Sold!

The rumors were finally confirmed this week – the AirHogs have been sold. The new owners are Southern Independent Baseball, LLC. Last year, SIB was the owner of the Shreveport-Bossier Captains. This year, they own the Captains, the AirHogs and the Amarillo Sox (newly moved from Pensacola.) So, one company owns 60% of the Southern Division of the American Association, leaving El Paso and Ft Worth as the other teams.

Frankly, I’m surprised there aren’t rules against this. Of course, El Paso is owned by the company that just sold the AirHogs, so it’s not like it’s new news, but even with independent subsidiaries running each team, there just seems to be a lot of possible conflicts of interest. However, teams are already helping other teams stockpile talent for playoff runs, so I guess this will just make it more efficient.

If you read the bios for the SIB management, they’ve been around independent baseball a lot – owning teams, managing leagues and various other positions.

Independent baseball is a very small pond, I suppose.

So, the front office management is in place. Next, is field management. Then, play ball!

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.

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?

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.

Plunk!

HBP – what’s the point?

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

Does the American Association need a trade deadline?

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

Losing fans won’t happen. Losing audience might.

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!