The Baseball Diaspora
A home for those who live nowhere near the home team.
Full disclosure: I might be in the Moneyball movie. Last July I answered the call, did my duty as a baseball fan and as an American and spent a long night as an extra at the Oakland Coliseum during the filming of Moneyball. So I’ve been excited for this film for a long time. Not so excited, mind you, that I considered the possibility of it premiering in Oakland until less than a month ago, but excited nonetheless.
Then over the past month, the buzz began to build. Previews, posters, mentions in articles and on podcasts; Moneyball was all around. Then, between the Toronto International Film Festival and various press screenings and sneak previews, it seemed that everyone who writes about baseball had already seen the film and dissected it a good week before the official premiere at the Paramount Theatre.
Keith Law alone wrote a full review of the film and then discussed his review and a response it elicited from Michael Lewis on no fewer than three Baseball Today podcasts. It felt as if the world had digested Moneyball and moved along, stealing some of Oakland’s thunder in the process.
I should have known better. It took all of two seconds to get caught up in the excitement of the premiere (albeit from the median of Broadway Avenue - the mob was not welcome on the Paramount side of the street). With a steady stream of traffic passing both in front of and behind me, I hunkered down with my fellow gawkers and set myself to the task of documenting Oakland’s next great public moment. This is what I saw.
The diehards were well represented. A group of fans decked out in their StAy t-shirts staked out a parking spot (beginning at 1 PM they said) directly across the street from the main entrance of the Paramount. They hung a banner reading “Don’t take our A’s away” to remind the who’s who across the street that we can celebrate the team’s past but we need to secure its future where it belongs - in Oakland. You can imagine the reception Lew Wolff received from this very vocal contingent.
The stars were out in force from cast members to team ownership and management to current and former players to local and national media. Brad Pitt, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Chris Pratt, Stephen Bishop, Billy Beane, Ron Washington, Scott Hatteberg, David Justice, Andrew Bailey, Trevor Cahill, Coco Crisp, David DeJesus, Hideki Matsui, Cliff Pennington, Michael Lewis, Mychael Urban, Ray Ratto and many more were spotted and hailed by the throng in the median and on the other side of Broadway from the theater. But the true star of the show for me was a man who went practically unnoticed amidst all the activity, Joe Posnanski.
I have been an avid reader of Posnanski’s for several years now and consider him to be one of the most insightful and gifted sportswriters working. When I heard that he would be on site for the Moneyball premiere, I immediately reprioritized who to be on the look out for. Within a few minutes I spotted him (it was infinitely easier than I had anticipated). Standing by himself and observing the bustle around him, he seemed like he would have had a second to greet a fan if not for the tight security in front of the theater and the adjoining mock stadium set up for the red carpet. Given this barrier, a simple casual intrusion would not do. I had to resort to slightly more creative means of saying hello to Posnanski.
The aforementioned diehards had brought along their flags, some beers and the familiar “Let’s go Oakland, clap-clap clap-clap-clap” chant. For the purposes of articulating their support or disdain for various personalities on hand, the chant was modified. Iterations included “Ron-nie Wa-ash” for Washington, “Lew Wolff su-ucks” for Wolff and “leather sho-orts” for a young woman in leather shorts. I knew what I had to do.
I went to the lead diehard and enlisted his help. I said, “you see that guy over there in the jacket? His name is Joe Posnanski and he is an outstanding sportswriter. Can you guys help me out with a Joe Posnanski chant?” After confirming the correct pronunciation of Posnanski’s name, we launched into it. “Joe Pos-nan-ski, clap-clap clap-clap-clap, Joe Pos-nan-ski, clap-clap clap-clap-clap.” Posnanski looked our way, went a little red, then smiled and waved as we chanted on. I turned to the lead diehard and said “I bet nobody ever recognizes that guy. We just made his day.” That may have been an exaggeration, but the diehards were in no position to argue; they had moved on to a new target for their chants…or maybe back to the girl in the leather shorts.
Exaggeration or not, I got what I came for (and my day was made in the process) and the rest was just icing. It certainly didn’t hurt that I later got to observe from afar as Posnanski seemingly talked shop with Michael Lewis for awhile before heading in.
Once people began filing in, the focus of the crowd turned to spotting Brad Pitt. Pitt’s whereabouts consumed the majority of conversation and drew a group of people that would fail to rise even to the modest standard of casual baseball fans. But those who read Moneyball and those who read Entertainment Weekly alike were rewarded with a brief glimpse of Brad before he went into the theater through a side entrance.
When Pitt disappeared as quickly as he had arrived and it became clear he would not be seen again, the onlookers began to disperse. After soaking in the atmosphere for a few minutes longer, I too took my leave, but not before granting Jack London George’s (new to me, too) request for a photo.
Thanks Moneyball, indeed.
- Pretty sure this kid wins the prize for best hair at the premiere:
- We wish you were still in Oakland, too, Ronnie Wash:
- This was a big day for The Baseball Diaspora. Our first on location coverage of a major media event, our first live tweets, our first Joe Posnanski sighting. My thanks goes out to my colleagues Dan, for sharing the experience via phone from across the country and Louw, for joining me at the scene and making the live tweeting a reality.
- Louw and I also learned just how underdeveloped our paparazzi skills truly are. “Paparazzi-in-training” a fellow Oakland resident dubbed us after my camera froze while trying to snap a picture of the elusive Pitt. By way of example of our general incompetence, this is the best I could do as far as capturing Philip Seymour Hoffman and his double t-shirt look:
- Even after the press and personalities had cleared out, the rabble couldn’t be trusted to come across the street to see the interview area up close, so I settled for this shot:
I spent enough time in the last post excoriating the A’s for the uninspired design of the the t-shirt they planned to give away on “Moneyball Day” at O.co Coliseum. This time around, I’ll keep it positive. Yes the t-shirt turned out to be just as bland and low budget as it looked in the advance photos. And yes it turned out to be even slightly worse, the color being a light gray heather instead of what appeared (again, in the online photos) to be more of a light gunmetal color. See for yourself:
Other than the shirt, which in all fairness is at the very least a professionally-made garment that can shelter one from the elements, the A’s did a pretty serviceable job of capitalizing on the Moneyball movie on Sunday. Here’s the rundown:
The Moneyball movie brand was conspicuously displayed up on the scoreboard and down on the field:
Moneyball movie paraphernalia was available for purchase or as prizes and the A’s worked the schwag into their fan appreciation giveaways, eventually handing out four passes to tonight’s premiere at the Paramount. Previews played on the scoreboard screen and the artist formerly known as Jonah Hill (one of the film’s stars) threw out the ceremonial first pitch with a great deal of enthusiasm.
Hill, in fact, was all over the place. He threw out the first pitch flanked by fellow cast members Stephen Bishop (David Justice), Casey Bond (Chad Bradford) and Chris Pratt (Scott Hatteberg). The real Scott Hatteberg caught Hill’s pitch to the delight of the crowd. Hill then stopped by the A’s radio broadcast in the fourth inning, stopped by the TV broadcast at some point and participated in the non sequitur of a promotion being staged by Bay Area company Quirky. I get it, I get it: Billy Beane reinvented baseball, now Quirky reinvents the bicycle! Still. Speaking of non sequiturs…Josh Outman!
The stirrups? With the gold sanis and the gold jerseys? Amazing.
Tonight, The Baseball Diaspora hits the red carpet from (across the street from) Oakland’s historic Paramount Theatre where the Moneyball movie will get its international premiere. When I drove by the Paramount on Sunday morning Moneyball wasn’t even on the marquee, so we’ll see how Oakland turns it out tonight.
Say this for the Oakland A’s - they consistently put together a top notch promotional calendar.
They may have fielded less-than-competitive teams the past five years. They may play in one of baseball’s worst stadiums. They may not have averaged even 20,000 fans per game since 2008. But as someone who takes promotions seriously, I can confirm that year in and year out, the A’s rank high when it comes to rewarding the fans that do come to the ballpark.
The secret to the A’s success is composed of four ingredients: desirability, accessibility, frequency and adjustability. Let’s briefly take a look at each:
Desirability: The first test of a good promotion is whether a fan would actually want the giveaway. Fans do not go out of their way for a team-branded reusable grocery bag (you heard me San Diego) or a free loaf of bread (perhaps the most bizarre promotion I’ve encountered, at some now-forgotten minor league park). Every year since I arrived in Oakland, I have made it out to additional A’s games specifically because of the promotions.
Accessibility: While the A’s aren’t quite the Dodgers (who typically give bobbleheads out to 25,000 or more fans), giving out 10-15,000 of anything at an A’s game usually gives you pretty good odds. What’s more, you can typically show up 30-45 minutes before game time and still get most giveaways. Only once, on the day they retired Rickey Henderson’s number and actually sold out the Coliseum, did I actually show up early and fail to sniff the giveaway (Rickey Henderson replica jersey).
Frequency: Some teams treat promotions like trips to the dentist and begrudgingly schedule one every six months, a year, two years…who’s counting? The A’s, while not leading the league in promotions, keep a steady stream of giveaways coming throughout the season.
Adjustability: This term may not capture quite what I mean. Perhaps adaptability would be more apt. The thing is the A’s have demonstrated the ability to add or modify promotions in-season, something I have rarely witnessed among the other 29 teams. To be fair, I don’t follow 27 of those teams quite as closely as I do the A’s (I obviously keep close tabs on my Cardinals along with the nearby Giants), but my impression is still that the A’s are willing to adjust their promotions when something special happens.
Take, for example, Dallas Braden’s perfect game last year. Many teams may have had a ceremony or given away a commemorative ticket. The A’s had a week-long celebration, the highlight of which was a pretty fetching t-shirt commemorating Braden’s accomplishment. They then closed out the season by giving out a beautiful bobblehead of Braden pumping his fist after recording the final out.
Of course, Braden is a local kid who threw his perfect game on Mother’s Day (his mother died of cancer). Maybe any club with that kind of story to work with would have capitalized on it the way the A’s did. Even so, the way the A’s turned a game that just over 12,000 fans attended into a season-long event was impressive.
Given the organization’s response to Braden’s perfect game last season, that it would move to capitalize on the publicity and hype surrounding the Moneyball movie came as no surprise. The manner in which the team chose to do so, however, was surprising. After the deft and professional manner in which the A’s promoted Braden’s perfect game, how could their promotion of Moneyball come of so uninspired?
Last Friday, an email arrived in my inbox from the Oakland A’s announcing a Moneyball promotion. So far, so good. The first part of the promotion is a ticket offer where you buy a Field Level ticket to the game in question (9/18) and receive a pass to go see the movie. Fair enough. In addition, the first 10,000 fans receive a free Moneyball t-shirt. How could you go wrong?
Excuse me? Did Charlie Finley himself ride Charlie O. up out of his grave to design this lemon? It certainly conforms to his principles as far as frugality is concerned. At least I hope so. The only possible explanation I can come up with for how this design came to term goes something like this:
Scene: Two seventh graders sit in the kitchen of one of their homes working on a Moneyball t-shirt project due the following day. They have completely forgotten about it until now.
Seventh Grader #1: I forgot all about this project.
Seventh Grader #2: Me, too. We better throw something together, though. Ms. Abernathy takes a letter grade off for each day it’s late.
SG1: Ok, well I have this nondescript gray t-shirt, will that work?
SG2: Yeah! Gray it is. Oooh - I found a picture of a baseball online. Moneyball is about baseball, right?
SG1: I’m pretty sure it is. That’s good. We’re almost done. Hmmm - what about this font?
SG2: I don’t know, it doesn’t have a lot of character.
SG1: Well, that’s the free font - anything else we have to pay for.
SG2: On second thought, that font looks good. That about does it, right?
SG1: Right! Oh, wait...what color should the letters be?
SG2: Well, green is the color of money. It is Moneyball after all, right?
SG1: Genius! Slap a PepsiMax logo on the arm and let’s go play outside!
Maybe licensing issues prevented a less-generic design. Maybe time constraints limited creativity (not likely given the 10-day turnaround on the Braden t-shirts). Maybe turnover in the marketing department is to blame. Who knows?
One thing’s for sure, the A’s missed a major opportunity here. Moneyball has become a widely-anticipated film and the A’s are at the center of the story. This was a ready-made chance to promote and market the team and draw casual fans out to the ballpark. The movie filmed over a year ago (last July - I was there!) giving the A’s plenty of lead time to plan for this. In hindsight it’s more than a little surprising that this is the first (and apparently only) Moneyball promotion. That that one promotion is already an afterthought is even worse.
It so happens that Justin Verlander is scheduled to start that Sunday against the A’s, so I was already planning to be on hand at the Coliseum. Since I’m going anyway, you can bet I will get there early to procure one of these snooze-fests for myself.
Check back here on Sunday 9/18 to see if the shirts turned out to be as bland and unsightly as they look in the picture. Check back again a day or two later to hear how the Moneyball t-shirt went over at the Moneyball premiere at the Paramount Theatre on Monday 9/19, outside of which I will be hanging out and gawking. How can all the celebrities help but notice me when they see me swaddled in a garment that pops the way this Moneyball t-shirt does?
The wait is over - the other shoe has fallen. Yesterday was the doubleheader in Oakland and it was divine. Today came the promotional encore: Dallas Braden Bobblebelly Day in Stockton, CA.
A little backstory for those less familiar with A’s pitcher Dallas Braden. Dallas Braden is a lefthanded pitcher for the Oakland Athletics. Dallas Braden is from Stockton. Dallas Braden’s mother died of cancer while he was in high school. Last Mother’s Day (2010), a day on which MLB honors mothers and raises money for cancer research, Dallas Braden threw a perfect game against the Tampa Bay Rays. Later in the season, Braden was honored for his accomplishment at a Stockton Ports game. The Ports are the A’s Class A Advanced affiliate located in Braden’s hometown. At the ceremony, Braden responded to the adulation of the Stockton fans in this manner:
209 is the area code for Stockton, CA. That is a real tattoo. This is how deep Braden’s love for the 209 runs.
Fastforward to 2011. The Ports, realizing what a sensation Braden had been upon his last visit to Banner Island Ballpark decided to have him back for an event celebrating his response to the celebration of his perfect game. One good promotion deserves another. So on Sunday, July 17, 2011, 1,000 lucky Stockton Ports fans received a Dallas Braden Bobblebelly, commemorating Braden’s ode to the 209.
Now, you might be saying to yourself: “What is a ‘bobblebelly? Bobblehead I know, but belly?” We’ll get to that. But first, a recap of the day’s action.
The day prior to the game, Braden had this to say about Dallas Braden Bobblebelly Day on Twitter:
@DALLASBRADEN209 Dallas Braden Stockton ports are slangin’ bobble bellies, im signin’ bobble bellies. come holler @ ur boy @ the game 2mrw @ 6pm & come getchya 209 on!
The day of the game, and after at least seventeen people had thrown out a “first pitch” (it’s beginning to lose all meaning), including two - count ‘em, two! - beer pong champions, Braden came onto the field. He wasted little time in giving the people what they came for:
Afterward, Dallas Braden - man of the people - signed autographs and talked with fans for half the game while sporting his 209 skeleton t-shirt:
In case any of the aforementioned fans were still uncertain as to where he hails from or the area code he represents (somehow having missed his 2010 appearance, his Twitter handle, his pregame demonstration and the bobblebelly they had received at the door), Braden was gracious enough to provide a refresher course in between autographs:
The game that followed was actually a good one, too; a back-and-forth Class A hitfest that resulted in a 12-7 Ports victory. In doing a mental inventory, I was surprised to find that this is my first minor league game of the season. It was refreshing. You grow accustomed to solid defense, outstanding pitching and well-executed plays when you spend most of your time watching major league games, particularly games like those I saw at yesterday’s doubleheader.
Then you show up for a California League game and everything you think you know about baseball goes out the window. A game where the starting pitchers began by combining for 11 K’s over the first four innings and allowing only two runs apiece then devolves into an absolute revolving door of offense that saw each team bat around in the fifth inning. After two loooong innings featuring 14 combined runs (the fifth and sixth), the teams finished out the final three frames with little additional drama.
That is one of the truly great things about minor league baseball, though - the unpredictability. A 6-2 lead may seem daunting to the fan, but an eventful half inning can put the home team back on top 8-6 just like that. Delightful. You know what else is delightful…and another great thing about minor league baseball? This:
Finally, the moment we’ve all been waiting for…What is a bobblebelly? This is a bobblebelly:
Taking a little creative license with an old Pitbull song and putting words in Dallas Braden’s mouth: “2-0-9! ‘Til I die!” Or maybe even beyond the grave, as the bobblebelly makes it appear (as my fiancee pointed out) as if Dallas Braden has been cut in half.
But if you think that somehow diminishes my love for this bobble, you are mistaken. It is a great concept and pretty solid execution, particularly for a Class A team. Couple the giveaway with Braden’s lively appearance and you have one helluva day at the ballpark.
Much like the doubleheader, there was no way I was missing Dallas Braden Bobblebelly Day. As with the doubleheader, my expectations were high, but again the promotion and the total experience were everything I had hoped for and more. With the “weekend of baseball ecstasy” now fully in the books, I am happy to report that it lived up to every cubic centimeter of its name. I can only hope to be so lucky next year as to be treated to the kind of total baseball immersion weekend I just had.
Man, do I love a doubleheader. Nothing brings out the baseball fanatic in me like the prospect of spending nearly eight hours at the ballpark. And that is exactly what I got today here in Oakland. The A’s, more than living up to their reputation for a strong promotional calendar, scheduled a classic doubleheader against the Angels to start the second half off right.
I came to the doubleheader with high expectations. As soon as I saw it among the promotions this spring, I immediately blocked off my schedule and long ago declared this “a weekend of baseball ecstasy.” So, as you can see, I expected big things.
Not only did the doubleheader live up to my lofty expectations, however, it somehow managed to surpass them. The weather was nice. Cloudier than it could have been, but pleasant. The crowd was good, too - one of the best I’ve seen at the Coliseum in awhile both in terms of size and the way the fans remained engaged with the games from beginning ‘til end. And the games themselves were outstanding.
It helps when your pitching matchups are Cahill-Weaver and Santana-Harden, but these games were close throughout and featured four strong pitching performances and just enough offense to keep things interesting. Each starter earned a quality start and the two games were decided by a combined three runs. You even had an impressive defensive play by Hideki Matsui, who hasn’t been spending a whole lot of time with his glove in recent years yet managed an impressive sliding catch on a Vernon Wells fly ball.
And as if 18 innings were insufficient for one day, the second game required a tenth inning to decide it. The A’s walked off in style, evening the day’s standings, delighting the home crowd and averting a likely mass exodus if the game carried on much longer.
Unfortunately an opportunity like the one I had today at the Oakland Coliseum (I refuse to call it O.co) does not regularly present itself. Doubleheaders today come almost exclusively from posteponements - make-up games resulting from rainouts or the occasional snow-out. Furthermore, the modern doubleheader is almost always day-night, which means the games are separated by several hours and separate tickets are required for each game. If I could change only one thing about Major League Baseball in its current form, I would reinstitute the classic doubleheader.
I have been agitating for years among my baseball-loving friends for a return to scheduled doubleheaders. The response is always the same: the players hate them and the Union will never support it. That may be true.
Chris Jaffe, in an excellent three-part article on the history of the doublheader over at The Hardball Times(Parts I, II, III), makes the argument that the decline and virtual disappearance of the classic doubleheader is the result of economics - as a rise in attendance in the mid-1970s made doubleheaders less essential as a mechanism for drawing fans and therefore less vital to the owners’ bottom line. That may also be true.
Neither of these things precludes the return of the doubleheader as a mere promotion, though. The days of regular doubleheaders may be in the past. There may no longer be an economic incentive. The backlash from the players and the Union, who already think the season is too long, may be something the owners wish to avoid. But who would say no to a single scheduled doubleheader per season?
Think about it. The season is roughly twenty-six weeks long. There are thirty teams in baseball. That is fifteen classic doubleheaders over the course of the season. Throw out April (due to the weather) and September (due to fatigue). Take the week of the All-Star Break out and, voila! - fifteen doubleheaders in seventeen weeks.
Of course, then only half the teams in baseball would be able to host a doubleheader each year. You could double the number (still only two per team per season) - thirty doubleheaders in twenty-six weeks, so that each team could host one - or you could simply have half the teams host one year and the other half the next. Either way, you could give the teams an extra day off either the week before or the week after the doubleheader as a way to appease the players (I am assuming the scheduled doubleheaders would be played on the weekend to maximize attendance).
The benefit for the fan is obvious. Two games, one ticket. Not only that, but the doubleheader provides the opportunity to watch a larger number of a team’s players than nearly any other circumstance (save for a 20+ inning affair).
The benefit for ownership is not as well-defined. Not every team needs to boost attendance by offering two games for the price of one. Still, many could use the help. Today’s doubleheader in Oakland was one of the best attended games I have been to in awhile at the Coliseum. Not only that, the attendance late in the second game was better than almost any non-premium (or non-premium promotion) regular season matchup of the last 4 seasons. And even those clubs that do not need help with attendance certainly wouldn’t be negatively impacted by the good will engendered with their fans by embracing a beautiful baseball tradition.
Baseball is always honoring its history and celebrating its past. From throwback jerseys to team reunions to number retirement ceremonies, teams regularly reference the history of the game in order to connect with today’s fans. Bringing back the doubleheader fits squarely within this new tradition of embracing tradition. I hope the response to the A’s-Angels classic doubleheader today convinces the powers that be at MLB that while doubleheaders may not make sense as a weekly, or even monthly occurrence, it may be worthwhile to trot them out once or twice a season. At the very least, here’s hoping the A’s see fit to make the doubleheader a regular part of their annual promotions calendar. I know at least one fan who will not miss it.
I came across this gentleman and his incredible statement of a t-shirt at Mosswood Park in Oakland last Sunday afternoon. The occasion was the Oakland Colonels hosting the New Almaden Cinnabars in a game of the Bay Area Vintage Base Ball league. Long time A’s fans are growing increasingly disgusted with Wolff as he tries to move the team out of Oakland and the stadium situation grows more dire. Look for a more in depth piece on the A’s stadium issue shortly.
Greetings friends and fellow baseball fans and welcome to The Baseball Diaspora.
The Baseball Diaspora is a blog (and eventually a podcast…hopefully) aimed at chronicling the experience of baseball fans “in the diaspora” and how being separated from their team impacts their fandom and the manner in which they consume the game.
Born of a desire to keep in touch with a dear friend and fellow baseball maniac who once lived right down the street and now lives all the way across the country, The Baseball Diaspora is about all things baseball, from the first pitch of the Arizona Fall League to the final out of the World Series. Across levels and national borders, from the weighty to the trivial to the mundane, The Baseball Diaspora is interested in discussing the game from as many angles as possible (or as many angles as I feel like covering).
Before we begin, however, a question should be answered by way of introduction: What exactly is the Baseball Diaspora?
At the risk of drawing a disapproving headshake from this guy, Webster’s defines diaspora as “the movement, migration, or scattering of a people away from an established or ancestral homeland.” The Jews, Africans, Hmong and American college students, history and the modern world are full of examples of people separated from their homes by forces as diverse as a desire to spread one’s wings and the Transatlantic slave trade.
The Baseball Diaspora is thankfully on the happier end of this spectrum. Rather than threat of persecution or actual bondage, it is increased mobility, school, work, love or family that leads the modern baseball fan away from his or her home team and into the diaspora. The result is the situation in which we find ourselves today: a St. Louis Cardinals fan in Oakland, CA, an Oakland A’s fan in Miami, a Boston Red Sox fan in Charlotte, NC and so on and so forth.
Half a century ago baseball fans more than likely lived within a few hours of their team’s home ballpark. With limited national television exposure and no internet, fans living outside of broadcast range of their team essentially had two choices: read box scores or adopt the Yankees. Today, with MLB Extra Innings, MLB.TV, sports websites, blogs, podcasts and twitter, it’s possible to keep up with one’s favorite team and all 29 others in a variety of ways. Nevertheless, the fan experience is different in the diaspora than it is in the shadow of one’s home park.
Exploring and expressing just what it means to be a baseball fan on the visiting team is the mission of The Baseball Diaspora. And we’re going to do it up.
So welcome. I’m excited and I hope you are too.