Wednesday, 4 June 2008

Let me root, root, root for the Red Sox

I have to say, I really love my job. First, I got to watch a match from the IPL as part of a team outing, and today (that's Tuesday night), I got to watch the Red Sox play the Tampa Bay Rays at Fenway Park, which is sort of like a pilgrimage in Boston.
One of our hosts was sweet enough to give us a quick debriefing on the rules of the game before we left (being the thorough Wiki-trawler that I am, I looked up the rules there as well). As a game, I'd say baseball is a lot less complicated than cricket. No worrying about no-balls and free hits and stuff. There is a certain charm to it though, and as we were told repeatedly, it's very 'American', notwithstanding the fact that a lot of the stars seem to be from the Dominican Republic or Japan.
After an early (all-American) dinner of beer, fries, nachos and sandwiches (chicken for me, veggies for the others from B'lore), we found our way to our seats in the bleachers, which is apparently where the crazier sorts of Sox fans sit. Fenway Park is, (Wikipedia informs us) the oldest of all current MLB stadia, and its got a lot of charm. The size of the ground itself is a little smaller than a few cricket grounds, but that's also because of the shape of a baseball diamond vis-a-vis a cricket ground - you need a lot less space down the sides and back. You sit closer to the action than in most cricket stadia (or at least the ones in India, which leave a fair gap between the crowds and the players). The fans - the Red Sox Nation - are pretty vocal and yet supposedly fickle: they'll willingly heckle one of their own if he doesn't find favour with them. They're also very enthusiastic about showing their loyalty, wearing caps, tees, sweatshirts all emblazoned with the 'B' or with the red socks. Out of about 40,000 people, we were probably the only group not wearing any Sox-related outfits (as an aside, I've noticed that in the city in general, the desis are probably the only group that don't seem to wear much stuff related to the local teams, except for a few people wearing cheap knock-offs of the caps).
The game we saw was fairly exciting as far as regular season games go, with a few home runs, a little bit of decent fielding, some tension in the middle innings and some impressive pitching at the end by the Red Sox' closer, Jonathan Papelbon. On the whole though, I'd say cricket's got a lot more action going on at every minute, especially when it comes to Twenty20. And some of those specialist batters make Sourav Ganguly look athletic. No wonder they wanted Gilchrist to try out.
Based on my limited experience, I'd have to say though that baseball is a lot more fun to watch live than cricket. The fans were loud and foul-mouthed - as one of our hosts pointed out in understatement,"There's one obnoxious American in every crowd"- but they were really into the whole game. One even managed to jump the fence and run across the park, evading three security guards, till he crashed into the seats on the opposite side and got tasered. There were also the quaint traditions that kept the crowd's interest alive just in case the beer high started wearing off, like the seventh-innings stretch and the karaoke-rendition by the crowd of 'Take me out to the Ball-Game', followed by 'Sweet Caroline' in the middle of the eighth. It's a lot more fun than trying to find clean seats and dying of dehydration.
The IPL was supposedly modeled on American sports leagues, but there are are obviously a few lessons more for them to learn. One important lesson is in how to build the fan base. There have been a few quotes along the lines of how it would take time to build up loyalty among the fans, but that sort of loyalty comes only with greater engagement. The Red Sox Nation, for example, also gets involved in charitable causes locally, which fosters a greater sense of community amongst the members. Similarly, some of the 'traditions' themselves have only been around for 5-10 years, built up by shrewd team principals at Fenway Park. Part of the reason, though, why the local fans get more respect is because a fairly large part of the revenues for each baseball team comes from the gate receipts, whereas the IPL mostly gets its revenues from TV. Perhaps as the IPL franchises decide that they need to sell more team memorabilia to the fans to generate money, they might give them a bit more respect, but in the meantime, I'd say the chances of getting clean seats at Chinnaswamy stadium are probably lower than the chances of seeing an Indian version of Sox Appeal.


  1. Nice post.

    I must go for a game sometime.

  2. arre wah wah baseball game and all

    I went to a basketball game once. There was more tamasha, and less about the game.

    Here sports is like an entertainment package. Did they have acrobats in the baseball game?

  3. And in India sports is not an entertainment package?

    I guess you haven't been reading about the IPL.

  4. IPL apart, no, sport in India doesnt have all the add-ons that exist out here. Cricket pre-IPL was pretty much only about the game going on, with the risk of dehydration.

    And, who can beat the americans at marketing?

  5. The game was decent. I think baseball's appeal lies also in the fact that it's relatively accessible - it's probably the one sport that everyone can imagine themselves playing. Basketball is too athletic, hockey and (American) football are too physical, but baseball can make stars even of guys on the wrong side of pudgy.
    The entertainment isn't very flashy either - it's all homely sing-alongs and stuff. The cheerleaders and stuff are mainly for football, I guess - good basketball matches are exciting enough without the additional showy stuff. Case in point - Celtics versus Lakers, first game of the finals, going on as of the point of writing.