Today marks 73 days from Vanderbilt’s season opener against the Georgia Bulldogs. #73 on the roster is redshirt sophomore offensive lineman Johnathan Stewart. A mountain of a man at 6’7” and 310 pounds, Stewart was seen as a guy with massive (no pun intended) potential as an offensive tackle who’d need some work before he was ready to play at the college level, and so far, he’s been exactly that, having played in one game in two years at Vanderbilt. But, hey, the potential’s still there. Some guys of this type will turn into All-SEC offensive linemen and some won’t amount to much; it’s the kind of risk Vanderbilt needs to take.
So, Vanderbilt’s second game of the College World Series against Mississippi State was pushed back to 1:00 PM CT today, meaning we don’t have a game to discuss, only the latest Whistler-related stupidity. The short version, per Adam Sparks, is that the Whistler was allegedly told by a CWS official that he can be ejected from the tournament for whistling.
First of all, if there’s any justice in the world, 200 Vanderbilt fans will be whistling en masse whenever Mississippi State’s pitching coach visits the mound.
But more broadly, college baseball is currently at an inflection point. It’s carved out a niche for itself as a somewhat-popular thing in SEC country; but even there, outside of Baton Rouge, Oxford, and Starkville, and maybe a couple of other places, it struggles to even match the interest that college basketball gets — never mind minor league baseball or college football. Growing beyond that has been a challenge, though, and there comes a point when the NCAA has to choose between growing the sport and continually appeasing the existing fan base.
My position on the Whistlers, and I realize it’s my position and not that of everybody who writes for Anchor of Gold (hi, Andrew), is that the Whistlers are kind of annoying but in a “he’s an asshole, but he’s our asshole” sort of way, and it’s actually sort of difficult to imagine another SEC fan base eating their own the way that some Vanderbilt fans do with the Whistlers. I mean, if tribalism were not a thing, Anchor of Gold would not exist in anything resembling its present form.
But more broadly, the sort of heavy-handed measures proposed, like threatening to eject them if they don’t stop whistling, is something that’s being done specifically with the goal in mind of appeasing the existing, small niche fan base of the sport and not with the intent to grow the sport. As much as some people like to claim that they’d watch if not for the Whistlers, the reality is that this is the sort of move that tells anyone outside of that niche that this is a sport in which fun will not be tolerated. There is no such thing as a successful sports league outside of golf (and, while golf is good and beautiful, that’s really its own thing, and TD Ameritrade Park is in no way Augusta National) that has succeeded by taking a hard line against fans being loud and boisterous. Take away loud and boisterous fans, and college football is a thousand people, mostly family members and close friends of the players in the game, quietly clapping for good plays and yelling (but at a 5 and not a 10) words of encouragement.
This is not a question of whether the ballpark can eject the Whistlers, because of course they can. It’s a question of whether they should. There’s a reason that fan ejection has typically been reserved only for the most truly obnoxious fan behavior — like directly interfering with the game, heckling that truly crosses a line, getting in fistfights with other patrons, or sitting in the wrong seat and refusing to move when the rightful ticket-holder shows up.
Yes, the Whistlers show up and whistle — loudly and throughout the game. It’s a little obnoxious, I admit. But it’s also perfectly normal fan behavior at a sporting event, albeit taken to an extreme. I don’t know exactly where the line between “normal fan behavior” and “unruly behavior that deserves the boot” is, but like Potter Stewart with pornography, I know it when I see it. This is like calling Maxim Magazine pornography: you don’t want to live in a world where Maxim is pornography, and you don’t really want to live in a world where whistling at a sporting event gets you kicked out. Not because you personally want to go whistle all game, and not even because you don’t find the whistling annoying, but because that’s a world where being loud and boisterous at a sporting event is enough to get you kicked out. We can all agree that fighting with other fans should get you kicked out, and we can mostly all agree that yelling racial slurs at a player should get your season tickets yanked — but, whistling? Really? That’s where we want to draw the line?
Again, this is the kind of “fun will not be tolerated” stance that ensures that college baseball will permanently be a niche sport. Which, I guess, is fine with some people.
Anyway — I’ve spent enough ink on this rant. Have fun in the comments.