Super Bowl Summary

Who knows? For the first time in history, I didn’t watch it. The cheaters Patriots won, apparently on a really stupid play call. If the play would have worked, it would have been a brilliant play call. So it goes.

This is the first Super Bowl in ages where I didn’t watch any of it on TV. I didn’t see the game, I didn’t see the commercials, I didn’t see Katy Perry. I did clean four or five hours worth of shows off the DVR with the Spousal Unit and the PsychoPuppies.

I don’t feel unfulfilled.

One of my friends complained that the US wastes an incredible amount of time on the game, and then confessed he would watch. That’s when I decided I didn’t really care. I don’t have any ties to the Seahawks and I hate the Patriots, so why waste the time?

I have a feeling it’s people like me that cause advertisers to leak their commercials on the Internet before the game.

To all those who are hung-over this morning, drunk with victory or defeat, did your lives actually change?Did the fact forty-five guys you don’t know ran into another forty-five guys over four or five hours really make you feel that much better today? How many people heard, “Hey, the Patriots won! Everybody gets a bonus!” (Other than the team.)

We waste a lot of time on sports. Sometimes, I choose not to waste time on sports, and I don’t feel I’ve missed that much. Yesterday was one of those times.

Now, can we start counting down to Spring Training?

Sports Marketing

I don’t understand sports marketing, specifically the AirHogs. They changed mascots this year, from Ace Bacon (a fighter pilot pig) to Scout, a blob that’s supposed to be a fighter pilot pig. Apparently, a realistic fighter pilot pig scared children. WTF?

Scout looks like Dodger, the Ft Worth Cats old mascot. Allegedly, it’s the same person inside. He is an asshole. He seems to think people come to the game just to see him. While this is probably a requirement if your job is to look like an idiot in a blob suit, it is contrary to reality.

Sports should not need additional attractions – it is the attraction. I understand baseball is a lengthy game, and there are many details, but that’s what baseball fans expect. If your kids get bored, there should be attractions for them away from the action. Out of sight, out of mind.

Scout is for the children. He needs to take the children Pied-Piper style out of the way. However, since Scout’s human inside thinks he is the center of the universe, he leads the children by running up and down the home dugout with a t-shirt. All the children are screaming for the t-shirt. Scout is the center of attention. His life is fulfilled.

There’s only one problem. It’s the bottom of the ninth, and the home team is behind. This is when the fans want to watch the game. The most expensive seats? Just behind the home dugout. The seats where you can’t see or hear? Just behind the home dugout.

This is obviously a disconnect. The front office is trying to get people to the game, and then prevents them from actually enjoying it.

If you think a blob chasing children is required to sell tickets to a baseball game, you either spent too much time in marketing classes, or you have no faith in your product. Either can be deadly. It’s why Shreveport has had so many teams fail.

The Metroplex has the Texas Rangers, the Frisco RoughRiders, the Grand Prairie AirHogs, the Ft Worth Cats and probably more smaller teams.

How do you sell minor-league, unaffiliated baseball in a town that has a pro team that’s been to the World Series twice lately?

Here’s my thoughts:

Can you meet Rangers manager Ron Washington after the game? Probably not. The AirHogs manager will be in the bar by left field after the game. He lives baseball. Ask him what you want to know.

Want to meet the players? Frisco players sign autographs at given times. AirHogs players (and many opponents) eat dinner in the bar after games. They’re very gracious with their time. Buy them a drink.

Can you sit in a front-row seat for less than $15? You can in Grand Prairie. Try that in any pro sports in the area.

Grand Prairie has affordable, accessible professional baseball. Nobody else (except the Cats) has all three.

Why isn’t that the marketing plan? Why aren’t baseball games being marketed to baseball fans?

I never went to major league games with any regularity because it was too expensive to get good seats, and getting in and out of Arlington is painful. We went to a RoughRiders game and it was fun, but the traffic was horrific. In Grand Prairie, we found a team that was accessible both personally and geographically.

The whole point of playing unaffiliated ball is to get moved to affiliated, then to the majors. So, they actually play ball. There are more triples than in any other level of baseball because its all out.

So, accessible, affordable, professional baseball played by people with something to prove.

Why again do I need a blob to excite me?

Day three – Is this really cricket?

So, today is day three of Friday’s AirHogs – Diablos game, and hopefully, it will get finished this afternoon. Unfortunately, we have the same umpiring crew, so it could be a long afternoon. Friday’s game was under threat of spraying for West Nile virus (actually, against West Nile virus), so there was a hard stop in place – no inning could start after 10:15pm. (The usual curfew for the American Association is midnight, and I think we’ve hit that twice in four years.) As the game went on, I thought “What a stupid announcement. I haven’t seen a game go past 10pm all season and I’ve been to almost all the home games.” Oops. This was not a good thought to have.

AirHogs are leading going into the bottom of the seventh, 9-8. There’s lightning in the sky. We’re about to have chemicals dropped on our heads by our local government. Surely, the umpires will just call the game due to poison. Nope.

AirHogs are leading going into the bottom of the eighth, 9-8. There’s still regular lightning. The poison planes are in the air, according to WFAA’s text message. Surely, the umpires will call the game. It was legal a long time ago, and the home team is winning. Nope.

Top of the ninth. Diablos have men on base, two out, two strikes. Justin Dowdy throws strike three. Game over!! Wait. The umpire says it’s a ball. WTF? Then, it happens AGAIN. Apparently, you need five strikes to get some batters out. The tying run comes in. Dowdy makes a gentle suggestion that the home plate umpire might want to visit PearleVision (I’m assuming.) He’s ejected. Hmm. Maybe he wasn’t talking about glasses.

Then, AirHogs are set down in the bottom of the ninth. Tie game. Still, we have a bit of momentum going. Oh, wait. The 10:15pm rule. Game suspended.

No problem, the Diablos are in town all weekend. So, continue game at 5:00pm Saturday to get it finished before the 7:00pm game is scheduled to start. On the bright side, it should be easy to park, since nobody will know that baseball starts at five and not seven.

Saturday, the heavens over Dallas open. Rain. If it were raining frogs, I would assume the umpires were just the first plague of many, but this is just rain.

The bar does good business. The snack stands do good business. Just after 8pm, everyone is told, “By the way, we’re not playing tonight.” Thank you, Captain Obvious.

The last time this happened, the team got a really nasty letter sent to them, the league and posted on their Facebook page. Apparently, some fans don’t know that baseball is not played in the rain, but they will wait until the absolute last moment to announce this. (The absolute last moment being about an hour to an hour and a half after the scheduled start.) If it is sprinkling, they may play. If it is pouring, have a beer and head for the exits. Trust me.

So, this afternoon at 1pm, the AirHogs and Diablos are finishing Friday’s game. Then, they’re playing Saturday’s game. Then, they’re playing Sunday’s game. Even Ernie Banks would say that’s a bit too much.

Let’s hope they get them in before the spraying (also suspended) starts up again. I would hate to see umpires melting as the pest spray rains down on them. No, wait, I wouldn’t mind that much, at all.

Diablos vs AirHogs, day three. A unique phrase, indeed.

Bitch Bitch Bitch

Are sports fans ever happy?

Last year, the AirHogs had a dreadful start to the second half, and everyone was complaining – the players have given up, the manager is panicked, we’ll never win again.

This year, they clinched with almost three weeks to go, and people are finding other things wrong – management isn’t outgoing enough, the free video feeds aren’t good enough, prices are too high.

I really thought if a team was winning, all was forgiven. Apparently not.

I’m trying to figure out what sports fans want – not that I can do anything about it, I’m just interested. There are some who just like baseball, some who like the players, some who go for the community, and some who can’t afford Rangers tickets.

Me? I’d like to watch a game in relative peace with people around me that are actually interested in the game. (If you want to chat about your day, go to the bar). I’d like to be able to hear the sounds of the game, even if they’re not all child-friendly. If someone on my team does something stupid, I would like to react naturally, without being told I’m not supporting the team. I’d like my team to win, but I think I appreciate a good game.

Should a team’s winning make their fans happy? Of course. However, I did a quick study this year, and my life did not appreciably change whether the AirHogs won or lost a game. I would like the other fans to realize that. If your life sucks, 22 young men getting rings isn’t going to help you for any length of time. It’s their victory. I’m not sure it reflects on you, just because you watched them play. Lighten up.

Go AirHogs!

You’re Outta Here!

There is an art to being thrown out of a baseball game. Before I started watching a lot of games at the park, I always thought it was pretty much the same – the umpire made a call, the manager came rushing out of the dugout to argue it, he got tossed. Now, I realize the real action is after the ejection, not before. First, the ejectee has a chance to make his case to remain in the game. This is usually replaced by a few choice comments about the umpire’s eyesight, upbringing or other attributes. Then, there is the walk of shame – at QTP, it’s all the way down the third base line, into the outfield to the far corner of the field to the gate to the clubhouse.

This walk can take quite a long time. Former AirHogs manager Pete Incaviglia would take a tremendous amount of time. It was his evening constitutional. Then, Pete would get so distracted thinking about what he had done (and I’m sure feeling remorse) that he would often leave the gate open. Unfortunately, the game could not proceed until the gate was closed. The umpires would tell the nearest AirHog to close the gate, but the players work for the manager, not the umpire. Eventually, someone would close the gate. Eventually.

There are actually rules about when someone can get tossed – theoretically, you can say anything about the call (“that was a horseshit call”, but not about the umpire (“you’re a horseshit ump.”) Ultimately, it’s the umpire’s decision, so like many decisions, ejections will be questioned, as in a couple of cases below.

Here are the three tosses from the past week and a half or so, two of which were in the same game  –

Ricky VanAsselberg, AirHogs manager. The plate umpire had a strike zone that moved more than a popcorn kernel in hot oil. The batters were swinging in defense, and our pitcher was getting really flustered. Ricky headed to the mound to calm the pitcher down. After the usual pause, the home plate umpire waddled up to the mound to break it up. Ricky kept talking. Then, Ricky started discussing something with the umpire. Then, the hook. I’ve meant to ask Ricky what he said, but I’m sure it was something about if the umpire knew how to keep a strike zone consistent, Ricky wouldn’t be out there wasting time trying to calm down his pitcher. I’m sure it was reasoned and polite. Although, he did get ejected, so I’m pretty sure the term “horseshit” was used somewhere in the calm and reasoned discussion.

Antagonizing the umpire – Ricky stormed off towards home plate, and kicked dirt all over it. It was covered. This I find pretty funny, but it’s been done before. Then, he headed to the dugout to dump his equipment and put someone else in charge, since he was leaving. While this was happening, the umpire brushed off home plate.

Umpire’s Fatal Error – Home plate is between the dugout and the walk of shame. So, Ricky covered home plate in dirt. Again. His catcher was snickering as the umpire bent down to clean it off. Again. That was hilarious.

Mike Conroy, Wichita Wingnuts outfielder. Mike played with the AirHogs before, so I’ve met him a few times. He’s a very passionate guy, so you just stay out of the way, expect the usual outburst every now and then, and nobody will get hurt. He was up to bat, took a third strike, and dropped an F-bomb. It was “slightly” loud, since I could hear it from my seat by the first base dugout. Here’s the interesting part – he wasn’t actually challenging the call. He wasn’t even upset at the umpire, he was upset at himself. Then, the hook. WTF? What is he getting thrown out about?

Antagonizing the umpire – If you tell Mike Conroy “You’re outta here!”, I’m pretty sure he hears “Please tell me how you feel about my officiating, since you are now out of the game and can speak freely. Also, if you have any questions about the legitimacy of my birth or my mother’s alleged former hourly occupation, please feel free to discuss those as well.”

Umpire’s Fatal Error – After Mike discussed the call to his satisfaction and was storming towards the dugout, the umpire called for three more balls. He was signaling the bat boy, but Mike was happy to oblige. A handful of baseballs came raining out of the dugout. As Mike headed down the walk of shame, the bat boy was trying to gather them all up, and was having problems because he was laughing. If you can make someone laugh after causing them work, that’s a pretty good ejection.

Brian Rose, Wichita Bench Coach – I would have never known why Brian was thrown out, but we had lunch with him the next day, and it was being discussed, so I have the quote. Brian is the last person I would have expected being thrown out of a ball game. He’s a bench coach – the voice of reason. Brian’s a calm guy. (He was the AirHogs’ bench coach before he moved to Wichita, so we’ve watched him on the field.) Still, a player had a called third strike (in the same game that had seen Mike tossed a few innings earlier), and the player questioned the call briefly, and then returned to the dugout. So, that was that, until the hook appeared. At first, I didn’t know who had been ejected. It turns out Brian had asked a very innocent question – “How many more of those are you going to get wrong?” Apparently, the umpire took offense. Ironically, this is probably a legitimate ejection, since Brian was questioning the umpire. (He was not alone in this, but you can’t do it out loud if you’re in uniform.)

Antagonizing the umpire – After he was ejected, I really don’t think Brian was antagonizing the umpire as much as blowing off steam after having the same crappy officiating for six days. If you are the bench manager of a team, living on the road while battling cancer (visit Brian’s page for more info), I really don’t think you need a 19-year old working home plate, especially when he’s apologized for blowing calls before. It’s bad for your stress levels. That said, I believe Brian heard basically the same quote as Mike when he was ejected, “Say, since you’re leaving us, what do you think of my officiating? Do you have any constructive criticism for me?”

Umpire’s Fatal Error – You ejected Brian? He’s the one person keeping managers from killing you in the parking lot. That is not going to win you many karma points, dude.

The Humane Society of Baseball

As someone who has been involved in pet rescue for over ten years and an AirHogs season ticket holder for three, some of the parallels are striking.

Why are pets dumped at the shelter? The usual reasons (regardless of validity): “it’s not trained”, “it’s too expensive”, “it doesn’t get along with our other pets”, “we just don’t want it anymore”, “it bit me.” How many people-centric variations of these do ball players hear when they’re cut?

Once a pet is dumped or a player is released, the parallels continue. I think much as many people consider pound puppies “broken”, they also don’t take independent ball seriously.

This is a major marketing issue that independent ball has – people are not going because it’s “not pro ball”, but they’re not necessarily going to the majors, either. This means they really don’t like baseball, or they don’t want to bother going to see it live. Maybe it’s pricing – the majors cost too much to go regularly, and the minors don’t cost enough for people to take seriously.
 
Here’s a news flash – the independent-league players are paid (not much), but it’s pro ball. Also, in the minors, they’re trying to get out, so they’re trying to get noticed. I’ve always thought a lot of people in the majors are more concerned about their longevity than championships. Depending on their contracts, most are paid win or lose, so why risk injury?

So, you can spend a lot of money on major-league tickets just like you can spend a lot of money on a designer mutt. In both cases, it may not be worth the money. What if you get a heartworm-positive ill-bred dog? What if they’re Mets tickets?

The next time you want a real dog, visit your local rescue. The next time you want real baseball, find a minor-league or independent-league park near you.

We Win!

The AirHogs beat the Captains tonight, 3-1, so the teams split the four-game series. The AirHogs are in first place in the division by six and a half games, with Shreveport in second. It’s interesting that on the way home, I realized that I wasn’t happy or elated by the win, I was relieved. That’s how bad this umpiring crew has been. (Yes, I’m bitter.)

Since tomorrow starts a new series with Ft. Worth, hopefully, we’ll have a new officiating crew. Unfortunately, there aren’t that many crews in the area, so I’m sure we’ll recognize them. If nothing else, a change would be good, even if it is the equivalent of changing a dirty diaper for one that is merely wet.

My next project in my copious spare time is to learn how to become an umpire in the American Association. The procedures for affiliated and major league ball are on the MLB website, but the only mention of umpires on the American Association’s website is the email address for the director of umpires. I think I will drop him a short note, asking about the procedures and qualifications. Hopefully, if I’m polite, he’ll answer it when he gets through all of the hate mail and protests he must receive.

I must apologize for bitching about the umpires as much as I do, but after seeing AAA ball in Nashville and the Frontier League in Lake Erie (with a two-man crew), I have to say that many of the American Association umpires would not last in another league. Their indecision and their wrong decisions make you start to question every call. When I  hear players yelling at them about the strike zone moving, and see someone thrown out at first because there was another out on the play that wasn’t called verbally so the defense threw to first for a force-out double-play, I started to realize that I may not be paranoid, they may actually be incompetent.

To me, this is unfair to the players and the fans. The players deserve to have a consistent strike zone and umpires that keep the game moving and officiate fairly. The fans deserve umpires that don’t interfere with the outcome by making bad calls.

The most distressing aspect to me is that the umpires often seem hesitant. This just builds distrust. You’re a freakin’ umpire – you cannot be second-guessed. There is no video replay. Just make the call and stand by it. If you can’t make the call with confidence, right or wrong, you need to find another profession.

Blind

Shreveport-Bossier Captains 4, AirHogs 3

I’ve calmed down enough to not say “A day that will life in infamy”, but I’m still pissed.

An umpire is not supposed to affect the outcome of a game, but Danny Hymel and the rest of the truly inept officiating crew at QTP tonight did just that. Hymel called an obviously foul ball fair, which gave Shreveport a two-run home run in the top of the ninth. They won the game by one run.

I was in the stands, watching the ball fly off towards the outfield, thinking “F*ck!”, and then I saw it turn foul and land far outside the foul pole. Whew. Then Danny called it fair. F*ck! Everyone with functional eyes protested, but the Three Blind Mice gathered together and discussed it, and I have never seen a call reversed, so the ruling stood. AirHogs lose.

It is disappointing to me that a game can be lost by an umpire unable to be in the proper position to see a ball go foul. This is the second time this week a foul ball has been judged fair, but this is the first one that lost a game and doubled our closer’s ERA.

After some of the bizarre calls last year, I really hoped that we might get some umpires that actually knew the rules and how to work a baseball game. Unfortunately, no.

The real pity is that the league’s umpiring crews must be local, as we see the same idiots again and again. It’s hard enough beating our opponents without having to put enough extra runs on the board to beat the umpires as well.

It’s interesting that the American Association website doesn’t say anything about requirements for being an umpire. I think I will ask, because now I’m actually interested in the procedure, assuming there is one. MLB and MiLB sites have detailed instructions on how to become an umpire, and the progression from minor league to major league. I guess in independent ball you just need a blue shirt.

Sold!

The El Paso Diablos announced new ownership yesterday – the Tigua Indian tribe which lives in and around the city are now the majority owners. The Diablos were a sister team to the AirHogs until the AirHogs were sold earlier this year, as both were owned by Ventura Sports Group. With the sale, Ventura goes from owning two teams to none in less than six months. Their website still shows both, and all the rest are “coming soon.”

Ventura will have an American Association expansion team in Laredo, TX starting next year, and Pete Incaviglia has been announced as manager.

I find it very interesting that a lot of the comments in the El Paso press about the sale echoed what was heard in Grand Prairie a few months back – team not doing well, attendance falling, stadium needs repairs.

If Ventura ever update their website (an unlikely proposition), I will be interested to see how this is actually declared a victory for them – which is how all sales will be spun by both sides.

The other parallel is that both the AirHogs and the Diablos now have “local ownership.” The AirHogs new owners live in Dallas (and own Shreveport and Amarillo teams – but field and team management are local or semi-local) and the Diablos owners are in El Paso and own other businesses there.

I never thought that “local” would be critical to team ownership, but it was mentioned in both sales as a positive. The El Paso press actually specifically mentioned that Ventura was from Wisconsin – and it reminded me of a Pace Picante sauce commercial long ago: “New York City???? Get a rope.”

Hopefully, the finances in El Paso aren’t in the same disarray the AirHogs apparently were, so the tribe can make it work. The Diablos do seem to have a relatively large, dedicated fan base, and very little competition in the area, so that will help. They also have the worst record in the division, which will make a negative difference eventually.

It will be interesting to see how long the “Wisconsin” company stays in Laredo. Since their website says they are owners (not any more, but coming soon), operators (“we put fans in stands”, except in Grand Prairie and El Paso) and developers (perhaps, it may be secret), they don’t seem to have a lot to do.

Scattered Thoughts

I can’t believe hockey season went longer than basketball season – and they both go on too freakin’ long. Congratulations, Mavericks! Next year, try to close it out sooner.

On to more important sports.

Baseball can make anyone an obsessive-compulsive about statistics. I was in Nashville for a customer meeting, and after my wife mentioned she was late for the AirHogs game, I thought “This is the South. There has to be a baseball game around here somewhere.” So, a couple minutes with Google later, I found the Nashville Sounds – the Milwaukee Brewers’  Triple-A team, and they play a couple of miles from my hotel. As an added bonus, the Round Rock Express was in town, so I could see a Texas team, specifically a Texas Rangers’ team.

Side note – parking $3, ticket $14, beer $6, beef brisket sandwich & fries $7. Total $30. I think that’s under my meal limit. 

This was a pitchers’ duel – the Express had three hits but couldn’t score any runs. The Sounds had one hit, but it was a home run, so they won 1-0.

I looked at the stats at the end of the game – Scott Feldman, the Express starting pitcher (on rehab assignment from the Rangers) went 5 innings, walked 2, struck out 5, gave up no hits. He only faced 17 batters and he only threw 73 pitches. (I was surprised he came out, actually.) Derek Hankins came on in relief and faced 7 batters. He didn’t walk anyone, struck out 4, got 2 to ground out (the six outs that made up his two innings of work), and gave up one hit – a home run. 24 pitches, 17 strikes … one over the fence. Beau Jones closed by getting three batters out – two ground-outs, one fly-out. Three up, three down. So, three pitchers, a one-hitter, a 1-0 loss.

For some reason, I’m now just obsessing about this. 4 out of 7 struck out. 57% strike-out rate. 17 strikes out of 24 pitches is 71%. 1 pitch out of 24 is 4%. 96% not bad is usually good, but not in baseball. Almost three-quarters of his pitches were strikes, but he still lost the game.

On the other hand, if three pitchers can limit your opponents to one hit, don’t you think somebody should score them some runs in support?

I am going to try to stop obsessing now.

The other thought wandering around my head lately has been how a team is directed – inward or outward, and does it make a difference to the fans? With the change in managers in Grand Prairie, the team seems much more focused on the game – not that they weren’t focused over the last few years, but it seemed like they were more accessible to the fans. Once the game started, that was it – it was heads down, back to work, but the rest of the time, they either chose to interact with the fans or were directed to do so.

It made being in the Booster Club fun, because the players were always around, and they recognized the booster club members.

This year, they’re off to a great start and they’re kicking the crap out of some of their opponents, but sometimes the fans almost seem to be an afterthought. They are circling the wagons and the team is in the center. While I do think it helps minimize the possible prima donna issues on the team, it means the team is looking inward and not outward.

I assume that a lot of the attitude trickles down from the management – do they see the team as family entertainment playing a game or as a unit that must win all the time? (A related question – is the manager supposed to be a baseball evangelist who draws fans to the park or a general waging war, assuming victory alone produces fans?)

So, a question I’ve been asking myself – Is it preferable to follow an average to above-average team that will acknowledge the fans readily and interact with them when possible or follow a championship quality team that apparently doesn’t know you’re there?

I’m too old to hang with the players or try to keep up with them, so it’s not about socializing for me. There are quite a few players (and a few alumni) who are on Facebook, so I can ask questions and get feedback. A few of the guys will always say “Hi” before the games. It’s just I’ve sensed the overall mood has changed.

I’m not sure I prefer winners who are playing for themselves. I think I would prefer winners that were playing for the fans.

Maybe I’m thinking too much about baseball.