Nachos and Other Shortcomings: A Critique of the MLB Experience Down Under

You’d think that after seven years of lobbying and organizing, sports promoter Jason Moore would’ve identified the need for more than one vendor to provide nachos at a stadium capable of seating 40,000 people. Sure, the Aussies successfully hosted the first-ever MLB Opening Series games in Sydney. And yes, Mr. Moore can be proud of knowing “how to make a cricket ground a baseball field” and “how to make it look right,” as he said in an interview for The Sydney Morning Herald. But just how much does he know about the experience from the fans’ point of view?

I’m curious to know how many baseball games Mr. Moore has actually attended. Does he have a favourite team? Player? Pitcher? Or moment in baseball history? A part of me questions whether the same amount of focus and planning required for converting the SCG into a baseball field was applied toward the fan experience. Would Australians truly get a dose of a classic American pastime? Or would they be given an Australian version of it?

At the end of the day, I guess they figured Australians wouldn’t know any better. Most who attended probably thought it was spot on. Maybe even some Americans enjoyed the experience of MLB in a foreign country simply because it was something new and different. But from the perspective of this one particular ticket holder, the entire experience of Major League Baseball down under left a lot to be desired.

How so? Let me count the ways (in no particular order):

  1. There was minimal direction and security. No one knew where to go for anything. No free venue maps, guides, or even fast facts showing you how to find what, where. So unless you were a regular to the SCG, you were most likely one of the many people talking to a random guard in the middle of a frenzied crowd and holding up traffic. And you missed one whole inning just trying to find the toilets.
  2. They didn’t show replays on the big screens. Let alone, the actual game. How did they expect the crowd to ever get into the game? We were instead subjected to still screens showing the individual player’s stats throughout the game. Yes, really. No replays. No live feed. Ridiculous.
  3. Everyone was chatting, no one was cheering. You know how it is when you go to games in America. You’re either a fan of the home team or the opposing one. And then you make sure everyone around you knows which team you’re rooting for by yelling, cheering, and saying things that you’d only ever say in a stadium; and there’s an incredible amount of energy, excitement, and rivalry lingering in the air and everyone can feel it, right? Now picture yourself in a stadium full of almost 40,000 people, most of whom have minimal to zip zero knowledge of baseball, all watching a Major League Baseball game. Imagine how that feels and drop the excitement level down 50 notches. That’s what it was like sitting in the crowd. Yeeesh. Don’t even want to know how the players must have felt. The only time the crowd got hyped was when someone started “the wave” (which Aussies refer to as “the Mexican wave”) or when one of the players hit a foul ball.
  4. No one was selling food in the stands. Matt said he saw one lady carrying around bottles of Coke on a tray during the 5th inning. But that was it. I was hoping to buy peanuts or Cracker Jack and maybe even cotton candy during the 7th inning stretch. But this former junk foodie had no such luck.
  5. The 7th inning stretch was too short. And it was done quite robotically without emotion or fanfare. Before I realized it was even happening, the song was over and the announcer began commentating on the game again. Hardly anyone moved around and out of their seats. I didn’t see people go down to get their second wind of late-game snacks. The vibe was just totally weird and awkwardly brief. Probably the quickest 7th inning stretch in MLB history.
  6. Kiss Cam overkill. That pretty much sums it up.
  7. They ran out of merchandise. Ok not all, but definitely hats–the ones that everyone wanted. Really? It’s like they didn’t realize people would want to buy baseball hats at a baseball game.
  8. The $40 hot dog and other nonsensical food. We all know me and my fellow Americans are the kings of junk food, but to be honest, part of me was slightly offended by the obvious pisstakes. Oversized hotdogs for $40? Bacon on a stick? A two hour wait for gourmet nachos served up in a plastic baseball cap? As if! Whenever Australians attempt to mimic American style food, they never seem to get it quite right. Hot dogs are quick and cheap and are served up plain with basic self-serve condiments on the side: ketchup, mustard, and relish. Nachos are quite simply tortilla chips and the cheapest squeeziest nacho cheese drizzled on top, maybe with a few extra jalapeños if you’re so inclined. And they’re served up in a no-frills clear plastic container. It should take 1 minute tops to make these. And what the heck is bacon on a stick?!? No. Just no.
  9. No crowd stats, proposals, or celebrity spottings. Part of the fun in attending any major league game in any sport in America is people watching, especially for celebrities. Everyone wants to know if there’s any A-listers at the game, what they’re wearing, see them on the Kiss Cam, etc. That didn’t happen along with the usual announcement of total number of people in attendance, marriage proposals, or even funny snippets of the players. I think at the beginning of the game they aired a few clips of the players trying to use Australian slang, but they kept playing the music over the audio so loud that you couldn’t actually hear what was being said.
  10. No organized traffic control after the game. Who was in charge of this? Did they get fired or were they never hired in the first place? It took us 40 minutes just to get from Level 3 down to Level 2 in the parking garage. Even with all the millions of people and traffic in LA, I can still exit Dodgers Stadium parking lot and be on my way home in less than 20 minutes.

I know–these are actually quite petty insignificant things. But my point is, they’re all part of the American baseball fan experience and they add to it. So when more than one of these things happens, it just throws the whole vibe off. But it’s not like it was a totally unfamiliar event. There was the expected group of drunken dickheads four rows down, heckling players and yelling out obnoxious vulgarities; there was the staple beach ball bumbling across the crowded stadium; someone started the wave; there was a hat trick game and even a boat race; and they sang the American national anthem before singing the Australian one.

Overall, it was a fun experience just not the one I was hoping it would be. Perhaps the best way for me to sum it all up is to use the words of an Australian fan I met while waiting in line for drinks at the game that night. I had a look of bewilderment on my face after noticing that the television screens near all the food and drinks stations were airing the live broadcast of the baseball game. And just like a frustrated spoiled child (which I can be at times), I sarcastically commented aloud to no one in particular but audible enough so everyone around me could hear, “Ohhhhh, so they only show the replays on these screens.”

That’s when the Australian in front of me turned and said, “Ay?” and I began to explain how “back in America, they actually show the replays on the big screens so everyone can see it.” It was then that he replied with the most accurately definitive statement of the evening:

“We do our best.”

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