Baseball: How Fan Noise Affects Player Performance

The brain has many abilities that allow us to function and perform actions at top level. Short-term plasticity refers to the brain’s ability to hear something, know the reaction, and learn from that. Iiro P. Jääskeläinen (2007) states in her article that “This could support auditory sensory memory, pre-attentive detection of sound novelty, enhanced perception during selective attention, influence of visual processing on auditory perception and longer-term plastic changes associated with perceptual learning.” Our brain is aware of our surroundings based on its ability to comprehend and understand our environment. Short-term plasticity allows our brains to understand and process pleasurable experiences in our environment and repeat them. Athletes use short-term plasticity in games with regard to crowd loudness and intensity. If a crowd gets loud after they perform well or during the performance, the athletes who use that crowd reaction to benefit their gameplay tend to do better than those who don’t. I analyze the extent to which the crowd directly affects a player’s performance on the field through interviews, video evidence, and personal anecdotes.

Before looking at videos and asking questions, it is important to understand why athletes react well to certain sounds and how loud they really are while playing. The answer to this question lies within Acoustics Sound Systems for Baseball. This journal article focuses on how the acoustics of a baseball stadium can be influenced by the architecture. The author notes that every aspect of society and the game must be taken into account in order to create an optimal playing/viewing environment. For example, Brown (2001) states in his article that “Community noise is also a potential for problems…” Not many people take into account the surroundings outside of a baseball stadium. In his article, Brown doesn’t argue but rather teaches skills that can help future architects to build more optimal stadiums for both fans and players. Through personal experience, I know that a crowd’s noise can be effective while playing.

 

I play baseball for Duke University and have played in a number of stadiums. The idea that stadiums should be built better, taking into consideration every detail and aspect of the game and its surroundings, was mind-blowing to me at first. I could not believe that such attention to detail could be incorporated in that aspect of the game. After reading this article, I thought back to a few of my games and actually noticed that it was true. Some stadiums are louder than others on the surface and others muffle the sounds of the game and crowd. I remembered a certain time at my high school stadium when the stands were packed and it was so loud on the field that I had to talk to myself in order to get my thoughts straight. This stadium allowed for the fan noise to be highly noticeable while at our rival high school; it was often hard to hear things going on from second base. This is obviously a huge difference in the acoustics and the ability of sound to travel within the stadium of the two places.

 

I interviewed three teammates at Duke to better understand their opinions on fan interaction during a baseball game. I chose Kellen Urban, Trent Swart, and Jimmy Herron. Kellen and Trent are both graduate students from California. Jimmy is a Pennsylvania native and a freshman. These players were chosen because they have all played in high intensity atmospheres and performed at top levels. Their opinions support my research because they are first hand testimonies, aside from my experiences, that the crowd can affect a player’s performance on the field during that moment and for the rest of a game. The interviews I conducted, that are found below, are brief interviews because of time constraints. All of the interviews prove that fan noise does, for these players, have a direct correlation to performance and intensity.

Trent Swart: Redshirt 5th Year Pitcher

CHRISTOPHER: In your experience with baseball, did you tend to play better or worse when the crowd was louder?

TRENT: I’d say, the majority of the time, I’ve played better when the crowd is louder. Just, kind of, a more exciting atmosphere. I like a loud audience.

CHRISTOPHER: Do you prefer to play in games that are quiet or games that are loud in most instances?

TRENT: Yeah, I think it just kind of plays to the whole thing, like you know it’s a competitive environment, it kind of gets you going. Its just an exciting thing to play when there’s crowd noise rather than when you’re just playing without anyone passionate about it.

CHRISTOPHER: Do you listen for certain things in the crowd’s noise to pump you up for that moment?

TRENT: No, I don’t listen for anything specific. I think that would get a little too distracting. Its more like the kind of the background noise, but its definitely funny when you come off the field and someone on your team says they heard something and they tell you then you kind of laugh it off and could potentially use that to pump you up for the next inning.

CHRISTOPHER: Do you believe that there is a certain correlation between crowd noise and the way you perform?

TRENT: To an extent, I mean I think I’d still perform regardless of crowd noise or not, but I think when the crowd is bigger it’s a lot more fun and it kind of, like I said earlier, it pumps you up to play in that situation, more so. So yeah, I’d say there’s some correlation.

Kellen Urban: 5th Year Pitcher

CHRISTOPHER: In your experience with baseball, did you tend to play better or worse when the crowd was louder?

KELLEN: I definitely think I played better, especially when the crowd was on my side. When they were rooting for the other team sometimes it gets a little nerve racking, but usually when the crowd is on your side, you definitely play better.

CHRISTOPHER: Do you prefer to play in games that are quiet or games that are loud in most instances?

KELLEN: Definitely loud. It makes it way more fun.

CHRISTOPHER: Do you listen for certain things in the crowd’s noise to pump you up for that moment?
KELLEN: Honestly, I don’t hear much else besides just the overall noise.
CHRISTOPHER: Do you believe that there is a certain correlation between crowd noise and the way you perform?
KELLEN: I do believe that there’s correlation, if they’re cheering for you. If they’re cheering against you, I feel like there’s not a negative correlation, but when they’re cheering for you I feel

like it definitely helps you out.

Jimmy Herron: Freshman OF

CHRISTOPHER: In your experience with baseball, did you tend to play better or worse when the crowd was louder?

JIMMY: Probably when the crowd was louder because I focused better.

CHRISTOPHER: Do you prefer to play in games that are quiet or games that are loud in most instances?

JIMMY: Probably loud.
CHRISTOPHER: Do you listen for certain things in the crowd’s noise to pump you up for that moment?
JIMMY: No, it’s more of just background noise.
CHRISTOPHER: Do you believe that there is a certain correlation between crowd noise and the way you perform?
JIMMY: Yeah, I think it increases performance because you focus better and play harder.

I grew up playing baseball, and as a fan, have watched plenty of games. Upon thinking back to some games I have watched, I remembered some moments when the crowd has had an effect on professional players. To prove this, I went to YouTube and searched a few of the moments that I remembered and found some compilations and solo videos of these moments. They are attached below and I will be explaining each.

Marcus Stroman “The Return” 2015 Blue Jays

When looking at the video of Marcus Stroman, it is evident that his animation results from the big moments and the crowd. Contextually, these moments were intense because he had recently made his return from knee surgery and wanted to make a statement. After getting the double play in the first instance, he yells and gets fired up. The second instance shows Stroman striking out a player and walking off of the mound full of adrenaline and ready to throw another pitch. After striking the next batter out, Stroman yells, playing off of the crowd’s reaction to the double play and the strikeout. This is an example of a professional player feeding off crowd noise and performing not only at top level, but better than other professionals that may be as good or better than him.

Jose Bautista EPIC Bat Flip Home Run vs Rangers – Game 5 ALDS

The second video occurred this year during a playoff game. The Texas Rangers were playing the Toronto Blue Jays in the American League Division Series. This was Game 5, the last game in this particular series, a loser-goes-home matchup. The video shows Jose Bautista hitting a three-run home run in the bottom of the 7th with two outs. The intensity of the moment stems from having two runners on base and a currently tied ballgame. The crowd in Toronto is unbelievably loud and Bautista uses this to perform better. He hits the ball and everyone in the ballpark, including him, knows it is a home run. His adrenaline is pumping so much at this point that he throws the bat and starts to jog. The crowd and the moment influenced the player that scored first; evident by him yelling and the fans contributing to this moment.

Alex Gordon Game Tying Home Run vs Mets – Game 1 World Series

The last video portrays Alex Gordon hitting a home run in Game 1 of this year’s World Series. This game was intense due to the stakes of this game. History shows that sixty-three percent of teams that win Game 1 go on to win the series and the title. This was a close game and went into extra innings due to this big time play. The Royals were down by one and it was the bottom of the 9th with one out. The game was practically in the bag for the Mets. They were in Kansas City so the crowd was pulling for Gordon, they weren’t quite as loud as the Bautista video. Listen to the crowd during the pitch and then as soon as Gordon hits it. Gordon played off of the initial yelling and crowd atmosphere to hit that home run and then the crowd went even crazier. The crowd was on his side and, as Kellen Urban stated in the interview “when they’re cheering for you I feel like it definitely helps you out.” Royals fans definitely helped Alex Gordon out in this specific moment of the game. Gordon hits the home run and the crowd immediately gets to their feet and yells uncontrollably. They know the ball is going to leave the stadium and are yelling in excitement. The other players, specifically Eric Hosmer, are yelling as well. He, along with the entire stadium, let the moment take over and the crowd is pumping him up even more with the deafening screams. The Royals went on to win that game in fourteen innings by a score of three to two and went on to win the World Series.

I have been in these types of situations as well and can attest to the crowd pumping me up during an intense moment. Through personal experience I can relate to the same clutch home runs and RBIs.  It was my senior year in high school and we were playing our first playoff game against a conference rival. The game was tied and I came up to bat with bases loaded and two outs. I came to the plate and the crowd was louder than I had ever heard. I hit a ball and it went right down the right field line to win the game. This was just one of many instances in my life where the crowd pumped me up and I was successful.

Short-term plasticity is huge in the world of sports and can be seen through an athlete’s use of that intense atmosphere to enhance performance. The claim that short-term plasticity is why an athlete performs better with a large crowd is proven here. The video evidence of professionals and interviews of Division 1, ACC players shows that even the best of the best can be found using this aspect of the game to benefit their gameplay on the field. With this new way of thinking, stadiums can be built to help both players and fans alike. This idea that the acoustics of a baseball stadium can be enhanced and critiqued is a new solution that could potentially change the game of baseball forever.

 

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