USA’s Run Creating New Fans
Friday - June 30, 2010
It was as if some marketing whiz wrote up a script. How do we draw in complacent sports fans for the final game of pool play for the U.S. in the World Cup?
Let’s see. How about we have U.S. and Algeria in a scoreless match right until stoppage time. And give England a lead over Slovenia, which will send them into the next round. Make sure the U.S. has plenty of close calls; maybe even have the referee wave off another U.S. goal.
Then, about a minute into stoppage time with the American team getting ready to be eliminated, have them score a goal, maybe on a rebound. And have the only bona fide America star, Landon Donovan, score the winner. Instead of going home, the U.S. wins its group, and advances to the knockout round.
How’s that sound? If you hadn’t seen it with your own eyes, you wouldn’t have believed it. ESPN executives must have been doing cartwheels. They’ll get huge numbers for as long as the U.S. wins. At its best, the team can hang around with elite teams. It can’t match them for depth, but they’re good enough with inspired play to compete with, and possibly upset almost anybody. And that represents progress.
* One of the perks of making the World Series is the managers get to work the following year’s All-Star game. They are charged with selecting the pitchers and reserves; the fans choose the starting-position players. For Philadelphia Phillies manager Charlie Manuel, there is a bit of a dilemma. The one player everybody is clamoring to see is Washington Nationals phenom Stephen Strasburg. The right-hander has sparkled in his four starts. In a recent 1-0 loss to the lowly Royals, Strasburg struck out nine, walked nobody and gave up only singles. And that was a bad outing.
The problem is that no rookie pitcher who didn’t start a game until June has ever made an All-Star team. While most of us might shrug and say, “so?,” the old guard in baseball is chained to tradition and precedent. And Charlie Manuel is very much old school. Yet the commissioner has made the All-Star game more than just a showcase for the game’s elite players. By commissioner decree the winning league gets the home field advantage for the World Series. And this complicates the issue even more, because despite Strasburg’s limited body of work, it would be hard to make a case that he isn’t one of the eight or nine best pitchers in the National League right now. If it’s my call, I’m putting Strasburg on the roster. It gives the fans what they want and gives you a pitcher that can get a couple outs when you need them.
* I loved the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach, and while I’ve heard some golf fans complain that the big names didn’t play well on Sunday, you had to marvel at the composure of 30-year-old Northern Ireland native Graeme McDowell, who weathered the rise and subsequent collapse of Dustin Johnson and fought off Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and Ernie Els to become the first European to win the event since Tony Jacklin in 1970. And he showed equal parts humility and humor during his speech.
The history and beauty of the course is making me look forward to the British Open at St. Andrews next month.
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