On July 13, 2022

Filling the seats

By Dom Cioffi

Anyone interested in sports knows that the 2022 New York Yankees are playing record-setting baseball. They have been destroying their opposition since the start of the season, exciting the Big Apple fans with epic hitting and pitching. And while I’m not a Yankees fan, I do appreciate the winning environment they’ve created.

Last week, the Yankees traveled to Boston to face their rival,Red Sox, for a four-game series. While the Sox are in second place in the division, they’ve been saddled with a slew of injuries that looked to make them easy prey for the surging Yanks. And after the first two games, that possibility increased, with the Yankees mopping up the Sox 6-5 and then 12-5.

But then something magical happened. On Saturday and Sunday night, the Sox came alive with two energized come-from-behind victories to shock the Yankees, sending them home wondering if they were as good as they thought.

The games were played at the historic Fenway Park on four warm July nights. The fans looked happy and joyful with beers in hand and caps on their heads. I sat in my living room watching the games each night with the window open and the crickets chirping in the background. I had my own cap on and a cold beer in hand as well.

On several occasions, I remarked to myself, “This is truly the essence of summer.”

Some people like to complain that baseball is boring; that there isn’t enough action. But if you watched either of those games this past weekend, I assure you “boring” was not a word you would use.

I love baseball. I loved playing it as a kid, I loved coaching when my son played, I love watching games on TV, and I love heading to the ballpark to catch the occasionally game. To me, it still is the great American pastime even though interest in the sport has been dwindling for years.

On a local level, I’ve noticed this at the park near my house where nightly youth baseball games have always been a constant. But it’s noticeably quieter this summer. I inquired with a neighbor who told me the league was forced to cancel games on some days due to the low number of players.

And it’s not just uninterested youth that are affecting the sport. Attendance at major league ballparks has been on a steady decline for nearly 20 years. To combat this, Major League Baseball is working hard to bring fans back.

First, there are several rule changes in the works that are meant to enhance the game to make it more watchable. And now, during broadcasts, it’s now not uncommon to spend an entire inning listening to a conversation between an announcer and a player who is mic’d up on the field. ESPN is also following football’s lead by offering commentary by ex-athletes and celebrities in the same vein as the popular Manning brothers’ program.

Most MLB teams have entire departments dedicated to bringing in fans through special events and nightly promotions. And I know from experience that showing any interest in a team results in constant remarketing via web advertising and email (and even the old-fashioned phone call if they’re really motivated).

But none of this is new. Teams have been using countless gimmicks to get fans to the ballpark since professional sports were first invented.

Once great example was in 1931 when a 17-year-old woman named Jackie Mitchell, an elite female baseball pitcher, was signed by the Chattanooga Lookouts men’s AA team. The Lookouts were playing an exhibition game against the New York Yankees, ironically on April 1 (that game was rained out, so it had to be played the next day).

After the starting pitcher was pulled following the second batter, Mitchell came in to face none other than Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig, possibly the greatest one-two punch in the history of sports.

Mitchell struck out both icons in epic fashion (there’s even footage online to prove it). The legitimacy of the stunt has been questioned for years, but Mitchell went to her grave swearing she pulled off the unthinkable. But more importantly, the fans loved it.

In this week’s feature, “Keep Sweet: Pray and Obey” – a four-part miniseries on Netflix, you’ll witness a documentary that also outlines the unthinkable, but in this case, it has to do with a polygamist sect of a fundamentalist Mormon church.

This is one of those documentaries that will have you seething from beginning to end as you bear witness to pure evil cloaking itself in the form of a religious prophet. This isn’t the easiest series to watch, but it is a cautionary tale of how one man’s delusion can corrupt an entire society.

A painful “B+” for “Keep Sweet: Pray and Obey.”

Got a question or comment for Dom?
You can email him at moviediary@att.net.

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