It’s the best time ever to be a UK baseball fan. But no one is. The team, heading into Starkville for a weekend series, is ranked #8 in the country. That’s higher than the basketball or football team was ever ranked last year. The defending Cy Young winner played here. We’re coming of a season where we saw the first ever regional in Lexington. We have one of the best young coaches in the country who is building UK into an SEC power. But no one cares. You may be saying to yourself, why is this Gerry? Let us explore.
(1) Baseball is boring: It is hard to watch 9 innings of a playoff game in October, much less a full college baseball game. The aluminum bats and UK’s band-box of a field make the long ball commonplace, but that doesn’t make up for the inherently boring sport. As a fan that enjoys the little parts of baseball games lost on most spectators, I still find myself bored watching the old men rake in the infield between innings. Even a bad football game (UL Monroe anyone?) is more entertaining than the most exciting baseball game. Throw in midweek games against the likes of Morehead with midweek starters throwing what equates to BP, it’s hard for even the biggest fans to sit and watch 9 innings.
(2) Amateur Draft: Unlike all other sports, statistics have shown that a player drafted out of high school and one after college performs professionally about the same. Instead of developing in college like the new NBA rule encourages, baseball players can develop in the minors for years while being paid. Baseball players are given the luxury of competitive leagues with many teams to play for and continue to improve, while the drop off from the NBA or NFL to their ‘minor’ leagues is much larger. This encourages a large portion of the high school talent to skip college and play A or AA instead of the three years of college .Generally, we only hear about baseball players after they are in ‘The Show’ rather than in college like other sports.
(3) Tracking players: If you do get to follow a player for three or four years in college, following them once they get drafted is very difficult. I watched John Shelby play all last year but couldn’t even begin to guess what minor league team he is playing for now. The time it takes from the draft to make a Major League roster is long enough that it’s tough to track players after they leave school. This also applies to new recruits. With a much bigger percentage of JUCO players contributing, it’s hard to follow players when they come in and play for one or two years. Players out of high school are much less visible than football and basketball players.
(4) No TV exposure: Even if you wanted to watch this weekends series against Mississippi State, you couldn’t because the Big Blue Network doesn’t carry the games. As UK basketball saw in the post-Sutton era, no TV exposure can kill a program. And for a team that is trying to gain some spotlight, not being able to be seen on TV even for road games certainly does not help.
(5) No Tradition: When I talk about tradition here, I do not mean to compare UK basketball the baseball, but to compare it to other schools across the SEC. Alex Box in Baton Rouge is sold out year after year. Game day in Columbia there are tailgates hours before the games. A following like this will probably never happen, because lets face it, what else is there to do in Columbia on a Saturday, but as the program continues to win and be competitive on a national level, the new stadium expansion will continue to be filled. There is not a baseball culture here yet like there is at other places is what it comes down to.
John Cohen is the Billy Donovan (before he got to Florida) of baseball. He really is building something special here and there’s always room to hop on the bandwagon.