Let’s accept reality

Feb. 13, 2014 @ 06:26 AM

As much of Rutherford County is in a state of emergency, the Forest City Owls are in a serious state of transition.

The club made a move last week to hire Cory Dirksen as its new general manager. Dirksen is catching some heat for his comments stating that he plans to bring a carnival-type atmosphere to McNair Field in the summer. My friend and colleague Jacob Conley is one os those that disagrees with Dirksen’s vision (as you’ll read in his adjacent column).

Like we do on many topics, Jacob and I disagree. Jacob believes Dirksen should focus on winning and winning alone, while I understand Dirksen’s vision and plans for the Owls.

Dirksen was brought in because he has a history of success running baseball organizations with two league championships and has, more importantly to his superiors, made those organizations profitable.

I agree with jacob that winning baseball games should be a priority for a team that won just 17 games in 2013. However, after a season like last year, the team needs to turn a profit in 2014. Would winning help? It certainly can’t hurt, but this is not Major League Baseball. A GM’s job in amateur baseball is to make the team money whether that includes a league title or not. If the Gm is making the owner plenty of money through ticket sales, concession sales and souvenirs, you can bet that he or she will hold that title until a larger opportunity plucks them away.

In speaking with Dirksen, he wants to win. He wants to field a strong, contending team, but he also understands that in a baseball league where players are largely unknown and unfamiliar with their teammates and coaches, success in a product of luck. The GM and coaches look to fill 30 roster spots with players that they hope fill a need and hope for the best.

Forest City was spoiled early on with two teams in it’s first three years that had luck on its side. Now the team had it’s fist losing season, everyone is in disarray. Or are they?

Jacob preaches that Rutherford County is a baseball paradise with fans that love the game and love its teams. I don’t fully disagree with Jacob. I agree that Rutherford County loves attending Little League games to high school games to see familiar names take the field. However, I don’t think the county loves the Owls the way Jacob likes to think they do.

On The Daily Courier Sports Facebook page I routinely share news about local sports. I even throw up a video every now and again to show a highlight play or intriguing interview. The page has 1,450 like, so I assume that at least that many people see the posts that make the page. I gauge the county’s interest in certain topics based on the feedback that a post gets. In my simple research, Rutherford County sports fans love pictures and big high school news.

I bring this up because I’ve heavily chronicled the Dirksen

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hire on that Facebook page. Let’s compare the feedback of major Owls posts and local high school news.

I posted two stories of high school football players signing to play college football. Those posts got a combined 66 likes and five comments.

At the conference wrestling where R-S Central, East Rutherford and Chase competed, I posted a short video interview of an R-S Central wrestler after he won the conference title in his weight class. That 68-second video alone had 24 likes, two comments and 14 shares.

Now, I posted the breaking story of Dirksen’s hire. No likes. No comments. Nothing.

I posted a status asking what fans wanted me to ask Dirksen in my upcoming exclusive interview with him. Again, nothing at all.

I posted the full video interview with Dirksen on Youtube and linked it to Facebook. Just two likes and 34 total views. Among those views, I probably account for 10 of those.

I don’t see much caring from Rutherford County sports fans. The proof is in the pudding.

Jacob and others want to see players from the top-name schools on the Owls roster. Sadly, that doesn’t translate into wins. Will it generate a marginal increase in interest, maybe. But in looking at 2013 stats from the Coastal Plain League, the name of a player’s school didn’t mean much.

The leagues batting champion, Asheboro’s Luke Tendler (.351 average), attends North Carolina A&T. The league’s home run champion, Morehead City’s Ryan Cramer (12 home runs), attends Newberry College. Asheboro’s John Tuttle had the leagues lowest ERA (0.78) — he attends Catawba College. Florence pitcher Tim Hill lead the CPL with 61 strikeouts — he’s playing his college ball at Bacone College.

The team that won the 2013 Petitt Cup, the Penninsula Pilots, had just one ACC player on the roster. Pitcher Josh Heddinger, a Georgia Tech product, finished 2013 with a 3-1 record, 3.19 ERA and 34 strikeouts in 11 appearances. That’s not a bad season. However, The Pilots best pitcher in 2013 was Jared Lyons who went 5-1 with a 1.71 ERA and 39 strikeouts in nine appearance. Lyons plays at Liberty University.

Of the 23 combined hitters and pitchers of the week in 2013, only three came from either an ACC or SEC school.

Again, the proof is in the pudding. North Carolina, North Carolina State, Clemson and South Carolina looks nice on the program, but it doesn’t translate to the field. It’s just not that simple.

Dirksen and every GM in the CPL can’t control what his players do on the field. He doesn’t call pitches, he doesn’t throw batting practice and he doesn’t turn double plays. All he can control is what happens around the ballpark. He controls the food, the prices and the promotions. It’s his job to create an enjoyable experience for people that come to games in order to make them come back and tell more people about the good time they had.

Dirksen has to make it fun for the largest majority of people that he can. If that means a carnival, more promotions and new food, so be it. People like all of those things.

We’re in an economical state where the average family can’t afford to spend tons of money on routine outings so you have to make it worth it. And to an average family of four, a three-hour baseball game just isn’t enough if there isn’t more entertainment. It’s not even enough for me.

Nowadays everyone has so many entertainment options. Attention spans are miniscule and the average person requires constant entertainment. A three-hour game of baseball isn’t enough to coax the average family out of its home for the night if the can stay in, cook a frozen pizza and watch a Redbox movie. You have to have something extra to put fans in the seats.

Winning sparks excitement and excitement sparks attendance, but you can’t count on such an unpredictable variable.

In the end, I think Dirksen has the right idea. He wants to create a quality experience for anyone, baseball purist or not, that walks into McNair Stadium. If he can do that, I think Forest City will be just fine.