Originally posted on Pro Sports Daily  |  Last updated 5/21/12

Indians closer Chris Perez ignited a firestorm of controversy in Cleveland last weekend when he ripped fans for their lack of support of the team. At the time of Perez's comments, the Indians were last in the majors in average per-game home attendance and second to last in the majors in total home attendance.

The irony of the hullabaloo is that it's really a non-issue, except in Perez's mind. The Indians for years have had poor early-season attendance. The April weather in Cleveland is usually very cold, consistently windy, frequently raining, and sometimes even snowing. Since a run of 455 consecutive sellouts ended shortly after the turn of the century, the Indians' attendance pattern has been completely predictable.

The teams draws very few fans in April and early May. Then, when the weather warms, and when school is out, attendance picks up significantly. The Indians actually had a worse attendance month in April of last year than they did this year, and the team still wound up drawing 1.7 million for the season, which was about 300,000 higher than the club's own preseason projection.

There's no reason to believe that the Indians' attendance pattern won't remain the same in 2012. The front office knows it. Most fans in Cleveland know it. What Perez's comments mostly did was to turn a non-story into a controversy.

Perez called it "a slap in the face" to Indians players that the team was in first place in the AL Central and yet wasn't drawing crowds, adding that players do not want to play in Cleveland because of the lack of fan support.

"I don't understand the negativity," he said. "We're in first place. Enjoy it. We could be in last place. We could be like Kansas City or Pittsburgh. We're last in attendance. That's a slap in the face. Oakland is outdrawing us. That's embarrassing."

Perez said he has talked with numerous teammates about the issue.

"They feel the same way, but they won't say it," he said.

The pitcher also said he has talked with ex-Indians, players on other teams, about their feelings about playing in Cleveland.

"The consensus," Perez said, "is that it's not a good atmosphere. It's not fun to be here."

Indians officials immediately went into damage control over Perez's explosive comments. First, team president Mark Shapiro and general manager Chris Antonetti met the following morning with Perez. The front office, understandably, feels that the last thing the Indians need at this point is for one of their players to be further alienating the fan base.

At a hastily arranged press conference the day after Perez's remarks, Shapiro tried to calm the waters.

"We have the utmost respect and appreciation for our fans," he said. "I understand the emotion and passion and competitiveness that drives Chris' performance as one of the most dominant closers in the major leagues, but part of what drives him to be successful in that role is that emotion and competitiveness. I think a lot of that led to what was said (Saturday)."

Shapiro tried to put a positive spin on the controversy.

"In talking to him, it's clear that what drives this emotion is how great he feels about our situation," Shapiro said, "about how good he feels about our team and our ballpark, and his desire for more people to experience it. That's the root of it.

"We as an organization clearly disagree with Chris about our fans. Our underlying belief is if the team continues to play the way it has, and continues to win, more fans will come out."

Cleveland right-hander Derek Lowe shrugged off the topic.

"The attendance is what it is," he said. "Who am I to say who should or shouldn't come to the games? My job is to play baseball. In my opinion, it's not our place to tell people to come to our games."

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