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America’s Pasttime

By Ched Rickman · April 5, 2010

Lo, what a glorious day. Today, my friends who are perhaps not as indoctrinated with American sporting society as they should be, is Opening Day. As in, Major League Baseball Opening Day. As in, this is one of the greatest days of the year. As in, when you think about the fact the NCAA Men’s Division I Championship game is this evening, and 28 of 30 Pro ballteams play today, this is probably the greatest sporting day of the year, Who Dat Nation be damned. And what do I think about as I stroll into Great American BallPark for the first of 162 wonderful outings? Why, writing, of course.

You see, baseball teams, all sports teams really, have writers on their staff. These are probably more often than not “just” copywriters who roll out some drivel for bus stop benches and banners hanging in the ballpark. But these efforts should be considered and if appropriate, respected and enjoyed. And also if appropriate, defaced with your standard “Pirates 2010 !!!11!!1! ftw!1.”

Talent on the field wins titles. It helps to have a 9-digit payroll usually achieved by charging — LITERALLY — an arm and a leg, we’re talking actual primate limbs, for admission, but a good or great PR push can get asses in the seats, and although they rarely venture away from your standard “we’ve got gritty heart and we don’t mind playing injured or banged up if it means a long-overdue title for this town who is desperately hunting for something to be proud of” posturing, every once in a while, a team really gets it right. Take a look around this season at whatever game you catch on TV or happen to see in person. How good is the writing at these generally un-academic outings?

Some teams don’t need this extra effort from their writers. Some teams market themselves. The Yankees win a shitload of games, that was actually inscribed on their rings this year. The Boston Red Sox have a national fan base so loyal, they could drape Fenway Park in a Burqa and no one would bat an eye. The Chicago Cubs have built quite the fanbase, improbably, on being acknowledged as basically the most pathetic franchise in the history of competitive gaming, even surpassing Marcus Narcissus, circa A.D.40. Now that guy sucked. 

But others can potentially profit from some inventive marketing. The Cubs’ crosstown nemesis, the Chicago White Sox, are a perfect example of this. In addition to having Dr. Dre rep them in every video since 1993, the Sox rolled out their “Grinder Ball Rules” in 2005. These were little tidbits of baseball wisdom organized in no particular order that were often nothing more than your standard “we’ve got gritty heart and we don’t mind playing injured or banged up if it means a long-overdue title for this town who is desperately hunting for something to be proud of” posturing, but every once in a while they’d throw in a dig at the far more popular Cubs or a callback to some arcane moment in White Sox team history. These things popped up all over the town, on radio, on buses, on T.V., on Jon Garland’s overpaid bicep. Now, almost nobody understands the inside reference to “#59: Go, go, go,” but tell me you don’t get bloodthirsty when you see or hear “#41: Never underestimate the power of Power.” Oo-rah.

With a campaign like that, it’s no surprise the Sox won the World Series that year. But look at it another way. The White Sox, the Cubs, the Yankees, Red Sox, Angels, Cardinals et. al, are perennial contenders, at least when the season begins. But how jazzed up for another season of baseball do Nationals, Blue Jays or Rangers fans get? Inventive writing rarely, yet still can, capture the mood of it’s intended audience, city, fanbase and at times athletes. I read recently the Minnesota Timberwolves have airport billboards declaring they are “Re-re-re-re-re-re-re-rebuilding.” Now, I question the sense in portraying to visitors freshly arrived in the Twin Cities that they are mired in a burg made up entirely of Suck, but it is, in my opinion, a pretty smart campaign. It is honest, informing potential fans they might be in for a mediocre outing — for now, — it is hopeful, portraying the direction of the future franchise, not the current, non-playoff making one, and it is the right amount of self-deprecating. Not harsh, but accurate. These motherfuckers suck, but give ’em a couple years.

So remove your hat for the Anthem, suck down your watered down beer and obscenely priced “hot dog.” Scowl at the ne’erdowell opposing fans and trade high fives when that bat flies into the 5th row and takes out an old lady. But in between the non-stop action of, say Royals/Tigers, look around the park. What type of hype has your team rolled out for the 2010 season? If it’s not catchy, or clever, or even there, you might want to reconsider your allegiance. If a team can’t even muster a half-proper marketing campaign for the new year, can you trust them to intelligently draft an extension or a new contract for the free-agent with rotator cuff soreness? I didn’t think so.

But what the fuck do I know, I’m just an actor.