It may be an Olympic year. Still, most Atlantans prefer to spend a night at the ballpark than a night watching the potential heroes of the games.
The U.S. track and field trials, Atlanta's final big warmup for the Olympics, has hardly provided a glimpse of the massive crowds that will engulf the city next month.While the Braves have been playing next door at Atlanta Stadium, the trials have taken place in relative obscurity in the massive, 85,000-seat Olympic Stadium. At times, there seem to be more athletes, workers and members of the media than fans.
"This is an Atlanta Braves town, first and foremost," three-time Olympian Carl Lewis said. "If you think differently, you're crazy."
Professional wrestling and tractor pulls also have drawn bigger crowds than some of the turnouts for the trials.
Attendance at this year's meet will have to increase dramatically to approach the record set 12 years ago at Los Angeles, the only other time the trials were held in the same city as the Olympics.
Through half of the eight sessions - Tuesday was an off day - attendance was only 54,954, an average of 13,738, even though two of the glamour events, the men's and women's 100 meters, already have been held.
In Los Angeles, attendance for the eight-day meet was 143,826, averaging nearly 18,000 per session. That was nearly eclipsed four years ago in New Orleans, which didn't have the excitement of an impending Olympics, but still managed to draw 137,262.
Edwin Moses, the great 400-meter hurdler, remembered having to leave Atlanta after he graduated from Morehouse College in 1978 because of the lack of training facilities in the city. He returned two years ago after retiring from the sport.
"Atlanta is not known as a track town," Moses said. "We've had a few track meets here, but that doesn't make it a great track town. If we went to Los Angeles, we would probably fill up the stadium."
The Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games hasn't been responsible for selling tickets to the trials, ranging in price from $10 to $30 a day. Still, all those empty blue seats are leaving a definite impression around the country that the city hasn't caught the Olympic spirit.
"I have been disappointed as a fan that track and field seems to have lost some of its spectator appeal here in the United States," ACOG president Billy Payne said. "But I'm not disappointed (in crowds for the trials), because our ability to impact it has not yet been tested, as it will be during the games."
Payne is quick to point out that track and field has been one of the hottest tickets for the Games.
"We are going to give the spectating public another major dose of this wonderful sport," he said. "Hopefully, one of the legacies is they are going to like it, they are going to see what they've missed and we'll see some revitalization of the sport."
Part of the problem at the trials is scheduling. The World Series champion Braves have been playing right next door in Atlanta Stadium during every night of the trials - and attracting crowds that are two and three times larger.
Even the Braves, however, have seen a drop in attendance from pre-strike levels. Many sports fans seem reluctant to venture into a downtown area that often looks like a war zone with all the ripped-up streets and ongoing construction for the Olympics.
Also, the sports dollar has been stretched thin by the sale of pricey Olympic tickets. People who shelled out hundreds of dollars for a once-in-a-lifetime chance to see the games now find they don't have enough money left over to attend other sporting events.
"On a Monday afternoon, it's hard to get people to come out to watch a track and field meet," Lewis said. "They've got to go to work to make money to pay for all those tickets in July. They can't miss any work now."
Jon Godina competed in the discus competition on a blistering afternoon, while a sparse turnout huddled at the north end of the stadium.
"The people who came were loud. They seemed to have a good time. They were all paying attention and watching it," he said. "There must have been 1,000 or 2,000 people out there. That's pretty good considering they have to be out there from 3:30 in the afternoon to 10 o'clock at night."