Time to Panic?

Football season is too short.

The Cowboys have now lost their first two games and some people are beginning to write off the entire season. This is one of the major failings of professional football – it has a really short season. There are sixteen games in seventeen weeks and then the playoffs. So, if you’ve lost two games, that’s 12.5% of your season. Ouch. It’s probably the shortest season in professional sports. Hell, even Ford Truck Month seems longer than football season.

Isn’t a longer season a better idea? In the American Association where the AirHogs play, with a 96-game season, two games is only a weekend. Two losses in a row aren’t even time for concern,  much less panic. It’s not even a trend. The AirHogs lost 13 games in a row to start the second half this year, recovered and were still in the hunt (at least mathematically) until late in the season. They didn’t even finish last in the division. (People did start to panic about game eight. By game eight in the football season, you’re half done.)

I’ve watched football even longer than baseball, but it never really hit me until this year that the length of the season leaves very little room for error in the NFL. There is no mercy for a slow start. This is unfortunate for a lot of football fans whose teams are a bit slow out of the blocks.

So, if you’re a Dallas Cowboys fan this year, there’s one new cheer you have to learn: “Go, Rangers!”

Baseball is better than football

Baseball is better than football.

The Dallas Cowboys lost in rather spectacular fashion to open their regular season last night, so I’m sure the usual panic calls will start on the radio today.  They’ve already started in the online press. You really wouldn’t think one loss would be a big deal, but in the NFL, it is. After 96 AirHogs games this season, I’m not really used to the concept of panic after one loss. That’s when I started thinking –

  • If the AirHogs had lost their 2010 opener (they didn’t), that would have been 1/96th of their games (1.04%), while the Cowboys did lose their opener, which is 6.25% (1/16th) of their season. An American Association team has more games against each of its division rivals than an NFL team has in its entire season.
  • By losing their opener, the Cowboys have now lost half the games they will play against the Washington Redskins this year, a huge problem.  By winning their opener, the AirHogs had won 5% of their games against the Pensacola Pelicans, a victory but a small one.
  • If the AirHogs lose at QTP, you’ve paid $12 or less to sit outdoors in the fresh air to watch a baseball game for three hours or so. If the Cowboys lose in the DeathStar, you’ve paid from $30 to thousands of dollars to sit (or stand) indoors for four hours to watch an hour of sports on a really big, distracting (and kick-attracting) TV set. You’ve probably paid more for your car to sit in the Texas heat at Cowboys Stadium than you did for a baseball ticket.
  • In baseball, you always have another day when you lose (except for the last day, of course.) So, you only have to wait 24 hours or so until you can watch the next game and have the team get back on a winning streak. If your team loses the first half of a double-header, you only have to wait twenty minutes. In football, you will have to wait a week to see if the team is really in trouble.
  • Nobody worries about baseball players playing a game the next day. People worry when football players have to play in less than a week.
  • Who’s ever heard a football player say “Let’s play two!!”?
  • In baseball defense, people are assigned to each base and areas of the outfield. In football on defense, you can switch from five people in front to four, but it requires years of retraining and you need a new coach and possibly new players.
  • In football, almost anyone on the field can draw a penalty (I’m looking at you, Alex Barron.) In baseball, a pitcher can balk or hit the batter (I’m looking at you, Mariano Rivera.) A batter can get ejected for a few random infractions. (I’m looking at you, Greg Porter.) The manager can get tossed for many issues, big and small. (I’m looking at you, Pete Incaviglia.) Who else can get in trouble? It’s not like an outfielder is going to get flagged for hugging one of the opponents during a play.
  • Baseball players play on offense and defense (except pitchers and designated hitters.) Football players are more limited.
  • Football players learn plays and have to remember an entire playbook (“I 31 Trap”, “Right Y Fly Pass.”)  This is so challenging, a coach often has to call the plays. Baseball players learn concepts (“Throw a strike, dumbass.”, “Hit it where they ain’t.”)
  • The playbook also means football players have to relearn how to play when traded. Baseball teams all hit the ball the same way.
  • Professional baseball players that need grooming and practice have the minor leagues. Professional football players that need grooming and practice have unemployment and reality TV shows (I’m looking at you, “Cops”.)
  • A baseball player that fails is spectacular fashion tends to disappear in the middle of the night. A football player that fails in spectacular fashion shows up the next game to possibly do it again. (Is Alex Barron really still on the Cowboys?)
  • In baseball, you can always win in the bottom of the ninth of a home game. If you’re ahead in the middle of the ninth at home, you get the rest of the game off. In football, you’re always on the clock.
  • In football, receivers run the wrong routes, and quarterbacks throw to the wrong place. Baseball runners rarely run to the wrong base.
  • There are more referees than umpires. This cannot possibly be a good thing.
  • If you wear a cap and glove to a baseball game, you’re just a fan. If you wear a helmet and pads to a football game, you’re a dork.

How long is it until Spring Training starts?

Don’t leave! It’s not over!

Why do people leave sporting events so early?

There must have been a lot of people that have never seen a baseball game at QuickTrip Park this evening. I say this because in the ninth inning, with the score tied at zero, people began leaving. WTF?

So, to all the newbies – football, hockey and basketball end on a timer. Soccer ends on a timer, and then the referee adds a random amount of time for no apparent reason. Baseball games end when someone wins.

The AirHogs lost in eleven innings this evening, 3-1. After a stellar performance from the starter, the closer gave up one run in the tenth which the ‘Hogs matched, but then got torched for two in the eleventh and the offense couldn’t match them. So it goes.

Here’s the strange part – a lot of people missed it. Sure, the home team lost, but it was a really good game, and those spectators threw away the chance to see about a half-hour’s worth. It’s free! Extra innings are included in the price of your ticket!

I almost (“almost”) understand people leaving if their team is comfortably ahead (or desperately behind), but as Ft Worth fans discovered earlier this month, an eight-run lead in the seventh doesn’t guarantee a victory. (Pensacola went into the bottom of the seventh down 10-2 and won the game 11-10. Ouch.) So, if the fans who called it an early night would have stayed, maybe the Cats would have won. What if your cheers were the missing ingredient?

I understand leaving work early – it will still be there tomorrow. I understand leaving Church early – you’re just going to hear why you’re going to Hell (again.) Ball games? You never know what will happen. Stick it out until the end. Unless you have screaming children who bore easily. Then, feel free to leave after the National Anthem.

The Pain of Baseball

Night games are (for better or worse) at night.

These days, baseball is generally played at night. It’s cooler for the players and fans (assuming there’s a breeze) and it means people can go to games after work, instead of having to sneak out in the middle of the afternoon.

There’s only one problem – night games are at night.

The beginning of the game is not too bad – you get off work, maybe grab a snack or a quick drink and then you head to the ballpark.

The game itself is not too bad, assuming your team wins, but actually, I’d rather watch a good game that my guys lost than many other events.

There’s usually not a lot of traffic on the way home – getting out of the parking lot at some parks can be challenging, but it gives you time to discuss the outcome and all of the manager’s decisions that made no sense.

Then, you get home. Now, the fun begins. Depending on the length of the game (and baseball is unpredictable) and the length of the drive home, it’s anywhere between 10pm and midnight.

You’re wired.

You’re on a high because your team prevailed, or you’re crushed because the umpires stole another one from them.

It’s time to go to sleep. Who can go to sleep at a time like this?

So, busy work. Walk the dogs. Check some email. Maybe a little TV. Maybe both. Review the scorecard online to see if there really were that many errors. Update your blog. Update the game database you’re keeping. Have a quick snack. Check email again. Check Facebook.

Look at your work calendar for the next day. Hmm. You have a meeting in six hours. This is not good. Think about calling in sick. Realize you can’t call in sick until somebody else is actually at the office. Think about emailing in sick. Realize that you can’t call in sick 48 days in a year just because you have season tickets.

Think baseball is probably the reason you’re so tired and cranky.

Lie in bed, trying to force yourself to go to sleep. Stare at the ceiling. Think you’ve never been quite this tired and cranky.

Start to drift off. Realize there’s another game tomorrow (which at this point, is technically today), and you’re going to have to go through this all over again. Fall asleep happy.

Fighting Football

Well, the AirHogs swept the hated Ft Worth Cats this weekend, the Rangers are still heading for the playoffs, the Yankees are fighting the Red Sox, but none of that matters, because ….

The Cowboys third-string team just beat the Bengals third-string team in a game that is completely meaningless.

I hate being a baseball fan when football begins. In Texas, it never ends, so it’s even more difficult.

Determination

Wait for your pitch.

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

To shave or not to shave – that is the question.

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

Baseball fan? It’s terminal.

(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

We really should test fans before letting them in the park.

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 Roster Churn in the Minors

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.