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August 31, 2012

Wezen-Ball

Do You See Every Pitch of Every Game?

by Larry Granillo

At the start of the season, I introduced you to Ben Rouse, the 25-year-old Brewers fan who is attending all 162 Brewers games this year in an effort to raise awareness for "Be the Match", the bone marrow donor registry that helped save his life a few years ago. Ben is still going strong, having sat through the Brewers-Cubs 12-11 ugly-fest on Thursday for his 130th game of the season. And this despite the immensely unsatisfying season the Milwaukee club has trotted out for Ben lo these 130 games. When Manny Parra and then Francisco Rodriguez each blew a save in Thursday afternoon's game, they accounted for the 32nd and 33rd blown saves for the Brewers this season. That's a painful stat to experience for any fan who happens to watch their team on occasion; I can't imagine how hard that must be to experience live and in person night-in and night-out.

Even better, Ben is experiencing this Brewers season with an even more ambitious goal: to physically witness every pitch of every game. That is an impossible goal, of course, but it doesn't keep Ben from giving it his all. To help illustrate the difficulty of that goal, here is a stat that Ben tracks each and every game: through the first 129 games of the season, there had been 38,411 pitches in Brewers games; Ben had seen all but 93 of them (99.8%).

This goal raised an interesting question in Ben's mind that I have been pondering ever since: on any given night, considering the entire crowd in attendance, what percentage of pitches in the game does the crowd actually see? That is, if 10,000 people show up to the Rays game in Tampa Bay and 5,000 stay glued to their seats for the entire game, never taking their eyes from the mound, and the other 5,000 hang out in the concourse, drinking beer and never looking toward the field, then 50% of the game's pitches have been witnessed. I guessed that the number was somewhere below 80% when you consider the entire crowd, but Ben was a bit more optimistic. The more I think about it, though, the more I think even 80% is too high.

Consider all the times that any fan might miss a pitch:

  • Any fan arriving late would, by definition, have missed every pitch from the start of the game until he got to his seat. This includes anyone who might have arrived at the ballpark late due to traffic, any fan who chose to tailgate in the parking lot into the second inning, any fan who waited outside until the scalpers dropped their prices to ridiculous levels, any fan who decided to take a picture with the Fox Sports girls outside, and so on. If you don't get to your seat until the second inning, you've already missed 30-40 pitches.
  • Similarly, any fan leaving early for whatever reason (to beat traffic, to take a sick kid home, to take advantage of the George Webb 6-for-$5 deal as early as possible) would also miss every one of those pitches. Some cities have this problem more than others.
  • Any fan stuck in line at the concessions who thought that he could make it back to his seat between innings. We all know how unpredictable those concession lines can be. Sometimes you can just walk right up to the cashier, grab your dog and a beer, and hurry back to your seat with no worries whatsoever. Other times you get up, get in line, and stand around and wait for three or six outs while (you hope) your fiancee is keeping score for you. In certain food areas in certain stadiums (*cough*Shake Shack*cough*), these waits can be an hour or more. That's a third of the game! No matter how many pitches you miss trying to get some food, whether it's two or fifty-two, they still count against you.
  • Any fan who thinks the bathroom lines might be shorter than the concession lines and then realizes how much of an idiot they were for hoping. Seriously, how often do you find the bathroom with a short enough line that you can make it back to your seat in the two-and-a-half minutes between innings? Maybe if you try and go at the non-peak inning breaks. It's like everybody is synchronized to pee every three innings!
  • Any fan with a child or other guest who needs extra attention. Try appreciating the nuances of a Roy Halladay pitch sequence when you're being pulled away every three seconds to make sure your four-year-old (or your twenty-four-year-old) doesn't eat something gross off the ground, fall over the railing, or get into a fight with the drunk idiot next to them. Three hours sitting down can be a bit trying for anyone, let alone a preschooler who doesn't understand why that Red Vine on the ground isn't in his mouth. And if you decide to take a walk with your child around the stadium to tire him out, there go all those pitches too!
  • Any fan who gets caught up trying to find the right amount of change in their wallet to give to the beer guy down the aisle. Seriously, who hasn't missed a pitch or six waiting for that transaction to finally go through?
  • Any fan sitting in one of the posh club/party/suite sections who doesn't care that they're at a baseball game and, instead, are just happy that someone gave them a free ticket. That has to be a 90-100% missed-pitch rate for those party-goers, right?

And so many other ways to miss pitches! Turning around to inform the person behind you that, no, that isn't Jose Uribe out there; it's Juan Uribe. Fans forcing you to stand up as they make their way back to their seats as Felix Hernandez drops a deuce on Josh Hamilton. Fans taking inopportune times to get a photo down by the railing, completely obscuring your view of the game. A fan going down to the team store to get a new shirt after someone told him this "Mike Trout kid" might be pretty good. A fan lingering his gaze in the crowd for a few seconds too long as he tries to figure out who got hit by the foul ball. Someone hopelessly gazing around at the seventeen different scoreboards, trying to get an official ruling on whether Darwin Barney just ended his errorless streak or not. Fans treating the bleacher seats like an outdoor bar, talking and flirting with each other. Knocking away (or puncturing) a beach ball that found it's way into your section. Booing the previous ownership who drove the franchise into the ground. Zealously busting out the second verse to "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" after the seventh-inning stretch had already ended...

Really, the list could go on and on.

Now, take the various reasons fans might miss a few pitches in any given game (even the most diligent fan, remember) and try to come up with a percentage of pitches seen (or missed) among the entire crowd. It's probably much lower than you think.

My guess? Being conservative here, I'd say: ten percent of fans show up in the second inning, missing approximately 10% of the games pitches (that's 1% overall); another five percent of the crowd leaves at least an inning early (and that's in a close game); five percent probably have zero interest in the game completely, missing maybe 75% of the game's pitches; let's say a quarter of the crowd misses a full inning going to the bathroom and concessions (we'll call these the "designated parents"); another half of the crowd misses another half-inning in the restroom; and then there's just the general missed pitches from having conversations, watching birds fly, complaining about the weather, trying to figure out who threw that peanut at you, etc., which probably amounts to 2-3 pitches per half-inning, per person, or, roughly, 20% of the game's pitches. Adding that up and that I'd say at least 30% of pitches are missed in a single game. And, remember, that's being conservative. It still feels a bit low to me.

Am I wrong? Considering all the distractions at a baseball game and the mixed nature of the crowd, exactly what percentage of pitches are seen on any given night?

Related Content:  Fan Experience,  The Who,  The Call-up,  Pitches,  Fan

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