Posted Tuesday, May 8, 2012, at 9:54 AM
Players on the Radford and High Point baseball teams joust during a rain delay
As eight-time World Series champion Casey Stengel once said, “There’s three things you can do in a baseball game: You can win or you can lose or it can rain.” He forgot to mention that if the latter occurs, you can pantomime elaborate scenes from Call of Duty in the outfield.
Stengel, who died in 1975, missed out on the trend that’s swept the college and minor league baseball circuits the past couple of years: rain delay choreography. The phenomenon consists of players from each team engaging in theatrical antics such as dance-offs and relay races to the crowd’s delight to pass time while waiting for the clouds to clear up. The jaunts mostly occur in lower-level college play and vary from simple to intricate, sometimes involving each team separately, sometimes both sides in unison.
If these rain-delay antics have a godfather, it is probably Rick Dempsey, the one-time Orioles catcher, who back in the early ’80s brought out a comical home run trot around the rain tarp and stuffed his uniform with padding to go for maximum sliding distance. However, full-squad antics seem to be a more recent phenomenon.
And some of the impetus for it today almost certainly comes from ESPN and the Internet. Granted, the fans at the ballgame certainly seem to appreciate the dopey gimmicks, as evidenced by the loud cheering one can hear in the many, many YouTube videos. Three-hour affairs between college teams of varying obscurity clearly could use a little extra excitement—especially if there’s a delay. Attendance at college baseball games is dwarfed by that of college football and basketball, with only the top 20 NCAA programs regularly drawing more than 2,000 fans per game, and most of these performances are conducted at games many levels below that.
But is the desire to briefly entertain a few dozen fans and family members really prompting the more elaborate routines of late? Or is it possible that the real audience these players have in mind is not in the stands, but online?
Consider: In 2008, the Texas Rangers slid on the tarps during a rain delay at Shea Stadium. While there were no elaborately rehearsed performances on this particular occasion, the antics went viral, prompting dozens of separate YouTube uploads and endless replays on ESPN. Already, the players were self-aware about their attention-grabbing goofiness. “If you want to get on SportsCenter, you might as well do it,” outfielder Milton Bradley said. Of course, mere tarp-sliding quickly became passé; if you want some of that ESPN and YouTube attention, you have to up the ante.
And it’s since 2008 that these rain-delay entertainments have really grown elaborate. Last year, for instance, the jousting players for Radford and High Point got themselves 1 million views on YouTube for their amusing (and seemingly dangerous) rain-delay jousting competition. Less original entertainments include walking upside-down in your uniform, human curling and bowling, and team roller-coaster rides—which have been mimicked ad nauseam.
This pattern parallels what a lot of lower-tier soccer teams have done with their goal celebrations, spending a clearly inordinate amount of time in creating something obviously designed to draw media attention (which leads one to question how much time they sacrificed on their actual training to rehearse).
The trend may be silly, but at least it attracts some extra attention to leagues that desperately need it. And, at the end of the day, sports are an entertainment business. The players should keep in mind, though, that if they really want to make a splash on the Internet, they need to keep it fresh. Recreating the Shake Weight ad might have seemed clever at first, but its appeal fades over time. And why limit yourselves to rain delays? Don’t you have time to kill on those long boring bus rides?