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.

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.

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.

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!