Some questions answered

On the field, the AirHogs look pretty good so far this season. They spent the weekend sweeping the defending champion Shreveport-Bossier Captains, and they are leading their division. So, for those of us worried about teams in the same division with the same owners, maybe it’s not that big an issue, but it’s still early in the season. It’s weird seeing the managers meet at the beginning of the game and realize they work for the same people. It’s a department meeting with the umpires.

From a personnel perspective, as one of the coaches said last night, “We have pitching.” (For some reason, everyone knows that pitching is critical to the game, and yet many teams still have mediocre pitching.)

Winning against Shreveport was a good start to the season (this was the second home stand) although having “Cajun Weekend” while they were here was a bit much for some of us. Our new manager (Ricky VanAsselberg) is their old manager, and he’s from Louisiana, but celebrating the opposing team (even if a coincidence) is just not cool. There are some of us who still remember the stolen base late in a game last year by one of our former players while we were getting blown out, which was a horseshit move. Pete Incaviglia was yelling at Ricky about respecting the game (that move does violate “the unwritten rules”), and now Ricky is our manager, so some of us are still trying to wrap our heads around the whole issue.

Off the field, the AirHogs are still deer in headlights, although it seems to be improving. It’s interesting to see that the new ownership apparently didn’t read any of the agreements made with the season ticket-holders by the old ownership. There are any number of promises made that either were ignored or are just now getting implemented. While I applaud them for trying to make things right, it would have been preferable to just do what the contracts said in the first place.

To me, it’s a bit like the old Van Halen “brown M&Ms” story – if you don’t know your season ticket-holders were promised free drink refills (and have no easy way to provide them), what truly critical part of the team financing or operation did you miss?

I have a feeling the old ownership managed to put quite a bit over on the new owners, and most of that was because the sale process dragged on so long. There were rumors of a sale last year, but the sale went through only a couple of weeks before the season started. In the meantime, the owners bought Pensacola and moved them to Amarillo.

I would love to see a business student do a paper on the team and its history, because they constantly seem to be skating on the edge, and I’m not sure I understand why. (It would make an interesting book, but I think you would find it difficult to get information from the insiders.) If you’re not making enough money, you’re either priced too low or you’re not bringing in enough people (marketing dollars misspent or underspent.) The corporate America solution would be to cut costs – say, pay the players less – but I don’t think that’s possible. So, the challenge should be to get butts in seats. The current solution seems to be discounted tickets (which tends to piss off those of us who paid full price in advance) and the new $40 all-you-can-eat seats in one of the suites. I’m hoping we don’t end up like the Stars and the Cowboys and the Mavericks, where the vastly over-priced seats for people who don’t pay attention to the game finance the team and the cheap seats are empty because eventually they get over-priced as well.

There is certainly competition – there are any number of baseball teams in the Metroplex, so it is a crowded market. However, the AirHogs are in an area that serves a good portion of Dallas and the MidCities – people who are probably unlikely to drive north to Frisco for affiliated ball, don’t want to drive to Ft Worth to see the Cats (same division as the AirHogs) and they’re priced below the Rangers for people who don’t want to pay big-league prices.

So, I’m hoping the new owners get their act together. The field management seems to have done a good job building the team, so now it’s time for the front office to catch up.

Go AirHogs!

Which one is Cinderella?

A bit more rambling on the concept of one company owning three teams in a five-team division … who gets the most attention? Let’s take a quick look at the teams:

Amarillo Sox – no history (new team) but a town that has supported baseball for a long time in the United League. If the previous team had made rent, the Sox wouldn’t be there and Amarillo would be watching a defending champion play. So, good community support to start.

Grand Prairie AirHogs – 2707 average attendance per game last year (above the league average) – dismal start to the second half that may have chased some people away, core fans have probably been concerned about new ownership, team direction, what the players think and so on. Located close to two other minor league teams (Ft Worth Cats, in the same American Association division as the AirHogs, and the Frisco RoughRiders, the AA team for the Texas Rangers) and the Texas Rangers, current AL champs.

Shreveport-Bossier Captains – 1588 average attendance last year but league champions. We’ve been to the ballpark, it’s certainly no QTP.

So, if you own all three, where do you put your money?

You have a new ballclub in a town that already supports baseball. You have an existing ballclub in a crowded market. You have the league champions with low attendance.

My concern as an AirHogs fan is that a market saturated with baseball will fall low on the totem pole even if management lives here. I would think investing in two championship towns with limited entertainment options (do locals really gamble in Shreveport?) would provide a better return.

The AirHogs have a good fan base, the newest stadium of the three teams and a market that is larger than both the others combined. The market size is important for possible spectators, but I think it’s also important as a draw for players. Many of them have mentioned that Dallas-Ft Worth is preferable to many of the smaller markets in the American Association. If you’re going to toil away for low pay, best to have a place to go at night.

The AirHogs also have a lot of concern in the fan base about an ownership change, so the owners need to come press the flesh and assure season ticket holders (especially) that they know how to run a team in Dallas, not just Shreveport, and that the AirHogs will be independent of the rest of the teams in the fold.

Amarillo has a market that is used to baseball and the advantage of the “newness” of the team.

Shreveport has the league champions.

Then, the concern all fans must have – if a company owns three teams and one of them starts making a run at the championship, are the other teams going to “decide” to trade their best players to help the winning team? I know it happens all the time between managers even if the teams don’t have the same ownership, but I’m very concerned that it will be directed from the front office now.

This will be an interesting year.

So glad that’s over

Congratulations to the Green Bay Packers, the winners of the Metroplex’s first Super Bowl. The national anthem sucked, the halftime show really sucked, but the game was actually pretty good – which is how it should be.

I poked around Wikipedia (so double-check the facts), and this was actually the third Super Bowl in Texas – Houston has had two – Super Bowl VIII (Miami’s second consecutive win, the year after the perfect season) and Super Bowl XXXVIII (Patriots over the Panthers.)

Given how incredibly bad many people (including me) think JerryWorld’s halftime show was yesterday, I looked at the halftime shows for the Houston games. 1974? The UT Longhorn Band (which would piss off Aggies, but at least it’s within the State.) 2004? Nipplegate.

I must have zoned out on this, because I never realized Nipplegate was in the Great State of Texas.

So, we didn’t get anyone local (Kelly Clarkson? Willie Nelson? ZZ Top? Jack Ingram? The Robison Boys? Any number of thousands of Texas bands?) and we didn’t get any fun and excitement.

Note to future Super Bowl planners – if you ask a group to do a 15-minute set and they say they need two guest stars to pull it off, get another group.

Super Bowls in your town are a lot like weddings – there is a dull drumbeat that starts a year or two before the event, which grows louder and louder until it eclipses everything else, and then after a few hours, it’s over.(I am very grateful Lotusphere was last week, so I missed much of the hype.)

Was it really worth all the pain?

I’ll wait to see the local financial numbers for a final answer, but I would have to say “No” at this point.

Some of the issues I see:

  • The home team was from Wisconsin, over 1,000 miles from JerryWorld. As I said on the Bleacher Report yesterday, that’s not really a home team.
  • Dallas got blamed for having winter weather. In February. May I remind people NYC can’t shovel snow, either, and they get this every freakin’ year?
  • The weather kept any number of people away, so a lot of stores, bars and restaurants probably have extra stocks today. Anyone having a Jack Daniels sale today?
  • A number of people with tickets didn’t actually have seats. They weren’t oversold – the seats didn’t exist. It’s not that they paid for outside, standing, watching TV “seats” (who were those idiots?), it’s that the Fire Marshal didn’t approve the temporary seating that was still being installed at game time. WTF?
  • Jerry didn’t set the Super Bowl attendance record – while it would have been perfect to have the record missed by the exact number of people denied seating, it was missed by more than that.
  • Wasn’t our last big snowstorm when Jerry had the NBA All-Star Game at the DeathStar? Who did he piss off?

I am probably in the minority on this, but after years of reading about Super Bowls and Olympics that barely break after the locals being promised a huge windfall, I’m really not sure what we got out of this, other than Jerry’s ego is probably larger now than ever, if that were even possible.

I wonder what happened to the guy with two nosebleed seats for $57,000 EACH on StubHub?

Freezing

It’s cold, even though this is Dallas. It’s the dead of winter, and the start of a New Year. However, I think while we have January for the New Year and the Chinese have sometime in February, we should just move New Year’s to Opening Day.  That’s when life begins anew, and everyone is tied for first place.

 

AirHogs opening day is May 12th, 2011 – 7:30pm at QTP, against the Gary SouthShore Railcats – one of the teams added to the league this year.

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!

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

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.

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.