inserting a "couple hockey players in the lineup, and they might show up."
Only 10,610 fans showed up for Wednesday night's game against the White Sox, making it the smallest attendance figure recorded for a Blue Jays game inside the stadium formerly known as SkyDome. It was only the team's third home game of the season.
"Terrible," Guillen said. "I felt like I was in Montreal."
Guillen began his coaching career as the third base coach with the Expos in 2001, as the franchise was shrivelling on the vine in Montreal. The Expos drew an average of only 7,935 fans that year.
"I don't know what reason why (more) people aren't coming here," Guillen said. "They have a good ballclub that's playing very well right now. I don't see why they don't support this ballclub."
Toronto held a 6-3 record heading into Thursday night's series finale with Chicago. The team drew 46,321 for the home-opener against the White Sox on Monday night, but attracted only 12,167 the following night.
The previous low at Rogers Centre was set last season, when the Jays drew 11,159 for a September game against Minnesota. The all-time franchise low is 10,074, set on April 17, 1979, when the team was still based at Exhibition Stadium.
Guillen said he remembers what Rogers Centre felt like when "it was pumping," back when the Blue Jays were rolling through their World Series years. Guillen was the shortstop on the Chicago team that lost the American League Championship Series to Toronto in 1993, the year the Blue Jays repeated as World Series champions.
"We've got a job to do, not matter whether you have 100,000 people in the stands or two people in the stands," Guillen said. "We have to still play. Obviously, the players, they play better when there are people around."
Blue Jays manager Cito Gaston blamed a busy sports schedule for the small crowd on Wednesday night, pointing specifically at the Toronto Raptors, who were playing in a do-or-die regular season finale.
"I just hope that was the case (Wednesday) night, and that the fans come back out," Gaston said. "I mean, in order to do the things we're trying to do, we certainly need the fans here to support us and give us a chance - like they did in the past - to keep our players and go get some other players who are going to get us over the hump."
Attendance figures for Thursday's game were not immediately available, but the early turnout looked grim, with vast savannahs of empty blue seats cutting across every level of the stands.
"It surprises me a lot that there's not (more) people coming out to the ballpark," Guillen deadpanned. "Especially when the best team in the game is in town."