On Friday night, I attended the Angels win over Oakland with Rahul Setty and another one of my friends. It wasn’t particularly different than any of the other baseball games that I’ve attended in my life—most of the games I’ve seen in person feature the same elements: the Angels offense was high-octane, the bullpen had issues, and it was a Halo victory (10-0 lifetime), yet it wasn’t.
Something was different about this time. As we close the 2018 season, baseball has changed entirely over the course of the last four months. When we opened 2018, the concept of an “opener” had yet to be developed, and one would be crazy for even thinking of the notion. Stretching the concept of change back even just five years, a leadoff hitter could be OPS’ing .600 so long as he was speedy and stole 40 bases, and he would be penciled in at the top of the lineup every night. Some concepts have not caught on. Closers, for example, are still prevalent throughout the majors, and I believe they will remain so for a long time. Others, many others, have. Launch angle and exit velocity are two key stats I turn to after a ball is struck. Jacob deGrom is about to win a Cy Young with 10 wins. Mike Trout is nearly getting all the praise he deserves...
Yet, when you’re at the park, you know none of these things. I sat in the 400s and listened. I listened more than I watched for the first time ever. I was on my phone (like a millennial, you might say), and I observed my friend and Rahul becoming acquainted with each other.
The teams combined for 62 plate appearances. The Angels struck out six times and walked four times. The A’s struck out thirteen times and, thanks to the effort of Jaime Barria, walked nine times. In 32, or over HALF of all plate appearances, ended without the ball being put in play.
Here I am, sitting up in the 400s. Foul balls aren’t going to reach me. I can look away for five minutes and barely miss any important action. For the first time, it doesn’t matter who wins or loses. I’m genuinely there for the spectacular plays, and I’m gambling that I get to see at least one.
Around me, there are many different types of people, but they’re all the same. There’s an couple, each wearing an Ohtani jersey with a Japanese flag. They take their pictures, record Ohtani’s at-bats, and leave for another section or perhaps for home after the fifth inning. There’s a set of two families who end up next to one another; their kids leave for most of the game and end up becoming friends. There’s a dad with his three children by the front of the section; he leaves for thirty minutes to buy food. In that thirty minutes, his children have made it once around the section, stood and cheered, sat and looked angry, and gotten moved back my the usher for throwing things over the railing. There’s a mom with her two young children who comes during the third inning; throughout the game, she patiently explains stats such as batting average and ERA to her children.
Batting average? ERA? That’s basic.
It’s all the majority of baseball fans know. Especially in the LA/OC area, the majority of fans who turn out to a park aren’t going to be versed in the newest sabermetric statistic. The Dodgers and the Angels alike get a lot of heat for fans strolling in during the third inning, leaving during the seventh. For fans more interested in both the traditional wave and the light wave than the baseball being played. Multiple users have complained about the lack of an MVP chat for Mike Trout. It’s the norm to sit in silence or a comfortable conversation as opposed to yelling out cheers.
Yet when nothing is going on down on the field, can anyone really blame the spectators? Walks and strikeouts are really cool on TV, but once you get down to the park, you actually want to see action. As fascinating as exit velocity is, once you see it in person, one game, one at-bat, an out is an out. Pythagorean record? What’s that? If you lose a game, you lose. A pitcher walks someone? No one cares about his spin rate.
It’s easy to be involved in the stats when you’re just looking at stats. But humans still play baseball. Each batter that steps up to the plate still has a chance of hitting a home run, getting on base, striking out...the percentages don’t matter when you’re physically there. Once you’re there, it’s back to the schoolyard. See ball, hit ball. If Parker Bridwell is mowing down folks without the peripherals to back it up, I’m tossing him back out there. He’s getting the job down. The players are getting the job done.
Both sides of baseball are beautiful. Staring at Mike Trout’s league-best OPS is mesmerizing. Hearing Taylor Ward connect on a baseball even though he shouldn’t be hitting homers is music.
Do you want the whole truth? As I was sitting there, taking in a meaningless September baseball game, trying to explain things to my friend who knew nothing about baseball, I used batting average. It was simple. It was easy. I barely yelled Friday night. I took in the sounds and sights of the game. For once, I was a casual baseball fan. And it was completely okay.