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About Last Night: ugh, ROOT, be better

this one is a bummer to write

MLB: Kansas City Royals at Toronto Blue Jays
this is actually fine though
Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

Ex-players in the booth are often hit-or-miss and depend heavily on personal taste, but I am always pretty happy when Dan Wilson shows up on the broadcast, as he did last night. Personally, I enjoy Wilson’s approach. He doesn’t talk a ton, spending most of his time noticing, formulating his thoughts, and then delivering an observation. Last night during the fifth inning, he went all the way to a 2-2 count on the first batter without saying a word, leaving Aaron Goldsmith to fill in the play-by-play, to the point where, in listening back to it, I wondered if my audio feed had cut out. But then, suddenly, Dan pipes in: “This has been a bit of an equation for him [Gonzales], a formula tonight, working down, down, down, and then trying to pop one up in the strike zone for that swinging strike or a jam shot”—delivered at the exact moment Gonzales did just that, snapping off a curveball high in the zone for a called strike three on Bonifacio. He might not say much, but what he says is thoughtful, analytic, and about baseball.

Here are things Dan Wilson enjoys talking about:

  • Seattle’s minor league clubs and their respective facilities;
  • Particular strategies a pitcher is using to great success;
  • The interplay between pitcher and catcher and how the catcher helps call a game;
  • Anything where he gets to use the word “telemetry.”

Here are things Dan Wilson pretty clearly does not enjoy talking about:

  • Things that are not baseball-related on a baseball broadcast;
  • His popularity with female fans, specifically;
  • Making fun of people just trying to have a good time at the ballpark;
  • Flesh-eating viruses, I assume? Although I don’t have confirmation on that one.

Which is why it was weird, last night, that the ROOT broadcast put Dan Wilson through a bizarre, awkward, and insulting segment aimed at making fun of a group of young female fans. I don’t know if this was something ROOT planned out and got Goldsmith and Wilson to play along with, although the more I watch it the more that’s my suspicion. Even if so, it quickly becomes obvious that Dan Wilson feels moderately uncomfortable with the situation.

It starts in the fifth with a shot of the crowd—specifically, a shot of three women taking pictures of each other.

“Well now, why else would you come to a ballgame? I mean, this is what you do, Dan,” says Aaron Goldsmith, aiming for a teasing note in his voice but not quite getting there. “This is what it’s all about.” Dan chuckles—and maybe this is me giving him too much credit, or searching for an ally that isn’t there—but the chuckle seems half-hearted, in that way of, if I laugh this will go away and we can go back to talking about the baseball game kind of chuckle. But it does not go away. The camera remains trained on these young women as Goldsmith intones, mockingly, “just watch out... make sure you watch a little bit of the game.” “Apparently that’s why they put the nets up,” is Dan Wilson’s rejoinder, which again, is not great, but again, has a tone of finality about it. Back to the ballgame. Goldsmith asks Wilson about the minor league club in Tacoma, and now we are back in Dan Wilson’s wheelhouse. “I’ve seen some pretty nice minor league ballparks,” he says enthusiastically, like the kid in your class who wants to show you his rock collection. Minor League Appreciation Hour is interrupted by Mike Zunino almost hitting a ball out of Safeco, and Dan Wilson using the word “telemetry” and theorizing as to the best ball path to get a ball entirely out of Safeco. Back on safe, dorky ground, back to analysis and numbers and aw-shucksy homespun charm.

But then the intro to the sixth inning is Goldsmith shilling for Girls’ Night Out (which should have an APOSTROPHE behind it, the night—theoretically, at least—belongs to the girls, if you are going to do these godawful gendered promotions at least make them grammatically correct). After a few moments of discussing Zunino’s homer and Statcast metrics and Dan Wilson whistling over the “sheer velocity” of it, the first batter is retired and it’s back to right field, where the women from earlier are all on their phones. “Did someone get a text they were on TV?” Goldsmith fake-wonders aloud, and then the camera zooms in one one of the women’s faces. “Oh my goodness. OH MY GOODNESS,” he says, narrating for the woman in a voice that stops just short of valley girl. “Dan Wilson was talking about us!” Then, a beat, for the joke to land. “Dan, you’re making dreams come true, as usual.” “Oh, Aaron,” responds Dan quietly, quellingly.

But Goldsmith persists. “Now, we’ve known forever you’ve had that reaction on people, this is nothing new, just caught on camera this time.” Wilson does not respond. “Do you think they saw the Zunino home run?” he asks slyly.

“I don’t know,” replies Wilson, “but I...”

“Fifty-fifty,” says Goldsmith.

The conversation moved on from there. Marco Gonzales continued dismantling the Royals, and Dan Wilson continued to talk about his pitch selection fondly. The silences in the booth persisted, but for me the silence was no longer companionable. My joy at the Zunino home run deflated, replaced by feelings of otherness, of shame.

“Shame” might seem like a strong word there, and if you haven’t ever been made to feel other, you might not understand it. Shouldn’t the ones performing the bad behavior be the ones to feel ashamed? But it’s not like that. The shame always comes first, internally. You’re the one who’s wrong, who’s different. There’s an instinct to distance oneself from the incident. I wondered when I went to watch that segment back if it would be as bad as I remembered. I thought it might be, because I’d heard from others on Twitter who felt similarly, but the real bellweather was my mother—who is not one to get too worked up about things—sending me a text. What the hell was that? It’s strange, though, that feeling: I must have misremembered or misinterpreted, it can’t be as bad as that. But watching it back, it feels gross, again. What the hell was that? I think of the smug, dismissive tone of Goldsmith’s “fifty-fifty,” and the shame transforms to anger, especially as I realize: the whole thing feels too perfectly orchestrated. This is an idea that was pre-planned, executed, and done with the full participation of the women, and that feels even worse. At some point, someone in the ROOT chain of command should have said no. Should have said let’s rethink. Should have thought about this, for a second, from the point of view of a woman watching the broadcast.

But also, shaming fans who aren’t paying attention to every pitch is the kind of tired gatekeeping that needs to be immediately struck from broadcasts. Not everyone goes to games all the time, and as someone pointed out to me on Twitter, it’s a chance for people who don’t always get to see each other to take pictures together, to have something to remember the night by. It’s part of the ballpark experience, part of making memories. Furthermore, the fan taking pictures on her phone is no less or more a fan than the one whose head is bent over in concentration, keeping score, or the one checking in on their favorite Mariners blog (cough cough). And no one is the same fan twice: some nights one might be more or less actively involved depending on what’s going on. Ballparks are public spaces, where anyone with a ticket is entitled to go; they’re democratic spaces, where you’re allowed—within reason—to dictate how you want to spend your time, attention, and money. They’re for people who want to take selfies and people who want to talk about telemetry. They’re spaces for everyone.

At least, that’s what I’ve always believed. And maybe that’s what stings the most about last night.