Cooper: Even on a Saturday, Futures Game Is Nearly Perfect
LOS ANGELES—The 2022 Futures Game was a blast. Just like it always is.
Jasson Dominguez starred (a two-run home run) and struggled (a two-base error when a fly ball clanged off his glove). Shea Langeliers and Matt Wallner also showed off their power and the American League topped the National League. Masyn Winn showed off one of the best infield arms we’ll ever see.
It was a day for diehards. If you live and breathe baseball, how could you not enjoy seeing the best prospects in baseball face off on a big league diamond.
But floating around this game for several weeks has been a fear shared by a number of people inside the game. They worry that the Futures Game is headed to extinction.
The good news, it appears those rumors, as significant as they have been, are not true.
“Such speculation is inaccurate and unfortunate because we love this event,” said an MLB spokesman.
A second high-ranking MLB official said that eliminating the Futures Game “has never been discussed.”
That’s comforting news, because as much as the arrival of the draft has caused some timing/logistical issues for the Futures Game, it also has helped develop a logical progression for players.
If you’re going to try to make the MLB draft an event, and MLB most definitely is trying to do so, then you are trying to publicize and get the baseball watching public to get excited about players who are still several years away from the big leagues.
And it makes the most sense that if you want fans to care about whether their team lands Druw Jones or Jackson Holliday, you would also want them to care to see those same players representing their new teams in the Futures Game on a national stage.
Just last year, we were debating for the draft whether Jordan Lawlar or Marcelo Mayer was the best prep shortstop in the class. A year later, Lawlar is representing the D-backs in the Futures Game.
That’s the natural progression of these events. Players get publicized in the lead up to the draft, they become bigger names to their fanbases as soon as they are picked. And then, the Futures Game gives an easy and accessible way for fans to check in on those players on their path to the majors.
Julio Rodriguez went from 2021 Futures Gamer to 2022 AL Rookie of the Year contender.
But as someone who has been coming to Futures Games for years and years, I can’t help but notice that the event is getting smaller, not bigger.
And for the players themselves, it has settled in as a key part of their summer. Earlier this year, when asked about his goals for 2022, Marlins righthander Eury Perez said he wanted to pitch in the Futures Game.
And the players care. I’ve been told one reason the Futures Game shifted from World vs. USA to American vs. National League was because MiLB clubhouses were getting riled up debating World vs. USA in the leadup to the game. New format, no divided clubhouses.
It’s always going to be a niche event. The casual fan isn’t going to ever embrace a game full of prospects, most of whom they’ve never heard of. But some aspects of baseball should be geared to the diehard baseball fan, the ones who are willing to add Apple TV’s app, Peacock, MLB’s app and Amazon Prime just to watch their favorite team’s games as they bounce from service to service.
There’s something to be said for niches. There’s something worthwhile about being part of a group that gets to see the game’s future before the masses.
But there also are other concerns. The Futures Game footprint has shrunk.
What was once a nine-inning game has been shrunk to seven innings. This year the Futures Game was moved to Saturday for the first time, adding another day to All-Star Weekend.
It’s hard not to notice that with a Saturday game, we were treated to the smallest, sparsest Futures Game crowd in years, although fans streamed in as the game was ending to see Bad Bunny and the celebrity softball game.
The game used to be on ESPN, which was being distributed at that time into more than 100 million US homes. Then it moved to MLB Network, which was in roughly 50 million homes at that time. Now it’s been placed on Peacock’s premium tier, a streaming service that has, by most recent estimates, roughly 13 million paid subscribers. With every move the potential audience for the event has shrunk.
The move to Saturday has also shrunk the amount of attention it receives. When the game was on Sunday, much of the local media that covers MLB teams would travel to town to cover the Futures Game as part of their all-star coverage, even if it meant that the beat writers were skipping the MLB game before the all-star break.
The equation changes when the game is moved to Saturday. A trip to the Futures Game means leaving after Friday’s game (if on the West Coast) or before Friday’s game if on the East Coast. And not surprisingly, the number of beat writers in attendance at Saturday’s Futures Game was dramatically diminished. When Shea Langeliers stepped into the press conference where he was named MVP, there was a Baseball America and an MLB.com reporter there, but that was it.
That may seem inconsequential to many, but this is the event where reporters can get easy access to their team’s best prospects, which helps ensure the team’s fans get to hear and read those stories.
There is no obvious and easy answer to this. If the draft is going to take place on All-Star Weekend, putting the Futures Game on Sunday means the day is too full. That was apparent last year. The other option would be to play the Futures Game on the Wednesday after the All-Star Game (when no other MLB or MiLB baseball games are being played), but events like the All-Star Game usually build to their crescendo. Following the All-Star Game with a Futures Game in the same stadium is like adding a stinger to the end of a Marvel movie. And getting celebrities to play in a softball game on Wednesday (a key part of attracting fans to the Futures Game) is more difficult than on a weekend.
It’s not perfect. It will never be perfect. But it’s still one of the highlights of the diehard baseball fan’s year. And hopefully it will be for decades to come.