Choosing the lineup

Lake Erie Crushers' first baseman Joey Burney at bat against the Washington Wild Things. Photo (c) Kathiann M. Kowalski.

Crushers’ Joey Burney at bat against the Wild Things.  Photo (c) Kathiann M. Kowalski.

Serious baseball fans don’t just watch the game. They learn background about players, teams and opponents. Many seem to second-guess coaches’ and managers’ decisions too. “Why is he playing this guy today?” a fan might ask when the clean-up guy in the lineup is someone who’s been in a slump. “Get someone warming up!” another fan shouts when the pitcher walks another batter.

Now a new business idea from America’s Ball Club and the Lake Erie Crushers of Avon, Ohio, gives fans the opportunity to vote as a group on one aspect of the game for an actual professional team—the starting lineup.

Fans who pay a membership fee would get to come up with three or four lineups for each game. The manager would then choose from among those for each remaining game in the season.

“He already makes out a few different lineups for the game and then makes the decision at the last minute” of which one to go with, explains Michael Waghalter of America’s Ball Club. Waghalter and colleague Kevin Barber were in town this month to promote the idea with a pre-game picnic and meet-and-greet with several players from the Crushers.

Unlike previous fan involvement promotions, America’s Ball Club is not currently looking to have fans vote on decisions during the game. Rather, the idea is to engage serious fans to boost their enjoyment of the game. The concept would also share some of that hive’s collective wisdom with team management. Unlike teams in Major League Baseball that have big budgets for statistical and other kinds of analyses, that’s not the case for clubs in independent leagues like the Crushers’ Frontier League.

“When you have baseball right here in your backyard, why not get involved and have a say in their success?” asks Barber. “I think it has a place in this league in this baseball world.”

“I like the idea because it gets people more involved. At this point, why not?” says Crushers player Joey Burney, who played first base at that night’s game against the Washington Wild Things. “I don’t think they would ever put a lineup out there that’s unheard of.”

The membership fee would help guard against that, Waghalter and Barber noted, while also covering expenses so the business could become profitable.

“The upside is it gets the fans more involved,” says Crushers pitcher Trevor Longfellow. “We’ve been struggling fanbase-wide, but I think that will help out with it.”

And the downside? “I don’t really know,” Longfellow says. “It’s more of a positive than a negative, that’s for sure.” He does note, though, that there’s a lot that goes into designing really good lineups.

“If you’re just looking at the statistics, you can’t really tell how a guy does against certain pitches,” Longfellow says. Slumps and streaks matter too. Even a really good pitcher can have bad statistics after one or two bad outings.

“There are diehard fans out there, and they put a lot of time and effort into the game,” notes relief pitcher Brad Duffy, who also likes the idea.

Interestingly, Duffy says he’s not someone who does extensive pre-game analysis and “likes to know everything about everyone” before taking the mound. As a reliever, his job is to go out and help his team in whatever situation the game presents at that moment. Thus, he says he takes each game play by play. “Here’s what I have to do one pitch at a time.”

America’s Ball Club hopes fans can start voting on lineups sometime in July, although whether that happens depends largely on whether the group meets its $75,000 Indiegogo goal. Watch for more in a future blog post here.

Meanwhile, both Crushers’ management and players hope the idea will attract fans to the games.

“I’ll do anything if it gets fans in the stands,” says Burney. “It’s hard to get all pumped up for something if you don’t have fans in the stands.”

And if the America’s Ball Club idea takes off, many of those fans won’t just be sitting in the stands.

“Now they’re looking at the statistics. They’re looking at the lineup,” says Burney. “It’s a baseball experience on steroids.”

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