For the love of sport: Baseball’s Opening Day

Today (well overnight to start with Australian team) is Major League Baseball’s Opening Day of the season. The Dodgers, Diamondbacks and Padres aside (all who have played already), each team in the MLB kicked off a 162 game marathon with an eye on getting into the post season in October. Actually that is not entirely true, because some teams have goals not at all related to the post season but to improvement (yes they admit as much before the season starts) and reaching the fabled .500 mark.

All of that said, today is one of the great days in sport. 13 games staggered throughout the day in an orgy of baseball action for fans around the world. Some fans will be looking for a repeat of last year’s performances. Some fans will have expectations based on payroll, hype and history. Some fans will just be happy that their team is running around again.

I don’t think in Australia we appreciate the scale of America’s infatuation of with sport and in particular baseball. As I am from Queensland, it makes sense to compare what Queenslanders believe to the national sport, Rugby League, with America’s national pastime. That comparison though is really an apples and oranges scenario: in Rugby League some clubs can not get 10,000 to their games yet in the MLB there are a number clubs who have not had a spart seat in their stadium for year (not a stretch games but a stretch of years).

Take my team, the Chicago Cubs, for example: they have not won a World Series since 1908 (the year that rugby league started in NSW) and have not really challenged in the post season in a decade and yet over that decade they have had an average attendance for the 81 home games they play a year of 37,700 per game. That is in stadium with a capacity of 41,000. The missing seats there have all been sold by the way because every game is sold out at Wrigley Field. Compare that to say the Cronulla Sharks of the NRL: never won a title, not often competed in the finals series and I can not remember the last time they had a sell out crowd.

The scale is massively different as is the season. 162 games in roughly 180 days is nothing short of phenominal and for the fans nothing short of a buffet of sporting action that goes without compare.

I love baseball and started worshiping at its alter when I first picked up a bat in T-ball at aged 6. That was 30 years ago and my enthusiasm has not waned a bit. This morning I found myself, as with every baseball season since the invention of the smart phone, up early and watching scores of my beloved Cubs tick over before dawn (Australian time) and I, again, woke the neighbours with a string of invective when we gave up a game ending home run at the bottom of the 10th inning to the Pirates. Part of the love of the game and the baseball season is that there is always tomorrow for one’s team: for my team the chance to get the first W of the season is only 48 hours away (the Cubs have an off day tomorrow).

Only 161 games to go now until the post season.

Time for some clarity: once a fan always a fan

On the weekend I wrote about my dismay at the selections of the Australian team for the recently completed test in Hyderabad and commented that I would not be watching the Australian cricket team play until they have a team that enters the arena that I can support. That comment has raised the hackles of many and has led to the refrain of: “if you were a real fan you would support them through good and bad”.

There are two parts to that statement that require a reply: first the concept of a “real fan” and second supporting a team through the good and the bad.

Am I a “real” fan? The facts around this are clear: I revere the game of cricket and will be a fan of the game till the day my last breath leaves my lungs. I read about the game, I talk about the game, I played the game for over a decade, I have coached the game, I have umpired the game and I write about the game. If I could find a job that allowed me to work in the game I would do it in a heart beat. I think that qualifies me as a fan of the game.

Having established my qualifications, it is obviously important to answer the second part of the challenge put to me; viz, that a fan supports his or her team through the good and the bad. To that sentiment I declare a resounding retort of “BOLLOCKS” and then in parenthesis (depending on the context). Before talking about cricket, I think it is important to traverse another example from my personal experience as a sports fan that is relevant: my ongoing fandom of the Queensland Reds.

I have been a fan of Queensland Reds and rugby for nearly as long as I have revered cricket: you can not go to a “rugby school” and not end up with a soft spot for the game. I have been a fan of the Reds since I was a teenager and have maintained my support for the team through the dark days of basically the whole of the last decade (2000-2009) when the Reds made but one final. I remember vividly waking up on 6 May 2007 to hear that the Reds had lost 92-3 to the Bulls at Loftus Versfeld and I remember sitting in Lang Park with no more than 8,000 hardy souls who loved their team.

You are probably pondering: if he is prepared to stop watching a team from a sport he reveres over a selection foible then surely he must have fallen out of love with the Reds? You may be surprised to find that I still attended Reds games during the “dark decade” and still spoke out them and, indeed, defended them to all comers. So why the difference? The answer lies in the context: the Reds, in must be said, during that period had their player stocks demolished by the raiders from the West (in the Force) and the South (in the Brumbies) that saw the talent pool diminish. That said, as a fan and a reader about the game, you always knew that the best team possible was being put on the field by the selectors and that the selectors were also looking to develop young talent. Armed with that knowledge, and whilst it was not always easy, I continued to go to the games and continued to watch the Reds.

This gets me back to the current state of play with the Australian cricket team. I repeat, in case you missed it, that I revere the game of cricket and will always do so. The fact is though that I vehemently disagree with the selection of the team and, to take it one step further, do not believe that the team that is presently gracing the fields of India is the best one Australia can put out there. Nor do I believe that Cricket Australia is looking to develop young talent for the future: there is simply too much young talent sitting on the “bench”. Conversely, the young “talent” that is being pushed through is being pushed through without semblance of form.

As a fan of the game I fear that Australian cricket and the fans of the team are being done a disservice by those who run the game and the lessons learned from the mid 80s are being lost. It must be remembered that there were dual lessons that came out of the mid 80s: the first being that planning for the retirement of great players is a must and the second that if you pick young or “project” players pick them on form not on reputation. Can you imagine a player with the record of Doherty being picked for the 1985 Ashes?

It is an interesting side bar to consider that 1985 Ashes team and the teams that were selected by the ACB (as it was then) between 1985 and 1989 (when Australian won the Ashes). The 1985 team was belted: but it consisted of the form players from around the land and saw the end of some careers and the blossoming of others. Following that tour the names of Boon, Waugh and Jones started appearing on the Australian team sheets off the back of irresistible domestic form. Before anyone retorts with: it is a worse talent pool now that person needs to stop and think … “has there been a Rebel tour this year?”

I am a fan of the game and that means that I will always support the game. It also means that I have the right to make comment about the game and the teams who play it. If Cricket Australia was fielding a team that included players in form at domestic level and they still lost by an innings and 130 odd runs I would still be commenting about it but I would also know that they were building towards something. The fact is though that this is a team that appears to be selected on an ad hoc basis with a limited plan for the future and whilst I will always be a fan of the game I will not be watching the horror show that is presently playing out in India.

And that is my right as a fan: if I chose to turn off the TV does that make me any less of a fan? The answer must be a resounding no because just because I am not watching the game does not mean I am not thinking about it and yearning for a better (or at least more consistent) team.

Nearly a new month and time for a revamp: more content and less adhoc

To say that this blog has been become fairly unfocused and, it would be fair to say, an afterthought in recent weeks would be an understatement. I have started a new blog to trace my weight loss and lifestyle project Operation100.com and I concede I have been a bit too focused on it to the detriment of this site.

I have given a lot of thought over recent days about how to remedy this because, frankly, I love writing and don’t want to let this blog become even more of an irrelevancy than it is at the moment.

So, that being the case, I am going to put a bit more of a structure in place around when I am going to post on this blog. Each week will see posts come out on Monday, Wednesday and Saturday from today as a minimum. The posts will be a mix of musings from me with no set agenda or limited topic stream.

I write a lot about sport and, in particular, cricket and that will not change but I am also alive to the fact that many of my readers are not as nutty about sport as I am so I will be coming back to the original roots of this blog and writing about anything and everything that happens in life.

Of course if the moment takes me I will write more but as a minimum look out for posts here on Monday, Wednesday and Saturdays.

If you are so minded please check out my other site: Operation100.com for everything related to the Operation 100 project I am now on. Also, I will again be writing for the excellent pinkrugby.com for this Super 15 Rugby season so look out for my posts starting there in coming weeks.

Of course, any feedback is most appreciated.

Cheers,
Stephen