06 September 2010

Hold The Relish

Went to the ballpark today and, surprisingly, nothing hit us in the head. This is my lousy photo of the commotion over Buster Posey's airborne lumber.

I told you it was lousy. The bat flew about twenty feet over Derrick Hall's head (like a sabermetric chat) and he's in there somewhere, underneath that gaggle of gawkers, no doubt raising a grateful customer from The Dead, or worse, obscurity.

It was a taut and entertaining game - scoreless through ten - and my first visit to Chase this season. Here's the Labor Day "crowd" at first pitch:

31K announced. Click on the picture and you'll see how many empties there are in the "full" sections. We sat just beyond third base, in a pair purchased on ebay for $12.50 each.

The corporate and organizational presence seemed less obnoxious than before. Once adored Rallybacks have been scaled back, and I like to think Diamondhacks voters and other online critics played a small part in that development. Perhaps there'll come a day when they are wiped completely off the face of the earth. Not you, dear readers - the Rallybacks! Regrettably, Mike and Vanessa remain, and KachingKo and an ill conceived Legends Race have been added to the surviving programme of relish races, kiss cams and other fan oriented hijinks.

Even so, there seemed to be less shrill, between inning, crapola going on. No shreiking advert for the Team Shop. Not as many ads on the jumbotron. No coaxing from "Mike" to get on our feet, in a close game. Audibly, it was less like an NBA production. The atmosphere still stinks (which I'll elaborate on below) but they've toned it down from historically embarrassing levels.

I bought two 'value' hot dogs and a huge diet Pepsi - for $9. Value is a euphemism for "cruddy kid's hot dog in a soggy white bun" - but why complain? There are three kinds of ballpark food - pricey fare that's tasty or interesting, overpriced, overpreserved junk, and finally, if you're lucky, marginal eats for relatively cheap. I endorse two pathetic little franks for $3, even if the mustard's inferior to the ballpark Gulden's of my youth. It's close enough, and I've long resented MLB's phasing out of reasonably priced concessions.

I've been defending our fan base for years, in countless online squabbles and flame wars. In some respects, we get an unfair rap from those who assume Yankee Stadium or Fenway exemplify the kind of behavior we should all aspire to. But I was saddened by our fans today, to a point of upset.

I'm not really loud at the ballpark, and no, nobody told me to sit down or shut up. I watch every pitch and dont merely enjoy "going to the game" and the idea of a day out with lots of other people. That's fine, but in addition to all that, I enjoy baseball. I relish the competition and tension and appreciate the proficiencies, cycles and rhythms. In the eighth inning, Ian Kennedy was shutting out a pretty good hitting team, driving for the NL West flag. In our bandbox.

He induced the still dangerous Sandoval to pop up. I clapped hard. Then two fastballs to Cody Ross and IPK buckled him with a curve. Strike three, looking. I let out an almost involuntary yelp. There's two outs in the eighth, a shutout, and no one's with me. Not with me so much, like I'm the Pied Piper of anything.

Nobody's like me!

Not in my general area of several hundred fans. Nobody's as focused on, or as viscerally into, the game. I cant overstate how depressing that felt. I've been in grocery stores with more energy and Little League grandstands more focused on play between the lines.

Kennedy struck out Renteria on eight pitches, and by then he got a decent hand and a few people like me stood up and applauded. But that's more of a formalized, self conscious act, where you're not only praising the pitcher. You're also following a bit of a script, like standing up with two outs in the ninth.

The lack of spontaneous engagement, before that, was striking. Many have talked about this, including me, but this was more pronounced than I've ever experienced. BOB was obviously never Fenway in terms of acumen or enthusiasm, but it didnt used to be like this. There used to be a minimum standard of attention that's somehow eroded. I remember Brandon Webb, before he was famous, throwing excellent games in 2004, when we were thirty, even forty games out - and a core of fans would at least get into his efforts. More than today anyway.

Today's Diamondbacks fans are numb. Like in a wax museum. My wife thought it was the losses, and offered that maybe my section was full of season ticket holders who've been numbed into submission by that. It's probably true but there's more going on. Something else, whose manifestation was never more clear to me than it was today. Perhaps because I've been away for a while. The crowd responded to canned prompts but I was genuinely chilled by how it responded to almost nothing emanating from the actual game. How quickly they reacted to the scoreboard and how lethargically they responded to athletic action, if at all. It was almost Orwellian.

I recalled what Derrick Hall told me two years ago when he graciously afforded me a preview of his soon to be activated mega-scoreboard. He was bursting with excitement, sharing how studies showed fan eyeballs gravitate to big flashy screens more than previously assumed - and even more than to the game in some cases - and how he really wanted to take advantage of that.

Today, as a truly wonderful game went by, all but unnoticed, I felt old and odd and more than anything, irrelevant. Surrounded by a stadium full, or half full anyway, of wrinkled wax bird dogs and a produced generation of automatons.

Here's a picture of IPK, in the middle wearing the helmet.

It's the bottom of the eighth and he's just laced a double and tagged up to third, representing the game's sole run at that juncture. Bochy is making the first of three pitching changes in the frame (see background), and Kennedy hung out in the dugout to get a drink of water and rest. He did this a couple times. I'd never seen that before. Turns out he was gassed and didnt even pitch the ninth. No disrespect to Ian, but Gibson's gotta manage his resources better than that.

Every Dback has their photo encased on a concourse pillar. Here's Gibson's, located beyond the left field bleachers. Note how they've yet to update his managerial status, after two months. Gibson was also "out in left field" when Montero got hit with a pitch, wasnt awarded first or even a ball for the high and tight pitch. Kirk approached the plate, but it doesnt say much for his rhetorical influence or grasp of the rules that he didnt even force an umpire conference on such a blown call. Even AJ Hinch would've earned a reversal on that.

On the other hand, his banged up team played well if not triumphantly against the best pitching staff in the league. There were mistakes; a missed bunt and Ojeda froze on a grounder that Drew ran away from to cover a steal attempt. But the mistakes didnt snowball and loom like they often seemed to under his predecessor. The Diamondbacks didnt beat themselves. They lost because the Giants have a deeper bullpen. So often, late in the season, when one team's contending and the other isnt, the late innings of a game take on an inexorable quality. One team wants it, the other eventually lets them take it. This game wasnt like that.

Even after SF went up 2-0, Arizona rallied against Brian Wilson. He reached for 97 against Laroche, who was stinging balls all night, including a fence scraping fly out in the sixth. With Kelly Johnson on first via a walk, Laroche blistered a sinking liner to center, snatched by Andres Torres for out number two. When Montero whiffed to end the game, the Giants leapt up in the air in excitement. They had outlasted a real team and this contest was also up in the air until the final pitch. They didnt need to consult the scoreboard. They were too caught up in the game.


Russell said...

Great post. I think that you're right that the team doesn't seem to unravel at the first sign of trouble as it did earlier in the season. Maybe it's Gibson, maybe it's something else.

As for the fans, that was the oddest thing about going to my first ball game. Not everybody was watching the action!

I have limited experience of other Major League parks (San Fran, Atlanta & then Texas later this month)but Chase does seem to be very "distraction heavy", and watching a game on TV can be bizarre because the crowd will suddenly start cheering for no apparent reason, but then you realise that a giant snake has slithered around the scoreboard.

Maybe a "pure baseball" night every now and then would be a good promotion, but what if they just put on a game and nobody came?

Diamondhacks said...

Interesting idea. I heard Derrick's planning a purple throwback night, but a temporary "pure baseball" theme might be tougher,calling attn to "normal" distractions and stirring awkward debate.

I've imagined permanent, everyday, baseball only campaigns, but of course that's not happening.

Too funny on the snake board. Actually, it's a slicker application than some of the others!

-- This was an ungainly post that I struggled with, so thanks for reading & the kind word.

Diamondhacks said...


4CornersFan said...

Not that it probably matters, but Arizona are now mathematically eliminated from the playoffs - we're 22.5 back in both the NL West and wild-card. I dont care if you delete this hacks, got no beef with you, but how in the world do they let someone who doesn't use a spell checker go onto foxsportsnetarizona and chat on a regular basis. Un real. I make typos also, but my buddy from the snakepit just lets his little fat fingers do the talking at it makes him look like an ass with no education. Love your site bro, keep up the good work.

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