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.

 

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

Baseball is better than football.

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

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

How long is it until Spring Training starts?

Don’t leave! It’s not over!

Why do people leave sporting events so early?

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Pain of Baseball

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You’re wired.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Five Stages of Baseball

Baseball fan? It’s terminal.

(with apologies to Dr Elizabeth Kubler-Ross)

Baseball fans go through very similar stages to the stages of grief experienced by those with a terminal disease, especially when their favorite teams is suffering through a losing streak. I realized this tonight as I watched my guys take a 15-0 spanking from a team they should be able to beat. So it goes. I suppose this means watching baseball is a terminal disease.

Denial
I can’t believe this! These umps suck! They hate our team! What is the matter with them! This crew should be reported! It’s not our fault! We’re great and we’re being punished.
Anger
He’s stealing! Throw him out! Are you blind? Call the damn ball! Talk to each other! Swing your damn bat! WTF is wrong with you? I could play better than you can!
Bargaining
Please, Lord. Just one freakin’ hit. I’m not even asking for a win, but that would be nice. A run. Just one run, so it’s not a skunk. Not even that. Just a single. Anything. A walk. Please? A base runner?
Depression
This sucks. I hate my life. I can’t eat. I can’t sleep. Please, someone just end this.
Acceptance
Tomorrow’s another day! Let’s play two! (Further down the season, this becomes “We’re rebuilding! Next year, championship!”)