PHOENIX -- The Los Angeles Dodgers sat in their visiting clubhouse, staring at the big-screen TV, and couldn't believe what they were seeing.
Seats. Lots and lots of seats. Most of them empty.
Here were the Tampa Bay Rays and Texas Rangers, tied for the American League wild-card lead, and a crowd of only 10,786 was on hand at Tropicana Field.
"We kept looking at the stands, and wondering where everyone was," says Dodgers outfielder Carl Crawford, a proud alum of the Rays. "Man, this is a big game. And you look at the stands and no one was there.
"You get used to it, but at the same time players like playing in front of fans."
Don't tell Lew Wolff, owner of the Oakland Athletics, who will never get used to seeing his home park deserted, particularly when his low-revenue franchise is on the verge of clinching its second consecutive AL West title.
Oh, sure, it was nice Tuesday when they put their Division Series tickets on sale, Wolff says, and the opening night was sold out in 10 minutes.
But where is everyone on many of the 81 nights of the regular season?
"There is something wrong here," Wolff told USA TODAY Sports. "You would think that with our lead, people would want to come out, count down the magic numbers, and all that stuff.
"Even if you're not a loyal fan, you would think this time of year, where the teams are in the standings, and where every game means something, people would come out."
The A's just came off a three-game sweep over the Texas Rangers in Arlington, Texas, padding their AL West lead to 61/2 games, and returned home Monday night to a crowd of 14,629.
The crowd of 24,474 at Miller Park for the Milwaukee Brewers and Chicago Cubs — two teams out of the race since May with a combined 170 losses — was nearly as large as the combined totals of the Rays and A's.
"It's depressing," Wolff said. "I really expected the crowds to be huge this week. I had a player come up to me and say, 'I feel sorry for you, Mr. Wolff.'
I told him, 'Just keep pitching. And whatever you do, don't look into the stands.'"
It's no different in Cleveland, whose average crowd this year is 19,435, ranked 28th in the major leagues despite the Indians being just one-half game back in the wild-card race. They swept the Chicago White Sox last weekend to move close to their first postseason since 2007, but all the excitement produced a mere $20,000 in ticket sales.
The Indians don't need a new ballpark, or locale, like the A's and Rays.
They just need a new economy.
The city has led the nation in consecutive quarters of unemployment growth. Cleveland has had job losses three consecutive months. The earliest date for recovery, according to Cleveland economists, is 2023.
There no longer is a Fortune 500 company in town, much less many folks who live downtown. There are about 150,000 people who work downtown, but only 13,000 residents.
"People are looking for complex reasons for our attendance issues," Indians President Mark Shapiro told USA TODAY Sports, "but it's just as simple as the demographics. It's not an issue of people getting excited. There is a passionate core here, really passionate. And TV ratings are up 35%, along with radio ratings."
The fans are watching and listening, but only from their living rooms, and not making the trek from the suburbs to downtown. They drew just 9,794 fans for a key game against the Kansas City Royals last week, a record low for a September or October game since the opening of their new ballpark in 1994.
"There's not just one large lever we can pull," Shapiro says. "We've got to do 1,000 things extremely well. The biggest thing we have to do is win, and we have to do everything else to make our experience a spectacular one, and compel people to come."
Certainly, these are not the golden days when the Indians dominated the AL and drew 455 consecutive sellouts. Now, about 90 of their 130 suites sit empty every night. The Indians sold only about 7,000 season-tickets this season.
The A's season-ticket base is nearly the same, but they have never drawn 3 million fans, and last drew more than 2.5 million fans in 1991. They will draw their most fans this season since 2007, partly thanks to the $2 ticket night on Wednesdays, but won't hit 2 million in attendance.
"Yeah, percentage-wise, we're doing much better," Wolff said. "But we started like Russia, at a low base."
Certainly the players notice, but largely remain mum. You can complain all you want, but the fans don't want to hear millionaire ballplayers telling families how they should spend their disposable income.
"You can only spend so much time complaining about it," said Arizona Diamondbacks pitcher Brandon McCarthy, who spent 2011-2012 in Oakland. "It's not the best ballpark in the world. But the fans that are there are awesome. They know the playoffs are coming. And during the playoffs, that's one of the best sports atmospheres I've ever been around."
Says A's third baseman Josh Donaldson of Monday's turnout: "I don't know if I really have a comment. We appreciate all the fans that we do have, and the fans that come out here. We respect that. We know that when it comes playoff time, this place is going to be bumping."
The A's and Rays — who are last in the majors in attendance — realize they have to move, Wolff says, if they are ever going to attract fans. They no intention of leaving the state, but are convinced it's impossible to win if they remain in the same locale. Rays owner Stu Sternberg finally conceded last month and embraced Commissioner Bud Selig's invitation to intercede in their stadium lease dispute.
"Something needs to be done," Sternberg said at the owners' meetings. "Something is clearly stopping people coming through our doors. This isn't a one- or two-year thing. Even the economy has picked up a bit and our attendance has gone down."
Maybe everything changes in the postseason, when the upper-deck tarps come off in Oakland. Maybe the free parking lots are filled in Tampa. Maybe the Indians, should they advance, even pack the joint.
"It would just be nice," Wolff said, "if people didn't wait until the playoffs to show up."