A championship amid empty seats

Texas' Curtis Thigpen is mobbed by teammates after hitting a two-run home run in the 10th inning to give Texas a 10-8 win over Baylor in the championship game of the Big 12 baseball tournament in Oklahoma City, Sunday.


OKLAHOMA CITY -- Texas first baseman Curtis Thigpen stepped to the plate Sunday afternoon in the bottom of the 10th inning and coolly crushed a two-run, walk-off homer to left field.


The hit appropriately completed an amazing weekend of baseball at the Big 12 Tournament that saw two one-loss teams – Texas and Baylor – win two desperation games each on Saturday to put them in the final game.


Three games went into extra innings, eight decided by two runs or less, and still the attendance never came close to capacity.


While the total attendance for the weekend reached more than 86,000, the statistics are deceptive. The attendance at an individual game topped at 7,000 for the Red River Shootout between Oklahoma and Texas.


Also, the tournament lumps two games into each session, so the same fans that show for the first game of the session are probably there for the second. Going even further, it can be assumed that the same people that attend the first day attend the entire week because of the lesser expense of a tournament pass over 15 single-game tickets.


It is understandable that teams from a long distance – Texas, Texas A&M, Baylor – wouldn't travel so well, but at the very least Oklahoma and Oklahoma State fans should have been able to fill the ballpark. If the NCAA Softball College World Series can sell out in Oklahoma City, then why can't a tournament between teams in one of the nation's baseball power conferences?


Maybe it is due to poor advertising and marketing of the event, or possibly from the apathy of people toward the opportunity to watch quality baseball.


The first night of the tournament saw Texas and Oklahoma State in a slugfest, 10-7, and Baylor run-rule Missouri, 11-0.


It only got more exciting from then on. In front of a disappointing 5,000 fans, Oklahoma stole Bedlam from OSU for the third time this year at Bricktown Ballpark, 4-2.


Then the Aggies sent the Longhorns to the losers' bracket in a nail-biting 3-2 victory before a most disgusting 2,100 spectators.


Day three saw only two games, as the losers' bracket championship ensued. It proved to be the highest attendance of the tournament with over 13,000 total for the day.


After Oklahoma was eliminated, however, very few decided to return for the 14-inning victory for Baylor Saturday afternoon against No. 1 seed Nebraska, and to see the two survivors of the losers' bracket eventually play in the championship.


Wherever the disconnect lies between marketing, advertising and putting butts in the seats, something needs to be done.


Maybe if the Big 12 hyped its star players like ESPN hypes LeBron James, then there would be no problem.


Tag UT closer Huston Street as the next Mariano Rivera, and OSU catcher Jason Jaramillo as the next Mike Piazza, and maybe things will change.


Baylor's Chris Durbin or Missouri's Jayce Tingler could be the next great lead-off hitters in the majors. They could even post O-State's Scott Baker as the clone of Kerry Wood.


Obviously, none of these have to come true, most don't, but these are good players, and at least it would be a way to get people to the stadium.


Marketing has to be the problem. The alternative is too frightening to even think – that few people care about championship college baseball anymore.

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