How can baseball save itself if it no longer loves the casual fan?
By Aaron Koos
This week, the only chore tougher than being an O’s fan would be serving as Mel Kiper’s hairstylist. Since my last blog, the Birds dropped two series against division rivals, lost four of six games overall, and slipped to their familiar fourth-place spot in the AL East.
I’m trying to hang in there in my quest to become a better fan, but the Orioles sure don’t make it easy. It’s OK, though. I like a challenge, which is why I resisted distractions on Tuesday night and switched on the TV to watch the opener of the Toronto series.
First I tuned in Comcast SportsNet, which carries the bulk of the Orioles games. But, instead of baseball, CSN had Game One of the Wizards-Cavaliers NBA playoffs. Hmmm…LeBron in the playoffs… intriguing, but no! I was on a mission.
So, I flipped to the local broadcast stations. No Orioles there either. Could they be on the regional sports network actually owned by Peter Angelos? Nope. MASN had the Nationals game.
I double-checked the guide in the newspaper, which only incorrectly confirmed that the game was supposed to be on Comcast SportsNet. So, I resorted to using the satellite guide search feature, which requires you to tediously punch in your search term letter-by-letter using the remote control. O-R-I-O-L-E-S–T-O-R-O-N-T-O… At this point, no one should question my commitment to this experiment.
Just as I was about the reach for the radio, the satellite search turned up the blacked-out Blue Jays home broadcast, and finally the actual game on something called “RSNa,” an alternate channel way, way up on the dial at 648. I tuned in to see the Orioles lose, but I bet most casual fans didn’t bother.
This is the sort of behavior Orioles fans have come to expect from their team and baseball. The Orioles don’t need to win the World Series every year, but perhaps they could refrain from actually hiding broadcasts, and generally pushing fans away?
It appears that the Warehouse’s treatment of fans, which can be described as indifferent at best, is having the expected effect. The Sun reported this week (“Losing seasons, empty seats”) that attendance at Camden Yards is already down 19.5 percent this year, or the equivalent of 3,000 fewer fans per game. As Sun columnist Rick Maese correctly points out (“Losing fans, O’s have to do more than win”), the Orioles can’t blame the fan exodus on the Nationals. Attendance at RFK is equally bad, down 19 percent from last year and season ticket sales have plummeted. Orioles fans haven’t flocked south. The species is approaching extinction.
This has to be stopped, but baseball isn’t going to save itself. This is going to take an intervention. Casual fans like me are going to have to dig deeper and love a sport that no longer loves us.
To do this I’ll need inspiration, and thankfully, I don’t need to look any further than Baltimore’s own NFL draft guru Mel Kiper Jr. Even if I tried to look further than Kiper, it would be impossible, both due to his towering coif and the fact that ESPN has now installed a camera in his colon to ensure maximum coverage for Draft Day tomorrow.
Essentially, Kiper is a paid superfan. He got his start as a teenager, basically stalking Baltimore Colts training camps, and subsequently he has transformed his passion as a fan into a 25-year career based on knowing more about players than their own mothers (The Sun: “He’s a prospect prodigy”).
He has commitment. He has drive. He has a lustrous, thick, helmet-like mane.
Sadly, I will never achieve his follicular eminence, but I can strive to pursue Kiper-like fandom. I won’t balk when the Orioles broadcast gets slapped around the dial like a ball in a game of pepper. And, I won’t be distracted by other sports that love their fans so much that they provide live, all-day coverage of their personnel moves.
Baseball and the Orioles might be trying to fade away quietly, but they’re going to have to start hiding their games on the Lifetime Movie Network to shake this fan.
According to my CAP rating—the ultra-scientific system that rates my fan activity in the categories of Current knowledge, Ardor, and Participation—I’m actually a better fan this week than last, despite the best efforts of MLB and the Orioles to drive me away.
Here are the results:
Current knowledge: .150 (at least read every game recap, but still can’t recite player stats)
Ardor: .201 (crossed the Mendoza line with extra points for dogged pursuit)
Participation: .198 (for watching or listening to all or parts of most games this week)
Still dismal results, but “moving up the board” faster than a Kiper sleeper pick.