Monday, August 27, 2007

Season Wrap-up (Part 2 of 2)

I have never claimed to be a baseball expert but like all sports fans, I have an opinion on what my team could do to become better next year. Most of these will focus on the league itself as the Sox are owned by the league. And they will be resource neutral meaning it is what I would do if the money were there to make it happen.

1. Longer Spring Training. This is by far the most important thing the league could do to improve the quality of play. This year it was right around 7-10 days which is way too short to get a team to gel. Learning the tendencies or your teammates is the most effective way to reduce errors. And too many errors just frustrate fans as it really make the players seem less skilled than they really are—especially those “easy” errors I mentioned in the previous post. Also, not everyone was playing competitive baseball over the months preceding the season. Then there are the college kids whose programs play, on average, about 60 games played mostly on weekends. Now these kids have to play every night, sometimes in stretches of 10 games or more, in a 76 game season. There were a lot of nagging injuries that guys are probably still dealing with and many (like some hamstring injuries) can be related to overwork and not enough conditioning to handle the grind of a season. And finally, a pitcher’s arm needs to get ready for the wear and tear of professional baseball. There are no pitch counts here and sometimes relievers even have to play back to back games due to the smaller rosters. Dusty Bergman has been doing this for a while. He knows how to stay in shape to pitch the 100 innings he did. But for a rookie, even a reliever, the workload can be very trying. In my opinion, I think that has a lot to do with the large number of pitcher injuries not just here in Reno but across the league. So, whatever needs to be done to get these kids together for 3-4 weeks as a team needs to be done to make the game better for the fans and, more importantly, to maintain the health of the players.

2. Spend money on getting umpires. Umpires have the ability to really ruin a game and we saw that on more than one occasion. One fan I know of in Reno cited the poor officiating as one of the reasons he wasn’t going to get season tickets in 2008. Anecdotally, I was told that some better umpires won’t do the GBL games due to low pay. They get paid but that doesn’t include travel, etc so it is not worth it to them. Because of the league having regional umpires as opposed to traveling league crews, sometimes you are stuck with what is available. In Reno, we loved seeing Ron Barnes come to town. But I can tell you the Reno fans knew the game was going to have issues when #45 (Tyler Ramsey) stepped onto the field. His experience is basically some college or below. He doesn’t conduct himself well, as with the Templeton ejection that I wrote about. Even if Templeton was being difficult, he was within the rules to do what he did. Tossing him just shows Tyler doesn’t understand the rules of the game. Tyler also seems to have a lot of reversed calls between him and his partner. This is not going to inspire confidence in his abilities. He and others have very inconsistent strike zones. I don’t think I have ever seen as many complaints over strikes and balls as I have seen this year. I know the league has a head umpire to watch these kinds of things so a) did he come to Reno and b) why did some of the umpires still have jobs at the end of the season?

3. No player coaches. No offense to Dusty and Mike since they are fine players, they obviously shared their knowledge, and were good leaders in the club house but the teams with player coaches did much worse this year. Reno (33-42) and other teams who used player coaches or some combination of player and non-player coaches ended out of the playoffs while Chico (44-32, first half winner) and Long Beach (48-28, second half winner) who had two non-playing coaches, will compete for the championship. The teams that used player coaches had varying levels of success but in the end they are all out. I think that if you had a guy with years of experience watching batters or pitchers he is more likely to be able to help fix small issues with mechanics than a mid to late 20s player who has spent more time doing than coaching. This too will improve the game on the field.

4. Player salaries should be re-looked. This year, the GBL had much less interest from the MLB teams if the number of players picked up is any indication. Our Sox who set an independent league record last year with the number of players sent to MLB teams sent a grand total of zero to the affiliated clubs this season. That trend existed across all clubs as there were less than half a dozen sent to the majors compared to last year when a guy was getting picked up from a GBL team every few days. The appeal of the GBL as a place to get looked at by scouts has tarnished a little. In the interim, I think player salaries should be bumped to help get some more guys out. If the GBL is seen as a step below the Atlantic League, Frontier League, the American Association, and Can-Am or even on-par with the UBL and SCL the league should pay a little more to players to see if we can’t get a solid guy to think twice before signing a contract with another league. The GBL can't match the Atlantic league but surely they can be the best paying of the lower teir leagues. Then as we get better players, the quality of my other issues improves, and the league expands to new markets, it will only help to improve the play on the field and maybe attract scouts more often.

5. Fans. The GBL needs to do whatever it can to have all teams mirror those teams that have good attendance. Now I know there are different variables in each market. But are there some consistent best practices that can be applied universally? Are there certain promotions, sponsors, or community partnerships, that will appeal to baseball fans in general? And are there some out of the box ways to get more people out? Bottom line, fans (and corporate sponsors) are the lifeblood that will allow money to do more of the things I would like to see changed. Players and fans also love being in an electric environment with a packed house. And then it multiplies as every one tells their friends what a great time the GBL games are. When you come and the stadium is dead it really detracts from experience even if the on-field product is top notch. When both are lacking, it will lead to folks not coming back. A poll on the Silver Sox site asked how many games people came to. The majority attended 1-5 games. And, the Sox ended the year with an average attendance of 1291 per game this year. Now it makes no sense as the Sox won the championship last year and increased their advertising budget and still went down from the 1573 they drew last year at each game. So the bottom line is all teams, not just the Sox, need to find a way to get those people in the 1-5 category to come to more games. What do they want? What didn't they like? Is there something low-cost that could be improved to get them to come to more games? These questions should be the focus of the off-season efforts of GBL management. Group Sales are also a good avenue since you get the ticket revenue but I think the team will benefit more from actual bodies in the stands even if more of the ticket revenue comes on a walk-up basis.

Again, I am no baseball expert. And when resources are limited, some things don't get the attention they deserve. But the GBL has a good thing going. I hope they can sustain the the gains they have made and continue to grow--if for nothing else than to ensure those of us in the isolated towns of the west (excluding OC and LB of course) have a chance to take our kids to the ballpark and teach them why baseball was the greatest game ever invented.

Well, thus ends my blog for this season. I appreciate all who read it and a special thanks goes out to those who posted on my blog or e-mailed me. There is no hit counter so that is the only way I know that people are enjoying what I am writing. Please feel free to write to me anytime even if just to talk MLB ball or whatever. Hope you have a great “off season” and I will see you again in 2008!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I know I was turned off from watching the Sox play after watching their 7 error game. Bad baseball was just hard to watch for me.