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Associated Press/Photo by Elaine Thompson

Fans in high-def

Sports | The bleachers may be empty, but baseball is riding high

Issue: "Dating and courtship confusion," June 4, 2011

Baseball commissioner Bud Selig wants to blame it on the rain. Teams like Tampa Bay and Kansas City can point to less than thrilling home opponents. But whatever the reason, the numbers are striking: Attendance at Major League Baseball games has dropped for 20 teams so far this season.

Even winners are struggling to draw crowds. The Rays, for example, sit atop the American League East but have seen dramatic declines at the ticket counter from a year ago. And the Royals, who boast their best lineup in more than a decade, have twice drawn crowds of less than 10,000.

All those empty seats look terrible on television and give the impression that baseball may be in trouble. In truth, the rapidly increasing ­affordability of high-definition TV and high-speed internet is changing the way fans consume America's pastime. That old seventh-inning stretch classic might be due for a lyric change: Take me in to the ball game.

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In Kansas City, television viewership is up 25 percent from last year to go along with a spike in web traffic on the team site and increases in merchandise sales. TV ratings across baseball mirror that upswing for both national and local broadcasts. Should that surge hold come playoff time, it could reverse a disturbing trend. Baseball's World Series has witnessed plummeting television audiences in recent years, reaching an all-time low last October.

But no matter the lure of TV, Selig isn't ready to give up on filling baseball's bleachers. He believes the league will see increases before the season is through: "We'll be up. All I can tell you is I'm bullish where we are and where we'll finish."

Harmon Killebrew, 1936-2011

Harmon Killebrew, one of baseball's greatest sluggers, died of esophageal cancer on May 17. The beloved Hall-of-Famer was 74.

Playing in Minnesota for much of his 22-year Major League career, Killebrew never attained the star power of contemporaries Hank Aaron or Willie Mays. But it was not for lack of production. A farm boy from Idaho, he earned the nickname "killer" for his explosive power at the plate, piling up 573 home runs to rank No. 11 all-time.

Killebrew was a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. He had five children from a first marriage that ended in divorce. He married his second wife Nita in 1991. Their family includes nine children, 23 grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren.

Owners score

Judge Susan Richard Nelson endeared herself to football fans in late April with her order for the NFL to lift its lockout of players. But when an 8th Circuit Court appeals panel ruled to maintain the lockout until the league makes its full appeal beginning June 3, a collective groan arose from fans everywhere. The court's decision indicated that the judges agreed with the owners that lifting the lockout before a contract is reached would harm the sport. That leaves the players with little leverage and all but destroys the possibility of serious negotiations for the time being, jeopardizing training camp, preseason games, and even the 2011 regular season.

Of course, the players still hope they can prove the lockout illegal, thereby swinging leverage back in their favor and getting back to the negotiating table. But the time necessary to win such a legal battle may prove more than the players can stomach. Any loss of training camp time is sure to result in more injuries. And rookie free agents have already suffered as they are unable to sign with teams until the lockout is lifted.

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