Jack: Focus your fandom on players, they are what matters

Kristian Jack
4/17/2014 8:32:16 PM
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You may or may not be aware that I am a massive baseball fan.

I love it.

You, however, may not be and you are probably expecting a column on soccer in this spot of the site. Don't worry, it is coming. Stay with me.

The 2014 Major League Baseball season is not yet three weeks old and it is in a bit of a mess.

I often use that great sport as a companion in my down time, away from the beautiful game I am blessed enough to cover.

During this time I will watch many games, very often not complete ones, around the continent by using my remote control to allow me to jump into numerous different ballparks.

I will read plenty and listen to many smart baseball media personalities talk about the game. Except, this season has been very different.

Those pages I turn, the sites I visit and the podcasts and stations I listen to have been flooded by debates about replay, challenges and rule changes.

When is a runner out at first base? Where does the ball need to land in the glove?

When is a lane not being opened for a runner heading from third for a play at the plate?

When is the catcher breaking the rules by blocking the plate when in possession of the ball?

Why is a Yankee being called safe, even after a replay call, when the world can see on their own monitors live that he was tagged by a Red Sox player while his foot was off the bag?

Why, while dealing with replay issues, is the sport taking a moronic approach to another fight about the transfer of the ball to the glove after a catch?

Blah blah blah.

My ears hurt. Back to soccer.

For a minute.

One of the true charms of the sport, for me, has always been the amount of discussions that surround what actually happens to the players between the white lines.

Yes, the sport has a gambling and a fantasy component but most discussions about the sport are about the sport.

In fact now, more than ever, thanks to the fine work being done by tactical writers like Michael Cox and analytical, statistical authors like Simon Gleave and many others, more than ever we are surrounded by insightful analysis around incidents and conclusions that have been determined on the pitch.

Pundits like Gary Neville on Sky Sports has also taken his industry to a different level and I like to think the fine team here at TSN that I am a part of helps to deliver a similar message. Entertain and inform the audience about what is happening on the field.

Compare this to the NFL, which in the United States is as enormous as the Premier League is in England. Except, the analysis around it is much different.

The majority of their fans desire discussions on betting lines and fantasy previews. While this is being delivered to them, what actually is happening is the audience is getting less educated about what kind of players play the game.

They see their wide receiver, for example, on their fantasy team and look for his stats but they don't know what kind of routes he runs to confuse defensive backs. They'll hope their fantasy quarterback will deliver the goods on Sunday but if he doesn't most aren't told why not and by Tuesday they don't care as the planning goes into the following fantasy week matchup.

Over the last decade, Formula One racing has mastered a way to feed hungry fans with a lot of stories away from their races, because, quite frankly, many on-track narratives in the last few years haven't been interesting enough.

Baseball, for me, was always different. I love hearing why players are struggling or improving and so many other nuances on the diamond that make it so great.

Except now the sport is searching for perfection in an imperfect world. One respected writer said this week 'the replay system is not a mess, sure it's got problems but they are still now getting more calls correct than they used to'.

Yes, but at what cost? The sport is all over the media and for the wrong reasons. Or, perhaps, the right reasons and not just the reason I want.

Despite record revenues and attendances, baseball does worry about his lack of coverage compared to other big sports like football and basketball. Maybe this is a way of combating that. Maybe.

Soccer certainly does not need such attention.

As the world evolves in front of our very eyes, attention spans are getting smaller and smaller yet more people than ever are watching the game globally.

And in a World Cup year that number will grow again. Eyes in every nation across the world will focus on what is happening between the white lines.

For a sport that plays shorter games than most and nowhere near as often as most, that is a significant achievement for both those who cover it and those who watch it.

Combined in 2014 they have managed to accomplish what the purpose of sport is in the first place.

Anything with large sums of money involved will always have complications and politics, but throughout that it is important for us all to never be distracted from the magnificent accomplishments athletes reach on a daily basis.

They are the reasons people flock to watch professional sports and they are deserving of the coverage. They bring great joy and pleasure to lives that can be full of difficulties.

When the public actually gets time to read, watch or listen to their sport they deserve to be told more about the people who attracted them to the sport in the first place.

And this brings me back to my original point.

Technology does not have every answer to questions thrown up by the game. Goal-line technology is now here to stay and does not disrupt the game or dominate news cycles for weeks on end but that is where is must stop.

There are many ways for the sport to progress and help referees but further technology is not one of them. Yes, mistakes will continue and during the World Cup this summer one will likely happen where more people will call for technology to change the game.

Except, it doesn't just change the game, it changes the focus.

Sure, if you have time this summer read up all on the politics of Brazil 2014, the bidding process around the next two World Cups, the issues with stadiums and potential crime but if you are a true fan of the sport nothing should be more exciting for you than Brazil vs Croatia on the opening day.

Eight weeks today it kicks off.

I can hardly wait.

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