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03/09/09 6:08 PM ET

Spring Training attendance is blooming

Overall figures represent a 2 percent increase over 2008

Despite the economic doldrums, Major League Baseball is 2 percent ahead of last year's pace for overall Spring Training attendance through Sunday's exhibition games, the Commissioner's Office reported on Monday.

A total of 871,502 fans have gone through Cactus and Grapefruit League turnstiles in 154 games, an average of 5,659 per exhibition. That compares with an average of 5,548 through the same number of games in 2008.

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And that does not include the built-in entertainment bonus of exhibitions between World Baseball Classic and Major League teams. So when Derek Jeter faced the Yankees for the first time in his career by representing Team USA, or when Ken Griffey Jr. made his Mariners exhibition return against Australia, it was not added to that total.

Spring Training games started in spectacular style, with the earliest-ever full slate of exhibitions on Feb. 25. That was the day Alex Rodriguez made his season debut for the Yankees amid much hubbub -- and homered in his second at-bat in front of 5,014 fans in Dunedin, Fla.

Also on that first day, Cleveland played its first home game since moving its spring facility from Florida to Goodyear, Ariz., against Tim Lincecum and the Giants. It was the same day Josh Hamilton homered his first time up in front of 5,367 at Surprise, Ariz., and it was the first night action of the year as the Twins beat the Red Sox in front of 7,849 at Fort Myers, Fla.

On Feb. 26, A-Rod and the Yankees faced the defending American League champion Tampa Bay Rays in front of 10,693 fans at Steinbrenner Field, a 5-1 victory for the Bronx Bombers. Through Sunday, the Yankees have played four home games, all in front of five-figure audiences. The average was 10,685, making New York the only club to average in five figures for either home or road attendance so far.

The Dodgers played their first home game at Camelback Ranch since moving far from Vero Beach, Fla., drawing 11,280 for an exhibition against the White Sox on March 1.

The Cubs registered the second-largest average home draw so far in Spring Training, with 9,866 average fans for eight home games. That figure received a boost from the Cubs being the home team in Las Vegas last Thursday, when they met the crosstown rival White Sox. That was your typical early exhibition in that 13 pitchers were used, but nonetheless a rivalry blast for those who went. The Cubs scored three in the bottom of the ninth but lost, 4-3.

The average attendance leader on the road so far? Those same Cubs, with an average of 7,879 fans for five road games. The Grapefruit League road leader, meanwhile, might surprise you -- especially considering how they would have drawn one full year ago. It's Tampa Bay, drawing an average of 7,749 fans through five road games -- and followed in order by the Yankees and Red Sox.

Mark Newman is enterprise editor of MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.