Friday, September 16, 2011
But first a slight but related digression...
Does "Red Sox Nation" need a bailout?
The team's Wild Card lead is down to three games after last night's loss (game one of a critical four-game series) to Tampa Bay, and this weekend will likely determine if they can stave off the feisty Rays for an AL playoff berth.
The formerly first place Sox began the 2011 season with a miserable April, and then dominated for most of the summer, before tanking again in the last few weeks.
Baseball is no longer America's favorite pastime. Pro football has become the number one spectator sport in part because of the gambling and the fact that there are only 16 regular season games. And also because there is a lot of action.
But because of Major League Baseball's everyday nature, it becomes sort of a friend, or even a soap opera for men (and some women too, of course), as the momentum can change from game to game or even within a game. Even though an individual baseball game is obviously not as demanding as in other sports, the physical and mental toughness of the players to navigate a 162-game baseball season (plus playoffs) is admirable--leaving aside the sketchy off-the-field reputation of many MLB players.
Baseball is a lot of fun in person--apart from the people watching, even a routine fly ball out is pretty impressive.
On TV, however, baseball is boring. Hence the problem.
In a playoff game, every gut-wrenching pitch can be crucial, every play pivotal. A regular season game, in general, perhaps not so much. In general, then, baseball needs to speed up the games to ensure its future fan base. The players simply need to stay in their work stations. Pitchers need to throw the ball promptly, batters need to stay in the batters box and be ready to hit. Walking around the mound or outside the box, adjusting batting gloves, spitting, all such time wasting has got to go. It's been said that the slow pace that generates drama is baseball's greatest strength in a hotly contested game or say in the bottom of the 9th, but it's the game's greatest weakness otherwise.
Anyway, back on July 17, we had the opportunity to be in the stands for the incredible 16-inning Sox-Rays game at Tropicana Field ("the Trop") which the Sox finally prevailed 1-0. As it was the ESPN Sunday night national game, it started at 8 p.m. but didn't finish until about 2 the following morning.
It was one of the best game's we've every seen.
Excellent pitching and defense by both teams (there were only eight total hits). The game had just about every ancillary event including one of the Rays players shattering an overhead lamp in the indoor stadium with a foul ball, a fan running out on the field, and some other stuff we can't remember anymore. Immediately before game time, a downpour unleashed on St. Petersburg and you could hear the rain furiously pounding on the stadium roof (the storm's intensity could have easily caused a power outage--which did occur during a storm a few days later apparently).
Although the sports media claim that the Trop is a "dump," we think it's a actually a cool place to see a game. Attendance has unfortunately been lackluster over the years even though the Rays are a feisty, fun team that operates with a much lower payroll than their AL East rivals.
It is, we want to underscore, up to the people--not the obnoxious sports pundits who get in for free--how they want to spend their money.
Apart from the game itself, and not necessarily an extra-inning marathon, one of the coolest things about going to a Rays home game at the Trop is visiting the Ted Williams Museum and Hitters Hall of Fame, which so much memorabilia that it seems like a mini Cooperstown. Baseball superstar Ted Williams, the Red Sox left fielder and Florida resident, was one of the greatest hitters in baseball history and the last player to average .400 for a season. He was also a war hero.
Here are some pictures that we took at the museum before the game: