They are the ones who will forever romanticize the baseball game and speak in a reverent tone about their place in American culture. I have never fully bought into the party line. Baseball is just a sport that I have followed since childhood because I like the easy pace and the endless statistics. This “Field of Dreams” style rhapsodicization makes about as much sense to me as building a baseball field in the middle of a cornfield in Iowa.
So why was I last weekend in the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY, standing in front of Tom Seaver’s plaque, caught in a moment of … reverence?
In a way, I was simply grieving over a great pitcher that defined my childhood in New York City and the New York Mets. Seaver, who passed away last summer, was so much a part of the club’s franchise in the ’60s and’ 70s, including the 1969 World Cup, that he was nicknamed the “Franchise.” And that was actually the time when I came of age as a baseball fan and started obsessing over things like a pitchers ERA or the number of strikeouts. I still remember when Seaver set the record in 1976 with nine seasons in a row with 200 plus strikes.
But in a larger way, I took an overview of the game and what it has meant to me over the years. These players with their posters on the wall have been the running thread in my life that has gone far beyond childhood. I similarly stopped at some other plaques – especially Gary Carter, another late Mets major who helped the team win its second championship in 1986. And I noted every Hall of Famer associated with the Miami Marlins (formerly the Florida Marlins) ), the team I started following when I moved to Sunshine State in the 90’s and continues to track since I returned to my hometown of New York more than a decade ago.
So, yeah, maybe that’s the last thing you want to do with baseball.
My timing was without a doubt perfect because Major League Baseball had just hosted its first ever “Field of Dreams” game – a competition between the New York Yankees and the Chicago White Sox which was held on the Iowa cornfield itself where the Kevin Costner picture from 1989 was filmed (technically, a new baseball diamond was made for the big league match).
The event made for TV did not come as a surprise. Baseball is doing all it can these days to roll in fans, both diehards like me and, more importantly, a new generation. The sport has taken a big hit in recent years, with attendance from 79 million in 2007 to 68 million in 2019, the last 162 matches before the pandemic (in 2020, a 60-match schedule was played).
Among the often mentioned reasons for the decline: the length of games (the regular competition now takes more than three hours) and the rising costs of buying tickets, food and souvenirs (in 2019 the average all-in price for a family of four was $ 234.38, according to a report). And let’s not forget the competition from other sports, from basketball and football to even English Premier League football. In short, baseball is simply not as cool as it once was.
I would argue that some of the recent attempts to make the game relevant and appealing are doomed to fail. Take the rule designed to shorten extra laps by having a runner starting at the second base under each team. It seems like a desperate gimmick that ignores one of the bizarre pleasures of watching a competition that goes beyond nine rounds – namely the idea that it can continue for many more rounds with teams clearing the rosters and struggling to figure out how to get it all. -Important race in the process. I do not want baseball to be “fast” – I want it to embrace its bizarre length.
The average price for a family of four to attend a major league baseball game was $ 234.38 in 2019, including tickets, parking, food and souvenirs, according to a report
I also want it to embrace everyday inner dramas – the captivating battles between star throwers and star players, the intense battles between clubs with deep rivalry – instead of making faux events like the “Field of Dreams” game.
And I want to realize that power does not necessarily come from competing with “hotter” sports, but from realizing the value of its own formidable history. That’s what came to my mind time and time again as I walked through the Hall of Fame. I saw the heroes of my childhood (and my baseball-loving dad’s childhood) in the context of today’s players. I guess you can do the same with other sports, but the baseball timeline goes back to 19th Century – the story is the game.
In the end, all I know is that baseball has become my lifeline during the pandemic. Especially last summer, when I could not go to the movies or still found face-to-face meetings with friends a little difficult in the days before the vaccination. The game was something I could possess – my Marlins made it to the playoffs! – in a way that led me back to childhood.
And for the record, I watched the “Field of Dreams” game. Some of the framed drama – Costner who came into the field from the rows of corn stalks – struck me as corny (excuse the pun). But the game itself, with an explosive ninth inning by both clubs and a game-winning homer by the White Sox, was as gripping as, well, a good movie.
No wonder Major League Baseball has plans to bring the event back next summer. Maybe a trip to Iowa is in order.