Good evening from the East Coast. It’s nearly midnight, I’ve just watched Game 2 of the NBA Finals, we’ve seen the uselessness of the weather forecasters who predicted something nigh on the apocalypse for us and it didn’t hit here, and I’m off to the beach tomorrow. Send help. I need the ECB to piss me off.
Cricket? It really is easy to lose touch when you are away. When I was in the States last year it coincided with the May madness. The KP 355, the trust, the Moores sacking, the Barbados farce, the Strauss appointment, the Harrison appearance. It’s just a ton quieter this year. Sean is doing his thing, and doing it well. Chris is in a faraway land, doing faraway things. And me? I’ve seen three minor league baseball games. Well two actually. We paid for the third and got conned a little (watched the grounds crew work for 2 hours having been told that play would start in an hour when we bought tickets – then they postponed the game. So not just cricket that takes the michael). I am not going to Philadelphia to see the Cubs on Wednesday, but if I wanted to watch it, that would be easy. So it would be if I wanted to watch my Red Sox in San Francisco if that was the thing to do. Because, if you want to see any game, there generally is a way to do so (if you have money).
Was there a way I could legally watch any of the T20 games from the UK here? Not that I know of. Hell, I couldn’t even get to see The Derby yesterday. This is a modern world where we are constantly told by those selling rights that the “youth consume things differently to us” and yet when we try these so called “youthful consumption” we find massive obstacles.
The thing is that the customer experience, to which Sean so eloquently commented upon in his last piece, is something we really don’t have a clue about. I went to see the Lakewood Blue Claws on Thursday night. It was a miserable night (2% chance of rain they said) and I couldn’t do what I love at these games (which is take pictures). Instead I paid $10 for a general admission seat (on a grass bank over right field) and got our souvenir garden gnome (which was part of the reason for selecting this game) which was free to the first 1500 inside the stadium. There were a lot of people there for the gnome.
Once inside the ballpark, there was a promotional night on where it was $1 beer (called Thirsty Thursday). Now the beers you could drink were either Coors or Coors Light, so let’s face it, that is some overpriced shit even at those levels. The serving was around half a pint for a $ but the bar area was rammed, there was live music, tables and chairs/stools to watch the game, and cheap chicken wings as well. Also all soda drinks were a dollar, and some of the spirits were cheap too. If that wasn’t your thing, you could get craft beers / local brews at various stalls around the park. The food was a bit pricey at normal outlets, but not Wembley standards of crapness, and not Oval standards of expense for plain stuff. Lakewood missed out on the souvenir cup (I’ve a few of them at home – sucker for that stuff). In gaps in play there was all sorts of nonsense going on (at Wilmington on Wednesday that actually meant my ugly mug was, for about two seconds, on the big screen). As I put in the comment on Sean’s piece, it was really noticeable how many kids were there. This is crucial, because you need to get the balance with the drinking community and those families who want to enjoy the game without nonsense. This is managed really well in the US, in my view. There are alcohol free areas, whole large swathes of the park are set aside, and kids have other activities to keep them interested when the play gets a little slow.
Parking at all three parks is economical, which isn’t true for the big leagues (got stung for $40 at Yankee Stadium in 2011 and some are even higher) and we got there so early for Lakewood that we didn’t pay anything. We didn’t pay a dime at Delmarva but that was because we entered the carpark in a torrential downpour and the attendants had vanished. The Wilmington car park was free – possibly because it is in the part of town where they are trying to encourage people to go to for an evening’s entertainment although getting to the ballpark from the I-95 that runs next to it takes you through a “very interesting” part of town.
These teams are the fourth or fifth level squads of major league clubs. There is a great enthusiasm for local communities who don’t want to splash out the big money to see a major league team often two or so hours drive away (and much further when you get away from the Eastern Coast) but can get to see some players on the rise, or on a rehab assignment after injury (I’ve been to Lakewood three times, and the first time had the largest crowd because one of Philadelphia’s top pitchers was playing a game back after injury). These teams are pulling 5 or 6 thousand spectators on a weekday night. It isn’t top ranking baseball, but I wonder how it compares to the Royal London Cup today? Remember also, there are around 65 home games for these teams.
I realise this isn’t cricket talk, but it does give you food for thought. A lot of the stuff that goes around the game is “Americana” and wouldn’t work here, but you have to see what works and what doesn’t. Cricket has one innings break, while baseball has 16 or 17, including a longer one for the seventh innings, and there is less time to fill. But some of the best I’ve seen include the President’s race at Washington, some far out nonsense at Vermont that included someone being chased down by a llama, and the dreaded “Kiss-Cam”. But it’s fun and yet somehow not forced. The aim is for a relaxing “spectator experience” where the game and the community mesh together – not an ordeal. There’s plenty of legroom (my beef with the Oval, in particular) and drinks holders on the seats. The walkways are spacious, the lines to get served are rarely long. Even at a packed Yankee Stadium in 2011, there was a sense of plenty of space.
So, I’ll hopefully be back for some more in the week but it has been nice. I’ve not bothered with those who have bothered me. I’ve read your comments with the usual mix of amusement, enthusiasm, some indignation and thankfulness that the community keeps going even when I’m not around as much as I should be. I did read that Mail article in response to KP’s list of favourite grounds, and it just shows, doesn’t it? For the hundredth time, who is obsessed again? I see Jason Roy hit a century on Friday in the T20, but Surrey are struggling in all the other formats. I do believe we have a Lord’s Test this week. How peachy that this one wasn’t in May this year, but in early June. I noted that West Indies beat South Africa but were then skittled out for shirt buttons by Australia.
Finally, I have a book called Baseball Prospectus. It comes out every year, before the start of the season, and has in-depth statistical analysis and commentary by stat-heads and fans on each team and their players. It is a truly amazing piece of work. I nabbed a copy of 2015’s cheap, and once I saw it, I ordered 2016’s book. I weep that cricket (and even football) can’t put together something like this in the UK. The NFL has a similar book, and yes, I know that the youth consume their reading material differently to how we used to, but this is a forward-looking annual, not a backward one like Wisden (which has its place – I get the backward looking baseball ones as cheap as I can too). The sheer love, and quality, of the writing, the care they take (spotted one error so far in the 2015 book) and the exuberance is amazing. Enthusiasm can be contagious. Debate can be welcome. And the love of the sport is paramount, even with all that money. It’s a handy old message.