Clarence Eckstein grew up in Ohio, when a great summer day meant driving 2½ hours with his dad to see Pete Rose and the Big Red Machine.

At 51, Eckstein still cheers for Cincinnati. From home, on TV.

“Tickets, gas, food, it’s a few hundred dollars,” he said. “Other bills are more of a priority.”

He’s got company. The high price of attending games is by far the biggest problem in Major League Baseball, an Associated Press-Knowledge Networks poll of fans released Thursday shows.

A whopping 63 percent said the steep cost was the game’s top trouble – up from 45 percent in a survey right before opening day. Worries over players making too much money or taking steroids lagged behind.

“It’s sad when people can’t afford to come to a game. No doubt. I would love for every kid and every adult to be able to afford to come to a ballpark,” Texas Rangers pitcher Eddie Guardado said. “Somebody’s going to come up with a good idea to fix it.”

MLB attendance is down more than 6 percent this season. The average ticket price is $26.64, up 5 percent over last season, according to the Team Marketing Report.

In other poll results:

• 72 percent of respondents said MLB is not doing enough to prevent the use of performance-enhancing drugs.

• 15 percent of fans who went to a game last year said they aren’t likely to attend a game this year.

• About two-thirds said neither Manny Ramirez, Alex Rodriguez, Barry Bonds or Sammy Sosa should be allowed into the Hall of Fame if they are found to have taken steroids or performance-enhancing drugs.

Fans said soaring salaries (18 percent) and players taking banned drugs (14 percent) also were concerns. But more than anything, they felt priced out.

Players said they understand.

“It’s definitely a big concern for me,” Minnesota Twins outfielder Denard Span said. “Without the fans, this game, I don’t think it really exists.

“I don’t think anybody in here wants to play in front of nobody. So if ticket prices are going up, especially with the economy as bad as it is right now, where people can’t afford to come to games, I think something definitely needs to be adjusted,” he said.

Eckstein, who works on semi trucks in Celina, Ohio, has felt the crunch. He went to two Reds games last year, but doesn’t plan to make it to Great American Ball Park this season.

Linda-Lee Sigmon, who runs her own monogramming and embroidery business in Orlando, Fla., also expects a shutout. Getting to Tropicana Field to see the Tampa Bay Rays is too pricey for her family.

“I have boys 11 and 12 years old, and as much as I’d love to take them to a game or two — that’s the highlight of the summer — I can’t do it,” she said.

“My business has been severely impacted because of national economics. You go to the ballpark and get a hot dog and a Coke and the tickets and maybe a little souvenir and it’s prohibitively expensive,” she said. “Taking the kids to an old-fashioned ballgame is a major vacation.”

MLB said two-thirds of its 30 teams cut their average ticket price or some level of seats this season. Even so, it’s too much for some.

“With the economy the way it is in general, you’re seeing people priced out of certain forms of entertainment. It’s not just a baseball problem as much as it is an economical problem within our country,” Los Angeles Angels outfielder Gary Matthews Jr. said.

“I think we still are the cheapest form of entertainment in sports,” he said. “When you consider what NBA games run and the amount of games that they play, it’s astronomical. Think about taking your family to an NBA game or an NFL game and see how much a day at the football stadium runs a family.”

The AP-Knowledge Networks poll was conducted June 26 to July 5 and involved online interviews with 655 adults who said they were interested in Major League Baseball. It has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3.8 percentage points.

The poll was conducted over the Internet by Knowledge Networks, which initially contacted people using traditional telephone polling methods and followed with online interviews. People chosen for the study who had no Internet access were given it for free.

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