It was a yearly ritual. Mom hated winter. So every February I would tell her when pitchers and catchers for my beloved Phillies reported to Clearwater, Florida — Or as those of us from Pa. (“Pee-Ay”) might say, “Clearwooder.”
My mother was no baseball fan, or sports fan for that matter, but more than a crocus, my report was the first sign of spring.
Unlike my mom, I am a sports nut. I was never any good at them, so of course I became a sportswriter. Football, basketball, hockey, golf, auto racing, soccer, I love them all.
But, for me, there is nothing quite like baseball. Long summers playing with my friends, or sitting at the kitchen table or on the stoop in Philly with my grandfather, the smoke from his cigarette mixing with the early evening urban air. Listening to the radio in the car as the season kicked off in a chilly April, those couple of Octobers when something magic was happening, and many more Septembers when they were just playing out the string, all of it backed by the Hall of Fame pipes of Harry Kalas and his partner in crime, the legendary Hall of Fame outfielder Rich “Whitey” Ashburn.
I’ll watch baseball anywhere. Philadelphia, Washington, Baltimore, Bowie, Reading, Hagerstown, Frederick, Wilmington, Williamsport, Potomac, Charles Town — all sorts of exotic locations. College, summer leagues, single A to the majors, I’m there.
If you are familiar with this quote from “Field of Dreams” spoken by James Earl Jones, it more or less sums up my feelings about the game:
“The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It’s been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt, and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game, is a part of our past, Ray. It reminds us of all that once was good, and that could be again.”
“Field of Dreams”
Except… not so constant. As you can imagine, I am somewhat of a traditionalist. Like Crash Davis in “Bull Durham,” I believe there ought to be a Constitutional amendment outlawing Astroturf and the designated hitter. Twenty-five years ago I ranted against then-Commissioner Fay Vincent on realignment, and what followed was even worse. Instant replay, the elimination of arguing calls, home field advantage in the World Series awarded to the winning league in the All-Star game? Sacrilege.
Now the focus is on length of a game. It seems that this short-attention span tech-addicted culture doesn’t have the patience to watch a baseball game. So the powers that be have instituted a one-pitch intentional walk instead of four, eliminating the possibility of a mistake leading to runners advancing or scoring. They has also put a time limit on challenging a call with instant replay, which, if you ask me, is a bigger part of the problem (I can save you time, how about eliminating instant replay?). Soon we may even have a pitch clock.
Setting aside that I think the “game is too long” argument is bogus — NFL football games can run five hours when you factor in all the stoppages, media timeouts and instant replay challenges — baseball is supposed to be a leisurely, relaxing experience. It is about the smell of the grass. The warm up pitches. The rituals. Checking the runner. Stepping out if the batter’s box. Keeping score. Hot dogs and a beer. Sitting out in the sun and enjoying the moment.
That is what this is really about. We complain that kids don’t go outside on beautiful days anymore because their noses are buried in their tech. But, you know what? So are their parents.’ We are slaves to email and social media. Always at the beck and call of the workplace. Nights, weekends? No matter. It isn’t that the game is too slow, it is that we are living too fast.
There is so much to see and do all around us. My therapy is baseball, or a round of golf. Yours may be fishing or hiking or horses. Whatever it may be, put the tech down and reclaim the moment, before it is too late.
Oh, and baseball people? Stop messing with my game.
Chris Six is managing editor of the Fauquier Times and Gainesville and Prince William Times. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @ChristopherSix1