I don't even remember when I joined Twitter, but at least since last year, Major League Baseball teams have been participating in this #Whiff contest. I had little idea at the time what the point was...in fact it was a bit annoying, especially when the Cincinnati Reds Twitter account kept hashtagging #Whiff even when nobody had struck out. I guess the intern running @Reds decided to try to game the system?
This year I started teaching at an inner city Chicago public charter school. There is a baseball program at the school, and unfortunately due to a mixture of factors including academic eligibility and interest, we simply don't have enough guys to split up into junior varsity and varsity squads. It became apparent to me early on how deficient a lot of the talent and baseball intelligence was, and it wasn't because of lack of effort. The kids just didn't know where they were supposed to go for cut-offs, when they needed to be on the move, how to read wild pitches to try to take another base...even catching the ball could be an adventure.
When I observed the opposition, the same thing held true. The talent simply wasn't there, not due to lack of effort, but because of lack of support and cultivation. Some of these kids might be using baseball as an activity, or an excuse to get out of school a little early on certain days, and as such this was the very first time many had played the game in an organized manner. We're talking about kids not knowing the strike zone and trying to axe-grind straight fastballs instead of hitting line drives when the baseball was barely going 55 miles per hour.
I eventually figured out what the #Whiff contest was for. See, MLB and Head & Shoulders teamed up to support the RBI (Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities) programs across North America (yeah, there's one in Toronto too, and probably some in Montreal as well even though the Expos moved away). They pledge a certain amount based on social media activity to team-specific programs, and then an additional $1 per strikeout. It isn't a surprise to see the Dodgers account go bonkers, since that account is run very well and is extremely active. It is very surprising to see small market teams like the Brewers, Pirates and Marlins go nuts and grab a piece of that pie, though. And even the Blue Jays Twitter is up there, and they're not even in the USA!
I think Chicago can do better.
If you consider that it costs something like $70 to get a good baseball glove, $50 (at least) to get a decent bat, and then add on top of that the cleats, uniforms, hats, socks, and baseballs (plus catcher equipment, bases, yada yada yada) you can see why a lot of kids don't want to deal with baseball, especially when they are poor. I think if we're a bit more active on the Twitters during Cubs and White Sox games, we can do better than at least Toronto and Miami. We're in Chicago, the second largest city and third largest metropolitan area, with two major league baseball teams, surely we can get some money for youth baseball! And if we can somehow get enough people to #Whiff in Chicago then our programs will get the $10000 prize for the month.
I get that the #Whiff can get annoying. But considering the stakes involved, it's probably worth the minor First World inconvenience to your followers. I don't even remember when the @Cubs or @WhiteSox accounts did #Whiff, but we can help them become more proactive during games. Before games, tweet to the Cubs account to tell their intern to pay a bit more attention because we have pitchers with tons of strikeout potential and can easily whip up a few hundred #Whiff tweets every game (number of strikeouts times followers that tweet). Same for the White Sox, even if we are just Cubs fans...tell your neighbors who are Sox fans to drain their phone batteries a bit in the name of youth baseball.
Look, kids want to play baseball, and we have to do our part to make the game more accessible and affordable to those who aren't as fortunate as the rest of us. Directly, we are providing an avenue to a brighter future as baseball can be used to build on their college resumes and help them secure a strong college education, or if they're genuinely talented, even get them drafted into MLB. Indirectly, we are providing a safe haven for disadvantaged youth where they can be somewhere after school for a few hours in an environment where they learn important life and teamwork skills without getting robbed, beat up or shot to death. We're also talking about an eventual infusion of talent and renewed interest in the sport from the next generation of players, which can only help baseball.
I'll do my part by coaching the guys who want to play baseball for my school. Will you help me, and Chicago youth, by taking a few seconds after every Cubs and/or White Sox strikeout to make MLB and Head & Shoulders splurge on Chicago-based RBI programs? It's very simple. Every time a Cubs pitcher records a strikeout, tweet "@Cubs #Whiff" along with whatever banter to want to fit within the 140 characters. Similar with "@WhiteSox #Whiff" for the Sox pitchers. Every little bit helps, and I refuse to believe we can't beat Toronto.
Thanks for reading, and here's to Chicago RBI baseball.