The largest crowd in four years - and the largest ever with Bob Lozinak as the team's owner - showed up to celebrate the nation's birthday with the Curve on Wednesday night.
The Fourth of July crowd of 8,485 didn't get to see a win - Reading won, 1-0 - but the turnout itself offered proof that minor league baseball not only still can survive but also thrive in a tough economy and a small market.
"It means to me that the base is still there, they haven't given up on baseball and they love coming here," Lozinak said with a big smile after the game.
The crowd was the biggest for a Curve home game since Aug. 22, 2008 (8,731), when the franchise was owned by Chuck Greenberg. He sold the club back to Lozinak, the original owner, following the 2008 season.
Lozinak first owned the Curve from 1999-2001, and on his final day of that first tenure - Sept. 3, 2001 - the ballpark topped 8,000 for the first time (8,070). There were some huge crowds during Greenberg's ownership tenure - topped by 9,308 for the 2006 Eastern League All-Star Game - but prior to Wednesday, the largest to ever see a game while Lozinak was the owner was 8,151 on the Fourth of July in 2009.
Lozinak had the unfortunate timing of buying back the team during the worst recession in the nation's history, and the Curve attendance dropped his first two seasons back before edging up a bit last year.
"I really didn't get down too much," Lozinak said. "We paid the bills, so that was the big thing. We're doing better this year since we've gotten back, and we hope that can continue.
"We have a first-class facility here that is many steps above many of the other minor league parks."
Curve general manager Rob Egan was with Lozinak the first time around as owner and was hired back by the franchise when Lozinak regained control of the team.
"I'm pleased for the Lozinak family, fellow owner Sal Baglieri, our front office staff and especially our fan base for a great night due to their support," Egan said.
"The fans are the key to the continuing success of the Curve franchise. As ownership, management and staff, we just try to deliver great entertainment at an affordable price to reward and hopefully continue that support from the region."
The Curve pitched well but didn't do much else right in front of the big crowd as they were shut out and made several costly mistakes, including failing to get down two sacrifice bunts late in the game.
"We failed in all areas tonight - baserunning, our game plan offensively we didn't execute," manager P.J. Forbes said. "A lot of things we didn't do right tonight, and we pitched way too well to not win that game."
Starter Phil Irwin (1-6) pitched a gem, allowing just one run on seven hits with seven strikeouts and no walks in seven innings. He took the loss, however, in part because Forbes said the pitcher didn't get over to cover first base in time on a play that led to the game's only run.
The R-Phils had runners at first and second with one out in the second inning when Bob Stumpo grounded to first baseman Matt Curry, who fired to second for a forceout. Shortstop Brock Holt tried throwing back to Irwin covering at first, but with the pitcher getting there late, Holt's throw went wild for an error as Darin Ruf scored from second.
Reading starter Austin Hyatt (2-2) pitched six scoreless innings for the win, while Ryan Duke pitched one inning and Lisalverto Bonilla the final two to finish off the shutout and earn his third save.
Key player: R-Phils RHP Austin Hyatt pitched six shutout innings to outduel Curve RHP Phil Irwin.
Key play: Reading 3B Cody Asche gunned down Matt Curry at the plate on a heads-up play in the eighth to prevent the Curve from tying the game.
Key stat: The crowd of 8,485 was the largest ever to see a game while Bob Lozinak has been the Curve's owner (1999-2001, 2009-present).
How they scored
Top 2nd: Ruf hit by pitch, scored on Holt error (0-1).