Home-Field Advantage is No Small Win

The World Series may not be played until October, but Tuesday night’s All-Star Game may have given fans a glimpse of which team could possibly walk away the 2014 Major League Baseball champions.

The American League walked away as the winners during the Midsummer Classic, defeating the National League by a score of 5-3. Not only did the American League players earn bragging rights, and not only did Mike Trout earn the MVP title, but they also secured home-field advantage for the impending World Series.

And what an advantage the home field is.

The All-Star game began determining the Fall Classic’s home team in 2003 to provide the players with a further initiative for victory. Up until that point, home field advantage had alternated between the National and American Leagues on a year-to-year basis.

Since the new rule was installed in 2003, the year following a 7-7 tie after 11 innings in the 2002 All-Star Game, the team whose league secured home-field advantage has won the series in eight of the 11 years of the rule’s existence. Even before the All-Star Game determined the home team, the World Series has been won by teams with home-field advantage 23 out of the past 28 years. The only teams and years to break this trend have been the 2008 Phillies, 2006 Cardinals, 2003 Marlins, 1999 Yankees, and 1992 Blue Jays.

When looking at last year’s World Series, the Cardinals moved into the final race after eliminating the Pirates and the Dodgers but were unable to secure the same results against the Red Sox. The Cardinals played three World Series games at Fenway Park, in which they were outscored, 16-6, and lost the Series in six games. The Red Sox title-winning victory was played in front of a home crowd on October 30, when they defeated the Cardinals 6-1, despite facing Michael Wacha, the Cardinals rookie pitcher who had previously been unbeaten while in the playoffs.

Although statistics demonstrate the advantage that being the home team has on the outcome of the World Series, the numbers don’t truly explain why the home team comes out on top.

Home-field advantage can manifest itself in a number of ways for the teams playing in October. For starters, playing the first game of the biggest event throughout the baseball season on a field of which the home team intrinsically knows the ins and outs can boost the players’ confidence in their playing abilities. While players may know the basics of other parks throughout the league – is it hitter-friendly or does the field favor the pitcher? – they know the nooks and crannies of their own ballpark to a much greater degree. Yes, through trades and signings, players are bound to know the terrain and unique features of other ballparks, but the way that a team plays together on their home field is something that cannot be replicated elsewhere. The confidence that players have in the way that they play together, on the field where they have the most experience working together, taking batting practice, and running on-field drills, can serve them well coming into the biggest series of the season.

Further, playing in a team’s home city gives the team a better grasp of the outside forces in which they will be playing. Factors such as weather can impact game play, with wind, heat, and humidity affecting pitch speed and velocity, as well as changing the way that balls move through the air and drop after a hit. Heat, humidity, and rain can also pose challenges to players moving through the field, whether running the bases or running to make a play. By playing in a home city, players can be ready for these uncontrollable situations. Remember the midges in Cleveland in 2007? It’s a home field phenomenon for which other players weren’t ready. By playing Game 1 on a home field – and even potentially Game 7 – outside factors may surprise the other team, and leave them dealing with situations for which they were not prepared.

Most importantly, though, home-field advantage comes into play when dealing with the audience and the fans. No team wants to play in front of people who are willing them to lose. The emotion and enthusiasm home-team fans have for their home team is unable to be replicated at any other ballpark. The enthusiasm of fans cheering for their team, for supporting and celebrating everything good thing they put forth on the field, can go a long way in boosting their spirits, and, in connection, boosting their level play. It can be seen in games like Opening Day, when stadiums are packed, or even by Twins’ fans during the All-Star Game on Tuesday. They cheered the loudest when their players or hometown heroes were announced (cheers perhaps only topped by the ovation for Derek Jeter). If fans are that enthusiastic in games that don’t carry the same weight, their support and passion during the biggest games of the season can only be more powerful, more meaningful, for the home team on the field.

The home field is where a team’s dream started, and where they know the dream can end. If history is any indication, home-field advantage makes it that much easier for a team to make that dream a reality during the World Series.

Photo: Paul Sancya/AP Photo

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