** A quick note. Today is March 18th, and the US just eliminated the Dominican Republic to advance to the semi-finals against Japan. The crowd was full and sounded really good. But fans don’t care, right? Now, back to the original article from last week.**
Can we talk about two current trends in sports writing? It’s almost as if there’s a ‘how to manual’ for it at times. The first trend is often employed by bloggers or writers for adjunct sports sites, and it sounds something like this: “Baseball is dying, you guys.” Have you seen ‘you guys’ in an article? It feels like they’re everywhere, a constant presence designed to be used almost like a sarcastic second period. Just so we’re clear, BlockingthePlate.com is one of those sites too, one in an absolute ocean of mediocrity, ignored by peers (do bloggers have peers?) and seen almost exclusively by friends, family, and spam bots in Russia. But can we quit it with the ‘you guys’? It’s not clever or edgy, just say how you feel. How about instead of “Baseball is dying, you guys,” you go with “Some assholes think baseball is dead. But they’re wrong.” Same message, but less passive aggressive.
The second trend? I call it the controversial ‘No one likes it, but you should’ argument. You know the one. The headline, like many, that’s designed to drive traffic in a never-ending wave of clickbait. A perfect example is Jeff Passan’s article from yesterday: ‘Team USA cares about the WBC, even if people in the US don’t’
This isn’t a dig on Jeff Passan. I’ll go on record that I enjoy Jeff’s stuff. What my problem is, is that you could argue that articles like this perpetuate this kind of attitude vs combating it. Oh, and the other thing is that Jeff’s wrong.
From Jeff’s article: “There’s this perception that the WBC, in its fourth incarnation, means less to the United States than it does to other countries… and when it comes to the fan bases around the world that go rabid for it compared to the Americans who see it as a milquetoast exhibition, well, yeah, that’s fair.”
Perception from whom? How are you judging excitement levels? Are you basing it on attendance? On fan volume? How is the US game attendance? It’s the blanket statements without the numbers that drive me crazy! Out of the 4 pools of teams, first round attendance for Pool C (where the US team is located) is 24,984 through the first two games. That’s higher than the average of 9 Major League teams, including the Cleveland Indians, who went to the friggin’ World Series! Today’s game against the Dominican Republic is sold out, which sure beats the hell out of Miami’s average attendance last year (and is probably the second sellout they’ve had since their new park opened – someone else can do the research on that one). How much of the attendance is driven by the DR? Probably quite a bit, but is that really any different than the number of Yankee hats at a Mariners/Yankees game? The only pool with a higher average attendance is Pool B in Japan, and considering that Japan has won two World Baseball Classic Championships and is 3-0 in pool play, I think it’s fair to see why.
Jeff continues: “Still, these games manage to generate a genuine excitement in spite of their limitations, and there is something to be said for that. Spring training games, by and large, are fetid piles of blah. To know every four years will deliver March games with gravitas is something worth celebrating. The American players certainly do.”
The ‘games manage to generate a genuine excitement… Spring training games, by and large, are fetid piles of blah’. So do we care, or not? On one hand you say no one is watching, then the next you say that there’s excitement around the games and spring training is trash. It’s easy to look at average pool attendance, which will just grow if the US continues to advance (see 2009 attendance for precedence), and see there is excitement behind the WBC. Look at Spring Training attendance every year it crosses with the WBC, it goes down. Fans, by and large, would prefer to watch real games than scrimmages. There’s no clearer proof to that than attendance. The euphoria of Spring Training isn’t about watching a bunch of dudes practice all day, and it’s not about jersey numbers in the 80s and 90s either (sorry, it’s just not). What Spring Training is, is a celebration of not only the game’s return for a new year, but a sign that this bullshit weather may be behind us. It’s a promise that sunshine is around the corner.
The World Baseball Classic adds immediate value to the baseball season. It adds legitimate competition to an otherwise meaningless (record-wise) February and March. It’s a chance for fans to go to games with an interest and passion for who actually wins the game. When you factor in attendance, when you look at the decline in Spring Training attendance during the Classic, and you acknowledge that these WBC games actually mean something, it seems impossible to argue anything other than that people do care! Fans showing up to WBC games vs going to Spring Training games is the epitome of caring! Maybe I’m in a minority, but I don’t know any baseball fans without an interest in the WBC. So can we stop with US fans ‘not caring’ to drive hits to an article? Maybe “Team USA playing for the letters on the front of their jersey, not the back.” would have been a better choice.
While I don’t agree with Jeff’s premise that US fans don’t care about the WBC, it’s clear that we do agree that the games are great, so let’s talk about the World Baseball Classic as an event. I’ve been to Spring Training, I’ve been to an All Star Game, a World Series, and the World Baseball Classic, and can say without hesitation that the WBC was the most fun of those events. (Granted, I had to go to New York to experience a World Series, since the Mariners have yet to make one, so that is probably unfair to the World Series.) If you haven’t been to a WBC, specifically the final series of games, get it on your schedule.
The World Baseball Classic is a sliver-sized glimpse of the game in other countries, and it’s worth every penny. Spend an afternoon surrounded by the cheers from a heavy Dominican crowd. Watch a game surround by frenzied fans from Japan chanting between every player. If the WBC is good for even one takeaway, it’s the realization that US fans need to step up their game. Baseball in Japan, a Dominican Series, they’re on my bucket lists as a baseball fan. Baseball may be America’s Pastime, but it feels like we’re short of America’s Passion. Spend a day at the World Baseball Classic and you may find that it helps spark an energy for the game that you hadn’t realized you’d lost. You still care, but maybe you just forgot how much.