Off The Bat, Episode Three: At The Anthony Rizzo Meatball Derby

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Last week I wondered who, exactly, Off the Bat is hoping will view their show. This week I realize that MTV2 probably hasn’t really thought about the people they are interviewing.  

While I was watching the second episode of “Off the Bat” I wrote down in my notes -- that’s right, I’m taking fucking notes watching this thing -- that it looked like the young and attractive and totally hyped in-studio audience members had been supplemented with baseball caps by off-screen production staff. The caps on the heads of the audience members seemed a little ill-fitting, which is not unusual even among the people who wear them on the field, while making their livings playing baseball.

But, also, these hats were divided by color in an aesthetically pleasing way and, as far as I could see, fortuitously did not include logos with loaded gang affiliations, like those of the Pittsburgh Pirates or Cincinnati Reds. With the show staged in New York City, the 80/20 Yankees/Mets split that one would expect to see was replaced by an egalitarian smattering of caps from all regions. It smelled like unnecessary staging. Or maybe it was necessary. Anyway, it felt staged.  

Like many other baseball articles written in April, however, this week’s cap analysis suffers from the vagaries of a small sample size. To be more specific: in this episode, the cutaways to the studio audience were infrequent, and also only showed the exact same eight people in the exact same seats. This is maybe just lazy directing. It is also maybe a reason to be nervous.

***

A full day after it was posted, I was the 275th person to watch this third episode of Off the Bat on MTV2’s website. For players who work in front of a live audience of 15,000 on a slow night, an appearance on “Off the Bat” is basically an escape to quiet anonymity.

But what really boggles this particular mind about the existence of “Off the Bat” is that somebody’s money is being spent here. The ads printed on backstops and aired between innings cannot be cheap. While the sum is probably not of note within the entertainment biz, Fat Joe’s weekly appearance fee would likely prompt me to weep fat tears, and thereby both cool and somehow make less salty the ramen I’m having for dinner. That’s hardly the biggest waste, here. Viewers are told, over and over again, that the show’s executive producer is David Ortiz, who apparently dropped off a bunch of money without bothering to prep anybody for what most ballplayers are actually like. Which, it turns out is: very shy, very jockish, and none too talkative.

The very existence of “Off the Bat” is based on the stubborn and very loud belief that most ballplayers, especially once the armor of uniform is taken off, are something other than very shy. Following up on last week’s Adam Jones Moonwalking Incident -- what went unmentioned in this summary was the donut-eating contest that immediately followed -- “Off the Bat” uniformly sought to embarrass each of this week’s three shy guests by yapping the ballplayers into doing something dumb and extremely unrelated to baseball. That is, something they mostly don’t know how to do.

Young Oakland ace Sonny Gray, who is from Tennessee, was prompted by Sway into singing a few bars of Taylor Swift. It turns out Sonny Gray can’t sing -- nor did he say he could. Declining Yankees ace C.C. Sabathia was pestered by Chris Distefano into speaking with an English accent -- again, a disaster, and not of C.C.’s making.

Worst of all is what the show came up with for the handsomely contract-extended Chicago Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo. Distefano, elated at their shared Italian ancestry, pitched to Rizzo in a strip mall parking lot using meatballs instead of baseballs. This is both dumb and bigoted enough that it’s uncomfortable even to write about what its analogue would be for a black or Dominican player, but that doesn’t stop Distefano from saying, “This is the best idea we’ve ever come up with!” It’s a horrible idea, but he may not even be wrong.

Gray, Sabathia, and Rizzo were all quiet and likable enough dudes. Their gentle handling of the hosts’ antics made me both cringe with sympathy and yearn for a proper interview with each player about the finer points of their respective successes. But for MTV2, “quiet” is synonymous with “uninteresting.” That’s a shame, and not only because they don’t have a handle on “interesting,” either.  

***

Avid readers of “Off the Bat” analysis may remember that, last week, I protectively clutched my soy latte to my chest in anticipation of Distefano’s storming of my resident city of Seattle, where he would interview Robinson Cano and possibly throw mofongo at him while he tried to hit it with a bat. Well, outside of the upcoming Macklemore Bobblehead Night, nothing about Seattle or the Mariners was mentioned on this week’s show. So hell if I know what wonders Episode 4 will bring. Or if it will air, for that matter.

Did you miss Off the Bat on TV? Yeah, you probably did. You can watch the full episode here.

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