Determination

The AirHogs won last night, 7-6 over the El Paso Diablos. The victory was clinched in the bottom of the ninth, the way all home team victories should be, and it was the essence of a team that was playing together, making good decisions, waiting for their pitches and working towards a common goal. To many people not familiar with the strategies of the game, it was probably an anticlimactic ending. To any number of fans, it was boring enough to skip.

The game was tied at six. Both teams had traded the lead a couple of times. There hadn’t been any big innings on either side. The AirHogs had a good outing from their starter, Ryne Tacker, and Chris Martin had pitched in relief and sat down every batter he faced. The pitching had done their job. Now, it was time for the bats to win the game.

The AirHogs started the inning at the second spot in their batting order – Antoin Gray. He hit the first pitch he saw into the shallow outfield for a single. The crowd exploded. One more single, and the game was over! It was the last hit of the inning for the AirHogs.

One on.

Next up was David Espinosa, one of the heroes of the All-Star game this week. He has an RBI in this game. He hit the first pitch foul. Then, he watched two balls sail by, and on the second, Gray moved to second on a wild pitch. He swung and missed, and watched the next two go by. Espinosa walked.

Two on.

People waiting for the dramatic swing to win the game are getting worried.

Greg Porter strides to the plate. He’s fourth in RBIs in the league this year. He has the pool at QTP named after him, because he was the first player to hit a home run into it. He has an RBI tonight. He’s overdue for the big hit. Two balls whistle by. An epic swing, strike one. Fouled off, strike two. He watched two more balls pass him by, and he’s on first. The runners advance.

Bases loaded. The AirHogs need one run to win.

Mike Hollimon walks to the plate. He has a triple and a two-run double in the game so far. One good swing, and it’s over. Surely, he will hit one out of the park. People are probably thinking about Mighty Casey at the bat – but forgetting that Casey struck out.

Two balls go by. 2-0 count. Then, he starts to swing. Two fouls, and it’s a 2-2 count. No margin for error. Two more fouls, to stay alive, rattle the pitcher and torture the crowd. He watches a ball sail by. 3-2. Full count. He fouls off the next pitch. People start watching Daniel Berg in the on-deck circle, just in case, even though that’s bad karma.

Last pitch of the game. Ball. He walks. The runners advance. Gray walks home. Run scores. Ball game.

Gray saw one pitch and liked it. Espinosa saw five. Porter saw five. Hollimon saw nine. (The nine pitches were the most stressful at-bat I can recall.) Nineteen pitches, waiting for the twelve balls that would drive in a run without requiring another hit.

A walk-off walk.

It’s not a grand slam, it’s not even a walk-off hit. It’s just good baseball. Actually, it’s great baseball. It’s one of the best endings to a game I’ve ever seen.

Go AirHogs!

Superstition

Superstition plays a great part in baseball, although I’ve only seen one great example this season – other than no pitchers actually stepping on the base line while going to and from the mound.

One of the AirHogs staff noticed that Pete Incaviglia and one of the fans from the Booster Club both had handlebar mustaches. Since they are always looking for ideas for promotions, when Pete suggested Mustache Monday, it seemed a natural. So, a date three weeks or so from that night was chosen. I started growing a mustache, just to fit in. Pete swore he could keep the mustache that long. The promotion was announced – cheap tickets for anyone with a mustache. We even donated a Carstache for a prize on behalf of Sparky’s Pals. (Sadly, I don’t think the winner claimed the prize.)

Mustache Monday Eve (the Sunday before), Pete’s mustache was gone. Why? “Gotta shake things up. Change our luck.” For some reason, this made perfect sense to me. It’s much easier to shave than to change the entire pitching staff overnight, for example. (Actually, given the trading activity this season, this may not be true.) My wife was still amazed that Pete would shave the day before the game named for his specific facial hair. However, changing luck outranks a promotion – especially when you’re the manager and you get into the park free, anyway.

So, now that the team’s slumping, Pete’s mustache is coming back and mine is still around, I’m starting to think maybe it’s me. It may be time to shave.  We’ll see.

The Five Stages of Baseball

(with apologies to Dr Elizabeth Kubler-Ross)

Baseball fans go through very similar stages to the stages of grief experienced by those with a terminal disease, especially when their favorite teams is suffering through a losing streak. I realized this tonight as I watched my guys take a 15-0 spanking from a team they should be able to beat. So it goes. I suppose this means watching baseball is a terminal disease.

Denial
I can’t believe this! These umps suck! They hate our team! What is the matter with them! This crew should be reported! It’s not our fault! We’re great and we’re being punished.
Anger
He’s stealing! Throw him out! Are you blind? Call the damn ball! Talk to each other! Swing your damn bat! WTF is wrong with you? I could play better than you can!
Bargaining
Please, Lord. Just one freakin’ hit. I’m not even asking for a win, but that would be nice. A run. Just one run, so it’s not a skunk. Not even that. Just a single. Anything. A walk. Please? A base runner?
Depression
This sucks. I hate my life. I can’t eat. I can’t sleep. Please, someone just end this.
Acceptance
Tomorrow’s another day! Let’s play two! (Further down the season, this becomes “We’re rebuilding! Next year, championship!”)

A Fan Entrance Exam

Sometimes, I really think baseball stadiums need an entrance exam. Now, baseball has always had its share of kooks, both in the stands and in the dugout, but most of them actually knew something about the game. These days, even that doesn’t seem mandatory.

This was originally going to be a tirade against specific people, but it’s getting more general as time goes on. First, it was going to be an apology to the players for a couple of specific people who are obviously idiots. Specifically, it was a litany of sins from one particular “fan” that is making people crazy in and out of the stands. Finally, I realized that there are enough annoying people paying their six bucks to get a seat, and we need a way to filter out the true idiots.

Hence, the entrance exam.

Now, I’m not totally against heckling the players – I even understand people who heckle their own team (I am a Cubs fan, after all), as long as it’s from passion. If you really want to know what someone was thinking when he hit into an inning-ending, drive-crushing double play, you probably have the right to ask him. Loudly. Just remember – he knows what happened, he probably wants it back, so don’t expect much of an answer.

I’m against two basic classes of “fans” – the oblivious and the pseudo-groupies.

The oblivious can be found in every sport – I was just surprised to find them at a minor league game. Most of the time, they’re sitting in really expensive seats at games because some company is using the tickets as a write-off. In that case, it makes perfect sense – they’re only there as a prop, so why pay attention to the game? In the minors, I assumed everyone would be there because they chose to be – or they would be in the suites, safely out of the way of the game, and blessedly out of sight.

Now that I’ve seen a couple of people get beaned, I know that there are oblivious fans everywhere.

Every sport has groupies – the women (and perhaps some men) that want to be Mrs. Player (or at least Mrs. Player-for-the-Evening) and all the guys trying to recreate their glory days that may or may not have ever occurred. They are probably at best a minor distraction to the players. Eventually, most will get the hint and wander away.

The pseudo-groupies are the worst. They cling to the team like a fat guy to a donut. They seem to be everywhere. They’re seen with all the players. Some are gently escorted out of the clubhouse after they wander in, uninvited. However, when you start listening to them, you realize they are completely clueless.

I expect a fan to do some basic research. If you come to only a couple of games, you’re exempt. Get a scorecard for the game, and you’re done. I expect someone who attends games regularly to know something about the team, and I expect a fan with a media pass to not only know something about the team, but also to know where to find out about changes to the roster.

If you’re asking someone why he’s in a different team’s uniform three weeks after he was traded, you’re a poser. Go away. If you ask the equipment manager why he’s never playing, it might be that he’s the freakin’ equipment manager and not a player. (Bonus hint – people with the same last name are not automatically brothers. Do some research.)

So, here’s the first draft of my entrance exam. I reserve the right to edit it later. Please don’t contact me for the answers. If you don’t know, go watch poker on TV.

Basic Knowledge

  1. What teams are playing in today’s game?
  2. Which is the home team?
  3. What sport will they be playing?
  4. How long do you expect the game to last?
  5. In what inning would you expect the seventh-inning stretch?

True/False

  1. Nothing ever happens after the eighth inning, so if one team is ahead, that’s a good time to beat the traffic out of the stadium.
  2. Players never think about the game on the field, so asking for autographs when they’re in the on-deck circle is acceptable.
  3. If you yell really loudly at the dugout, someone will give you a baseball.
  4. If you do get a baseball, you should immediately ask for two more for your friends.
  5. Anyone with a number on a jersey is a player.
  6. Each team has a website with player information, schedules and more.
  7. Players can be traded, waived or released at any time. The league website shows these transactions.
  8. If a player steals a base, he has to give it back.

Multiple Choice

  1. The home team bats a) once b) twice c) every inning.
  2. The players sitting around away from everyone are a) on strike b) very smelly c) the bullpen d) b and c
  3. The older guy near third base waves his hands because he’s a) swatting bugs b) sending signs to the base-runners c) waving to fans d) epileptic
  4. A manager trades players a) to strengthen the team b) to annoy the public c) randomly d) by order of the Lollipop King.
  5. The clubhouse is for a) the public b) ticket-holders c) anyone with a media pass d) the club.

Essay Questions

  1. I friended all of the players I could find on Facebook because I expect …

Whatever happened to what’s his name?

Tracking the roster changes on an American Association team like the AirHogs can be an interesting (and challenging) task. My wife and I started going to games their first year (once in a while) and got season tickets the next. So, last year we were paying more attention to the team and its members, because we were seeing them more often. After we joined the Booster Club, and we’re paying a lot of attention, since we’ve actually met most of the players.

I tend to obsess about the roster because I keep a database of the players on the AirHogs Boosters Mobile site. The goal of this originally was to be able to identify player jersey numbers since the names were left off the jerseys this year. (As a side note, not having names is probably a reasonable idea – it’s not an ego thing, it’s actually a cost issue. As players joined and left last year, the newer players didn’t have names on their jerseys, since it was expensive to make a new, named jersey. One advantage – you could tell the players with tenure, since they had names. The disadvantage? You still needed a scorecard to figure out the “new guys.”)

I used to just watch the transactions page at the league website, but it’s not real-time. (It’s not even close.) This year, we noticed that if you looked at the team’s roster page on the team website and then clicked “Transactions”, you got updates more quickly, but it’s still not completely accurate. The roster itself seems to be close to real-time, so people may come and go – if you don’t have a copy of the previous roster (or a good memory), you may never notice the difference.

There’s a couple of issues we’ve hit in spite of all this new-found knowledge – one, the reality seems to be that even with the hard limit of 22 players on the roster, there is some leeway on when people actually count against the limit – as in, we’ve seen players in games who are “officially” not on the team yet. (The current AirHogs roster has 20 players, and I really find it difficult to believe a team wouldn’t be at the limit all year.) The other is that apparently if a player is waived (not released, not traded), he won’t show up in transactions at all unless he’s picked up by another team.

All this means is that it’s very difficult to actually find out who is on the team without just checking the box scores every night, and waiting for the league site to update to find out who the new guy is. (The other option is to actually go to the games!)

A compounding factor – The goal of every player in the minors is not necessarily to win the championship, it’s to get moved to a higher league – from independent ball to affiliated, and then up the chain to the “show.”  A minor league manager’s goal (as one has told me) is to build an environment where that will happen.

So, if you’re a minor league fan, you have to remember that there will be much more “churn” than in other leagues. You may not notice it as a casual fan, but if you actually start following a team, you’re going to notice it a lot. As there is no trade deadline, it will never end.

Plunk!

Entire essays have been written about batters being hit by pitches, followed by retaliation, re-retaliation and so on. I thought it was interesting that one of our pitchers showed zero innings last night – which means he hadn’t gotten anyone out. That’s all the box score will tell you. Then, my wife mentioned Greg Porter’s wife said he was HBP in the game last night. At that point, I got curious.

Here’s what happened:

In the second inning Grand Prairie’s Michael Hollimon was hit by a pitch and both benches got a warning for the rest of the game.  Come the eighth inning that came into play as Arnoldo Ponce was hit by a pitch from Chris Martin the first pitch after Bernal’s home run.  Martin and his manger Pete Incaviglia were both ejected at that point.  The next inning the Diablos responded by plunking Greg Porter who turned and wrestled catcher Adam Deleo to the ground.  Porter, along with Butch Henry and pitcher Christian Staehley were all ejected at that point as a total of five were ejected from the game. (Quoted from the Diablos game summary.)

Three HBP in one game. Possible (well, probable) retaliation on both sides. Five ejections. Other than adding a little drama to an otherwise pretty boring rout, does it really help or hinder the teams?

HBP made some sense to me when pitchers weren’t replaced by designated hitters, so if you plunked one of their guys, you were going to get hit. After the DH entered the picture, HBP should really mean “Hit By Proxy.”

These days, although it’s still gonna hurt, hitting someone with a pitch is really just giving a guy an intentional walk without all the outside pitches. So, you have to wonder why giving up a base would make sense on the defensive side of the ball.

Now, if one of your guys got hit and you’re retaliating, then I understand. I’m not sure I agree, mainly because it has always seemed a bit childish, since you’re putting your defense down a base just to make a point, but sometimes, you do what you have to do.If the manager tells you to make a point (not that they ever would), you make a point.

There are also unintentional HBP – the pitcher just lets one get away or it sails a bit and the batter gets plunked. As we saw in an earlier game this year, there are some batters who will draw a HBP by simply not moving, and if the umpire doesn’t know the rule specifically states that the batter should try to get out of the way, he’ll get a free base. (We had one crew that gave one opposing batter three bases in two nights because he didn’t move. You wonder why we hate the umpires.)

When a batter gets plunked unintentionally and suddenly everyone’s getting hit in retaliation, I just fail to see how this is helpful, either tactically or strategically. I suppose if it incites a brawl, it will build some camaraderie on both sides, but you’re really just putting one of their guys on base, and in some cases, you’re also getting yourself removed from the game. (Note to Greg on last night – good move going after the catcher instead of charging the mound. Very original and probably very surprising to the catcher!)

Maybe someone who has played will comment. I know historically there were pitchers who were just protecting the plate by throwing inside and sometimes, batters who crowded the plate got hit. Establishing the zone made sense – especially if batters were usually frantically ducking out of the way and learned where to stand without getting hit. Now, I’m not sure the pitchers are that calculating.

It seems to me the best revenge for someone getting plunked is still winning the game. In that case, throwing strikes may be the best retaliation for one of your guys getting HBP.

Trade Up, Trade Down

There are trades every day in the American Association – trades, releases, people coming on and off the disabled and inactive lists. While it gives managers a lot of leeway to rebuild their teams, fix roster problems quickly and sometimes exile problem players, I sometimes wonder if it doesn’t also cause more problems on the field and in the clubhouse than it solves.

I’ve been paying more attention to the AirHogs roster this year, mainly because I’m trying to keep a database of player numbers just to keep track of who is on the field. Trying to keep track of the roster changes could almost be a full-time job, and it’s not just here, it’s everywhere.

I started looking at tenure, and there are some players who last less than a week with the team – this should have been a tryout and not a contract.

Part of the issue is that spring camp is so short – I really don’t think you can look at all of the possible players in the amount of time there was to put a team on the field to get started.

The biggest problem I see is that there is no trade deadline. It would be interesting to tell managers that there were no roster changes (except in case of injury) after June 15 or the All-Star break or any random date. This would mean the managers would have to build the best team possible before that date, and afterwards, they would have to work with the players they had on the team.

In this case, the players would be able to work together since they would know each other better. There would be less paranoia about getting released or traded. Everyone could focus on the actual target – which is championships.

Just a thought.

Losing Fans

When a team is not doing as well as expected, one of the fears is usually that the fans will abandon the team. The management fears this, since gate receipts will be lower. The players fear this because I think a part of the validation that they are doing a good job is there are people willing to pay to see them. If less do so, they are not doing a good job.

The problem with “fans” is that is usually means “audience”. The audience is made of many types of people.

I’m a fan. I like baseball, but I especially like Grand Prairie AirHogs baseball. The team is made of a (almost constantly) changing roster of 22 guys – chosen by the management to put the best team possible on the field and still meet the roster requirements of the league. This means that the players will not always be the same. However, the team I chose to support are the guys that are wearing the uniform on the field that day.

That’s a key point – the team consists of the guys that are on the field that day. It’s going to change. I won’t storm out because my favorite player got traded (it does hurt) and I won’t storm out because one of our sworn enemies from another team is now an AirHog. It’s a small league, it’s going to happen.

(Does this mean I am going to abandon all players who are traded or retire or simply wander off? Of course not. I hope to stay in touch and Facebook is a great way to do that. )

In the best of all possible worlds, the manager would choose well and wisely before the beginning of the season, and you would have the same team all year. If you look at the transaction logs on the league website, you will realize this never happens, not just here, but anywhere.

So, my hope is that the Booster Club (especially) will always support the team, no matter who is on the team and no matter what their record is.

I’m a fan. I expect the team to put forth their best effort. (I think they are.) I don’t (really) expect them to win championships every year. I don’t expect them to win every game. I do expect that they will give their best for the entire game, and win or lose, they’ll do it all over again the next day. That’s baseball.

There are “fans” who are only interested in a team while it is winning. These are not true fans, and it’s probably best when they wander off. They are not missed.

There are “fans” who for some inexplicable reason think that a ball park during a baseball game is a good place to discuss business or dating habits or fine dining or any number of subjects not related to ERA and RBI. I hate these people.

There are “fans” who really just want to be seen with the players. These people are a distraction to the team, which is unfortunate. I’m pretty sure these people don’t necessarily cheer for the AirHogs, it’s just that’s the closest team or the organization that will let them get close to the team.

I admit – I like talking to the players. I like talking to the staff. I’ve learned a lot about baseball in the past couple of years. However, I am not under any delusion that I can play like a twenty-year old, drink like a twenty-year old, or live on the amount of sleep they seem to get. Hell, I can barely pull a tarp. So, I will leave the baseball to the AirHogs and not interrupt them while they’re at work.

I think the Booster Club has actual fans – we’re dedicated to the team, we’d like to assist the players and we’d like to cheer them to victory. If they don’t win, we’ll cheer them to defeat. We understand that old favorites will leave and new players will arrive. We’ll try to treat them all the same. We’re not leaving until the season is over, and the next day, we’re starting the countdown to Opening Day.

We’re fans – it’s what we do.

How To Cheer

Here are some quick notes on how to cheer on your Grand Prairie AirHogs, for anyone new to the game of baseball. First of all, welcome! Secondly, QTP is a family environment, so you can’t cuss as much as you will often feel the urge – did you ever notice how loud the music gets when Pete goes to “chat” with the umpires? So, all the standard things you would say to your boss, spouse, children or pets are out. Let’s try to be positive out there!

AirHogs Batting

  • On any ball – “Wait for your pitch!” or “Good eye!”
  • On any foul – “Keep workin'”, “Straighten it out a bit!”, “Make him pitch!!”
  • On any called strike – “WHAT?!?” (see Umpires section)
  • On any (obvious) strike – “If that would have connected, it would be in downtown Dallas!”

Opponents Batting

  • On any ball – “WHAT?!?” (see Umpires section)
  • On any foul – “Nice try”, “Pitch too fast for you?”
  • On any called strike – “Good call”, “What are you waiting for?”
  • On any (obvious) strike – “What was that ‘whooshing’ sound?”, “Thanks for the breeze!”, “So close!”

Umpires
Any umpire is called “Blue” because

  1. that’s the color of his uniform
  2. nobody remembers their names from the pre-game announcements
  3. he just “blue” the call or you wouldn’t be yelling!

Because of baseball’s policy on inclusiveness and government ADA regulations, most umpires are legally blind. However, like dogs, they don’t know they’re blind, they just use their other senses to make up for it. Unfortunately, you can’t really smell whether a pitch was a ball or a strike, so they need help from the crowd to use their sense of hearing to know how they are doing.

After any call against the AirHogs

  • C’mon, Blue!
  • Hey, Blue! Need a rulebook?
  • Hey, Blue! Get a clue!
  • How did you find the park with those eyes?
  • How much are opposing team paying you?

After any call for the AirHogs

  • Got one right, Blue!
  • just stunned silence

Opponents
Finally, on the other team – in many parts of society, heckling is seen as rude, but it is also an effective method of intimidation – the AirHogs have said they get heckled elsewhere, so feel free to let the other team know they are not playing at home. Just be clever instead of abusive – if their third baseman’s mother rides a bicycle, he probably already knows it and is ashamed. However, reminding him that your daughter in Little League has a higher batting average would be effective. A crucial point – he doesn’t know you don’t actually have a daughter in Little League!

My favorite heckle of all time was telling one of their pitchers (after he had given up a couple of hits) that he was a good T-ball pitcher.

WARNING Don’t tell their larger players they are fat. Some of those chubby guys are surprisingly nimble, and they have bats.

Enjoy the game! Go AirHogs!