Here we are in the dog days of July when baseball grinds through the middle section of the season. The freshness of opening day has faded, but the intensity of the pennant race has not yet arrived. So there are the long innings in front of TVs and radios, nightly rituals on porches, in yards, family rooms, tracking the home team's slow progress toward some reckoning in the fall. This is when we content ourselves with subtleties and nuances and the passage of time the game affords. Commissioner Giamatti talked about relying on baseball to do more of the work of filling time as he grappled with the ghosts that haunt a middle aged man. Bart, this year I feel you.
Sports talk radio fills the infinite mid-season airtime with all manner of fanciful speculation around trades, minor league prospects and salary comparisons. And there is always a meta conversation about the health of the sport, a cottage industry offering up stats-driven proposals to fix the old game: The ball is juiced, too many homers, not enough homers, too many strikeouts, the pitchers are too dominant...lower the mound. Move the fences in or out...expand or shrink the postseason brackets, ban the infield shift, the strike zone is too high or low. This colloquy keeps talk radio in business as fans and esteemed reporters tinker and play god, offering up so many gamification theories.
The arguments are pitched around predictable battle lines—purists versus innovators, tech-lovers versus ascetics.
What should be remembered amid this earnest “problem solving" is the game has flexed through much over the years: times of war and peace, scandals. The game has survived the designated hitter, artificial turf, indoor domed stadiums, steroids, gambling, and instant replay umpiring. The world didn’t end when lights were installed at Wrigley. Don’t underestimate the spell the game continues to cast.
Of late, the collective hand wringing has centered around baseball’s shrinking audience of young fans, who are being lured away by soccer, football, video gaming and a host of more thrilling pastimes. A generational reckoning.
How to make it faster and more action packed? A zeitgeist of instant gratification, genre heroes and condensed plot arcs demands speed.
Sports talkers brainstorm how to spice things up. How to be more attractive to generations of young, screen-addicted fans with ever smaller attention spans? How to make it faster and more action-packed? The zeitgeist of instant gratification, genre heroes and condensed plot arcs demands speed.
In response, the league installed clocks at field level a few years ago to limit the intervals between innings, between batters and between pitches. Clocks! Really?
The lack of a clock is the unique feature of the game. The molasses pace allows for subterranean psychological workings...tic toc...the intellectualization of a child’s game. In this sense, a ball game isn't something that can be properly viewed from outside, but rather a vessel requiring you enter and settle in, a self-contained world of its own making best enjoyed when you are able to hunker down and travel slowly through the tunnel vision.
Allow this traditionalist a counter proposal, a purist’s last stand: instead of speeding up the game, we should slow it down. It’s too damn fast! That’s right, you heard me.
The fleeting, transitory world needs a refuge from speeding time. The quick-cut camera work and twitter blurbs are exhausting. The self absorption is wearing us down, making us mentally ill. We are forever busy trying to get noticed, to win market share, to be at the center of it all, to be on-trend and in-the-know...the latest band, the most tantalizing headlines, the most outrageous reality mavens—all the so-called “content” that must be processed through our overtaxed information filters.
The fleeting transient world needs a refuge from speeding time. The quick-cut plot twists and twitter blurbs are exhausting. The self absorption is wearing us down, making us mentally ill.
The wisdom of the sages and philosophers suggests we should find beauty in the nuances and small moments—the batting glove readjustments between pitches, the side conferences, the walks to the mound. Hey, if the batter needs another moment, if the pitcher and catcher need to figure things out, we want them to get it right. Baseball's pace also serves a dramatic purpose: the slowness gives way all at once to a lightning-fast decisive moment. The slower the middle parts, the more delicious the critical moments. This is the eternal genius that has held a nation in its sway for a century and a quarter.
The practical observer will weigh in with an accounting from the calendar app: who has three or four hours to devote to anything? Certainly not the people working multiple jobs, busy parents, students navigating the rigors of higher ed. Sure, I’ve got no answer for that. Baseball isn’t for everyone. I will say this, it’s ready-made for multi-tasking, for completing some menial digital function with one eye on the game.
My traditionalism is cliched, and my proposal is a doomed bit of devil’s advocacy. Again, the genius Giamatti: “Dame mutability never loses.” But still, on this summer evening can’t we just take a deep breath, hunker down and let the innings and hours creep by?