The beginning of April is an exciting time in United States. With the arrival of Spring time, we say goodbye to winter blizzards and cabin fever, and hello to warmer weather and the start of the Major League Baseball season.
Baseball has long been regarded as our “national pastime” in the US. It’s no wonder with it’s rich history and players through the last hundred years like Ruth, Mays, and Cobb. Clemente, Yastrzemski, Berra, and Aaron. It would take forever to list out all the players, teams, seasons, special plays, and the overall impact the game itself has had in the lives of many Americans over the past several generations.
I recall stories my dad told me about baseball as a kid. He talked with such joy of listening to the world series on the radio. How excited he was to get out of school and listen to the game in the car with his dad. He mentioned the kids in his neighborhood would play pickup baseball games, and trade baseball cards (they would put the average player cards in their bike spokes).
As a kid growing up in the late 80’s and 90’s, I played in my first tee-ball league at 4 years old. From then on, I wanted to be the next Ken Griffey Jr, Ryne Sandberg, or Cal Ripken Jr. I spent almost every spring through fall playing little league, all-stars, AAU, and eventually high school and American Legion baseball. I enjoyed watching the home run race between Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa in 1998. ESPN would break into the games and show their at-bats. History was being rewritten and Maris’ record would be broken. I enjoyed watching the Yankees win multiple world series, with the Red Sox at home on the couch :)
I loved playing middle infield and looked up to stars like Roberto Alomar, Derek Jeter, and even players like the lesser known Atlanta Braves shortstop Rafael Belliard. Belliard, at 5’6” tall and 150 lbs soaking wet, was someone I looked up to as a kid because he was always the smallest guy on the field. He didn’t play every game, but when he did play, he played hard. It was proof that with hard work and skill, anyone could make it. I played my final season of baseball in the American Legion, in North Carolina’s Area III division in 2006 having enjoyed all my years playing a game that I loved, but caring little for the professional game.
Playing in the Majors, a childhood dream, I had just lost larger interest in watching or keeping up with the sport. Some of this had to do with being busy with college and my career, starting a family, but a significant part of the lack of interest was due to many disappointing things that happened over the years, and still persist. The lack of energy in the game and cheating.
Make no mistake, Baseball is a cheater’s game, not an honest man’s game. You lie, cheat, steal, and you take every advantage you can get. The pitcher tries to fool the hitter with every single pitch. Players steal bases, coaches try to steal signs, what about the old hidden ball trick, or Knoblauch slowing Lonnie Smith in a fake double play in the ’91 world series. These are all just part of playing the game. You can play this game and still be respected by just about everyone, including your rivals. I know Red Sox fans who have lots of respect for Derek Jeter, the way he plays the game, carries himself on and off the field. Even though he’s cheated on the field via his acting skills. Then there is the other kind of cheating altogether…
The race between Sosa and McGwire, was a scam, a fake. The memories of seeing slammin’ Sammy do the home run hop, and McGwire hug his children after winning the race were tainted by the fact these players were medically enhanced, steroid abusers. And over the last decade, baseball has been drug down, pun intended, by this “steroid era”. Since 2005 there have been 50+ suspensions. The 2013 season alone had 14 suspensions!
But there are other problems with the game. Prime time being one of them. The world series, and all-star games, all starting at 7:30PM+, in “Prime time” is great for commercial revenue, and I understand the game is indeed a business, but my 5 year old son along with my younger kids go to bed at 8-8:30PM each night. Gone are the early days of the baseball’s history where most stadiums did not have lights and games were only played during the day. Now almost all the day games are only on Sunday and you’ve got games like Giants vs Dodgers at 8:00PM PDT. My memories of watching Cubs games on WGN during the day in the summers and the memories and fun my dad had as a child in the 60’s, of listening to the world series, all-star, and even regular season day games, are all but gone.
The final thing I think that is lacking is energy in the game. Maybe it’s free agency, and the big contracts, or perhaps it’s just me. Watch this clip below, the entire clip is great, but specifically at the 11:40, 34:00, and the ending at the 40:15 mark. The excitement, the energy of the players, the crowd, and Harry Caray proclaiming “It might be! It could be! It is! Holy cow!!!” The quality of the video is weak, but the sound and energy in that stadium almost 30 years ago, it just gives me chills. It’s not something you see in baseball much anymore, especially outside of the post season, in the majority of baseball stadiums throughout the season.
As the NFL has been branded by some over the last few years as the “No Fun League”, MLB in my book has been a Major League Bummer in many aspects over the last 15 years. Baseball is still an excellent game with tons of passionate fan bases and I’m hopeful the game will get better. They’ve introduced a “challenge system” this year, which may be a great thing for the game, it will take a few seasons to know for sure, but it’s great that the MLB is willing to take a risk on something to better the game.
The way the Red Sox won the 2013 world series for the city of Boston after last year’s tragedy was special. If baseball can avoid blunders like launching the season in Australia, spitting in umpires faces, and multiple grand jury indictments of players, while geting back to exciting young players and teams like Andrew McCutchen and the Pirates, baseball can be fun again. I purchased the audio pack on MLB.com and will be listening in on some games, mostly Yankee, Mariner, and Cubs games, throughout the 2014 season. When I tune in this year on TV or live audio stream, I hope to find America’s “national pastime” and not TMZ.