PITTSBURGH -- Considering the country's economic instability, the city's two-month fascination with its hockey team and less than dazzling results from the ballclub, the Pirates organization remains plenty pleased with its attendance marks now 35 games into an 81-game home slate.

Heading into Monday's game against the Cubs, the Pirates have had a total home attendance of 658,402, which averages to 18,811 per game. At the 35-game mark in 2008, the average attendance sat at 16,748.

That difference represents a 12.32 percent increase.

"In light of what's going on with the economy and the industry, we're happy with where we are now," Pirates president Frank Coonelly said. "We certainly have a lot of work to do to stay ahead of last year's pace."

Only nine of the other 29 Major League clubs currently have a year-to-date attendance figure that is higher this season than it was last year. The Pirates boast the eighth-highest increase among all teams.

"We may not stay ahead of last year's pace for all of the year, but right now we're staying ahead, and that's an encouraging sign in this economy," Coonelly said. "We have worked hard to provide our fans with value."

Despite being encouraged by these attendance figures, the organization still knows there is work to do to improve upon last year's final attendance of just over 1.6 million fans, the second-lowest final figure in PNC Park's eight-year history.

Currently, the Pirates' average home attendance ranks 28th in baseball, with only Oakland and Florida averaging fewer fans per game. The organization does have at least six games remaining on its home schedule that it expects to attract sellout or near-sellout crowds. The two SkyBlast dates as well as two Saturday games with postgame fireworks and two with postgame concerts are sure to draw well over 30,000.

On the other hand, though, the Pirates don't have a three-game series like they did last summer with the Yankees, in which they posted three sellouts. The closest equivalent would have been the Indians' visit to PNC Park earlier this homestand, but the Pirates only drew an average of 23,130 for that three-game Interleague set. The Pirates averaged 38,967 fans in the three games against the Yankees.

Those Yankees games, which were the team's 40th, 41st and 48th home games last season, have not yet been factored into the year-to-date average that the team is using as a current comparison, which does make it hard to project whether the organization will continue to draw above its '08 average through the rest of the season.

One thing that is not up for debate is the team's success when the seats are filled. In the 13 home games with an attendance figure of at least 20,000, the Pirates are 11-2.

"The fans are very energetic and they are great fans," manager John Russell said. "We feed off of that. Absolutely."