After 14 seasons, the region's baseball fans still have a love affair with the Altoona Curve.
The Curve completed the home portion of their 2012 schedule Thursday night with a 6-4 win over the Akron Aeros at Peoples Natural Gas Field.
The game, attended by 5,912 fans, enabled the Curve to finish with a 44-27 record at PNG, the second-most home wins - Akron has 46 - in the Eastern League this season.
The Curve drew 270,613 fans for 63 home openings - an average of 4,295 per game. The club attracted 285,906 (4,205 average for 68 openings) in 2011 and have put together back-to-back years of increased attendance for the first time since 2002-2004.
"We're really pleased," general manager Rob Egan said of the attendance numbers. "We're extremely grateful to our fans, our sponsors, and the media coverage we receive.
"The fan support has been great from the get-go and now, 14 seasons in, to say we've had attendance growth each of the last two years we're just thrilled," Egan said.
Tonight: Altoona at Erie, 7:05 p.m.
Pitching matchup: Curve RHP Jameson Taillon (2-0, 0.00) vs. SeaWolves LHP Ramon Garcia (9-9, 3.84)
A lot of things go into attracting people into the ballpark, according to Egan, and he praised the club's ticket and marketing staffs for their efforts, particularly since Altoona and Jackson, TN., are the two smallest cities in all of Class AA baseball.
"We have to keep things interesting and deliver what fans like," Egan said. "We have to have fresh things for the season-ticket holders who might come night in and night out. Different promotions, different entertainment acts the Cowboy Monkeys were here for the first time this season, and they were a big hit.
"And, we want to make that first impression, whenever it is, a good one."
He noted that most EL clubs have the same problems early and late in the season - weather and poor attendance when schools are in session.
"Those are challenges," Egan said, "but we've been able to overcome that with pre-sold tickets and attractive promotions like appearances by players from the Steelers and Penguins."
Despite an EL-high seven rainouts, the Curve drew 4,000-plus fans 17 straight games from July 21 through Aug. 27. The July 4 attendance of 8,485 was the largest at the Lakemont facility during the Lozinak era.
Club owner Bob Lozinak echoed Egan's thoughts about the attendance and also credited front-office personnel for their work.
"Plus, we've had a great relationship with the Pirates," Lozinak said. "There aren't many major league teams who play an exhibition game with one of their minor league affiliates, and we couldn't be happier about that."
The Pirates will play the Curve in an exhibition game next March 30, 2013 at Peoples Natural Gas Field.
"I think the fans have a good time when they come here, and that's why they come back," Lozinak said. "We're always looking to increase attendance, and I think the Kids Club has been a great addition."
As for the game, the Curve took control in the second inning when they sent 10 men to the plate and parlayed four hits and three walks into five runs.
The Aeros made it close with a pair of runs in both the fifth and eighth innings, but the Curve bullpen was equal to the challenge and forced the Western Division leaders to strand 14 base runners.
Starting pitcher Kris Johnson earned his third win in five decisions. He scattered seven hits and gave up two unearned runs in five innings. Three relief pitchers finished up with Vic Black earning his 11th save with a scoreless ninth.
"We took care of business here at home," Altoona manager P.J. Forbes said. "That's something to be proud of. We played well in front of the home fans and finished games here.
"It was a nice way to finish it, with Vic [Black] on the mound," Forbes said.
First baseman Matt Curry had a double (his 34th) and single and drove in his team-best 76th run of the season - the most since former first baseman Matt Hague had 86 RBIs during the 2010 EL Championship run.
Curry was promoted to Class AAA Indianapolis after the game.
"He's an intriguing player for the organization," Forbes said of Curry. "He got rushed here a little bit last year [jumping high A Bradenton] and I think it was a good thing. He had never faced adversity and I think he learned from it.
"He made the adjustments this year and has put together a great season."
The Curve presented their 2012 awards prior to last night's game to:
SS Brock Holt, most valuable player.
RHP Phil Irwin, pitcher of the year.
1B Matt Curry, unsung hero.
RHP Vic Black, fireman of the year.
RHP Tim Alderson, community commitment.
Holt and Irwin are now with Class AAA Indianapolis.
Going to Arizona
Four Curve players - RHP Brandon Cumpton, RHP Tyler Waldron, 1b Matt Curry, OF Adalberto Santos - will play in the Arizona Fall League for the Scottsdale Scorpions. Bradenton IF Gift Ngoepe will also play for the Scorpions along with prospects from the Indians, Angels, Yankees and Giants. Play begins Oct. 9.
Key player: Matt Curry had two hits, scored a run and drove in his 76th run of the season.
Key play: Curry was promoted to Class AAA Indianapolis after the game.
Key stat: Aeros left 14 runners on base.
How they scored
Bottom 2nd: Curry doubled, scored on Latimore single. (1-0); Cutler singled, Farrell walked, Brown walked, scoring Latimore (2-0); Cutler scored on walk to Nunez (3-0); Santos singled, scoring Farrell (4-0); Brown scored on Lambo groundout (5-0).
Top 5th: Abraham reached on fielder's choice, scored on error (1-5); Chen doubled, scored on Rohlinger single (2-5).
Bottom 5th: Lambo tripled, scored on Curry single (6-2).
Top 8th: Rohlinger homered (3-6). Stoneburner walked, scored on Abraham single (4-6).