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Just Off-Camera

"They respect you if you write. The dumber the world gets, the more the words matter." -Dan Jenkins


Wednesday, March 31, 2004

The Crack Of The Bat At The Crack Of Dawn

Hey, I'm all for globalization of baseball. If Bud Selig wants to market the MLB brand in Japan, that's cool with me. But Bud is missing something when he decided to put the season opener in Japan yesterday.

Baseball is no longer the American pastime. Baseball is not the premier sport like it once was in this country. So before you go pushing baseball out of North America, take care of your issues here. Market the game in America. Fans in Japan are crazy about baseball - crazy enough that they'll stay up at ridiculous hours to watch Hideki Matsui play in New York City. Fans in America are probably less likely to get up at 5 a.m. to see the Yankees and Devil Rays play Opening Day in the Tokyo Dome.

Other countries already are better at baseball and are probably more passionate about the sport. The U.S. national team did not qualify for the Olympics in 2004. The game is withstanding a storm of criticism for steroid-tainted records. So yes, while it's always a good idea to expand the market for your product, it's more important to take care of the existing customers. Worry about baseball in America and make Opening Day a big event here in the United States - not in Japan.

There were, of course, some Americans who awoke at the butt crack of dawn, and I was one of them, because I was researching the game and I had to hook Karl Ravech, Peter Gammons, and Harold Reynolds up with statistical goodness like how often D-Rays hitters swung at the first pitch. Because we were voicing the game from Bristol, we didn't have our own cameras in Japan - we relied on the Japanese feed. And that was pretty interesting.

In Japan, Hideki Matsui is probably bigger than Michael Jordan. For example, the government of Matsui's hometown will reimburse citizens $300 if they go to see a game Matsui plays in America (just show travel itinerary and ticket stub).

Because of this, the cameras were constantly going back to Matsui so that the Japanese announcers could talk about how godlike he is. Unfortunately for our commentators, that meant that Matsui kept popping on screen in the middle of everything they were saying.

In the middle of a discussion during a Kenny Lofton at-bat about Lofton's complaints about batting ninth, the cameras suddenly swung to Matsui in the dugout, idly watching the game. Ravech and Co. gamely continued their banter about Lofton, but it seemed a little odd considering that Lofton wasn't on screen, even though he was batting.

Also, I've heard that Japanese League pitchers don't throw some of the breaking pitches that you see in the States, such as a splitter. So to see Mike Mussina throwing a pitch with his middle and ring fingers separated around the ball so drastically fascinated the Japanese crew.

That resulted in an abundance of closeups of Mussina's grip, release point, and plenty of slow-motion replays of the spin on the pitch. I'm sure Harold doesn't mind praising Mussina's pitching ability - he's arguably a future Hall-Of-Famer - but he was certainly sick of analyzing it by the 400th replay in the fifth inning.

I do want to give the crew their props, though, They did a terrific job considering they were half a world away from the action and could only go on what the Japanese cameramen were showing them.

***

I don't consider myself superstitious, but I had a bad feeling when I broke my stick on a slap shot in pregame warmups before my hockey game last night. I had a six-game goal scoring streak entering the game, and it was all with that stick. So I put the shattered lumber in the trash and picked up a new stick, which was really just like the old one - except that it wasn't.

All the goals were still in the old stick. I should have rubbed the old stick on the new one before throwing it out. I put a breakaway opportunity right in the goalie's chest. I had a wide open net with the goalie down and out of position, and I put the shot a foot over the crossbar.

We tied, 4-4.

And my shin pad and shoulder pad both had straps break.

O Hockey Gods, what must I do to bring the fortune of my old stick unto my new one?

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