I have been in love with our once national pastime since 1955, when I first attended a Senators game and rooted for immortals such as Jose Valdevielso, Bob Chakales and Roy Sievers. I indoctrinated a wife and two children into love and loyalty for the game, which I believe transcends all others in appeal to whatever intellect attaches to being a fan.
Now, with the 2013 season one-third over, I find I enjoy attending -- and watching games on TV -- less and less. Not even mentioning the $6 hotdog and $9 beer, here are nine reasons why:
From an hour before the first pitch, there is not a moment of silence in the park, what with inane “entertainment professionals” running contests, vapid interviews with fans and advertising, which also takes up every available space on electronic scoreboards between, and even during, innings when a serious fan might actually want to know about lineup changes, or, God forbid, the score, the number of outs and the count.
"Walkup music” is by itself a reason to avoid the stadium. At best, a live organist used to play a few bars of something clever attached to the batter’s persona, such as the “Star Wars” theme for ex-Cardinal Ken (“Obi”) Oberkfell. After that, players demanded their own signature chords, with the club oblivious to racist, sexist, violent lyrics. Now, the p.a. system blares deafening samples of salsa, dubstep, hip hop or other music that supposedly helps the batter hit better. Only a handful has country as a genre choice
Clubhouse fights have occurred over music choices, but we fans have no say in the matter.
The Wave -- it’s a football thing for cold weather blood circulation! It has no place at a baseball game. For one thing, it is most often done when the home team is pitching and in the field, exactly the wrong time to rouse animal passion. It does not consistently go in the same direction. It gets in the way of the action. Did the people come to a game to stand up in unison like mindless sheep or did they come to watch a game? The reality seems to be they came to annoy people who came for the game.
Entering a row in the middle of the pitch should be a capital offense. It’s fine to get a hotdog or go to the bathroom during the action, but when returning, please note what is happening on the field and stop, kneel or time your entry so as not to block the view of the game’s essential – the pitch to the batter. And for God’s sakes, why do you have to stand up in the middle of a row in the middle of a pitch to buy beer?
Ushers have a new authoritarian policy to stop people from entering a section during an at-bat, but it only works for people with seats near the top of the row. For those lower down, it takes so much time for the beer-laden fans to return, that a new batter is up and sightlines are once again blocked. If anyone ever read any of the popular social psychology books, it would be clear that people on their own will solve this problem better than bureaucratic automatons who possess usher shirts and severe authoritarian personalities.
Since I was a little boy in a family of modest means, I always dreamed of having season tickets. I have been fortunate enough to have had them since the first moments of the Nationals creation in 2005. But I am no longer a “ticket holder.” I am a “plan holder” because the team has done away with tickets. For us plan holders, we enter the stadium and can pay for concessions with a plastic card, which also notes, Orwellianly, what time you entered the stadium. Since most of us are not going to attend all 81 games, we sell or otherwise transfer unusused “tickets.” But now it is a complicated computerized mess. The “reward points” we plan holders have, which enables us to get perks, including extra seats to games of our choice, has been severely restricted in terms of both points required for a perk and in the unavailability of many games and many premium seats.
The rewards cutbacks and the misbegotten and rapidly rectified raincheck policy of no refunds/no exchanges conjures the irony of Yogi Berra, who might observe that the attendance is so high these days that nobody goes to games anymore.
The word uniform means “identical or consistent” … “an identifying outfit or style of dress worn by the members of a given profession, organization, or rank.” It doesn’t mean jerseys opened to midchest to reveal team-color tee-shirts; it doesn’t mean some guys wear socks to their knees and others wear pajama bottoms so long that they are clipped to the spikes so the player won’t fall down on the way around the bases; and it doesn’t mean the baseball cap – the perfect combination of form and function (to absorb sweat and shadow the eyes from the sun) – should be worn backwards or, even more bizarrely, with the bill at a 45-degree angle.
The back pockets should be tucked in and not flap around. Everyone is wearing beaded jewelry around the neck on the fraudulent basis that magnets somehow affect circulation. These necklaces are the equivalent of peach pits as cancer cures. Beyond that, if the pitcher is wearing one and the batter is wearing one, who gets the advantage? They just look stupid. The only necklace of note was that worn by the fearsome slugger and baserunner George Scott, who claimed they were made of second-basemen’s teeth.
The Military-Sports Complex
At one recent game, there were six official recognitions of the military by the fourth inning. Yes, the national anthem should be played at the beginning, and “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” in the middle of the 7th inning. Beyond that, “God Bless America” and “God Bless the USA” (written for an used by the Reagan campaign of 1984 ) have no place at an athletic contest where on any given day most of the players are not American. A baseball game is not a Bund rally.
This Memorial Day was a vomit-inducing spectacle of trailer-park patriotism and redneck “kick-ass-America” music written and performed by entertainers who can only wave the flag to sell a CD. Announcers reminded us that we paying tribute to those who keep us free. Really? Many of those servicemen are serial sexual abusers and sociopaths. Please let me thank those I know to be honorable. Besides, I am less free now than I ever was thanks to U.S. military policy since the end of World War II. And our freedom as a nation has not been threatened by anyone since VE and VJ Day. On this, one of four salute to the military days, sponsored by the defense contractor SAIC which profits off of war, players wore “digital” camouflage uniforms. Why? As the scoreboard kept reminding us, you can now buy the uniforms as a souvenir.
Several years ago the Nationals started paying tribute to “wounded warriors” with free seats behind home plate and public recognition in the 4th inning. That was easy when no one else wanted to go to games. But soon they ran out of actual wounded soldiers and invited family and friends. If the time comes that all games are sold out, say goodbye to “wounded warriors.”
Have you noticed the Nats’ TV promotions in which Bryce Harper talks of his warrior mentality? Bryce, if you want to be called a warrior, join the Army! They would love to have an athletic gung-ho 20 year-old. (Note: They don’t cotton to slamming your helmet.) Jonny Gomes, then of the Nats, proudly displayed his leg tattoo with the Marine Corps logo. I wondered why the heck he didn’t just trade uniforms and actually risk something by joining up. The answer, no doubt, lay in his refusal to jeopardize his body or his seven-figure income.
Giving Balls to Kids
Why does the ballclub announce that fans should give foul balls to a kid? I was 41 years old before I caught a foul ball, and haven’t since. Sure, it’s a nice gesture, but what if there are siblings next to you – which one gets the ball? What is you have a child or grandchild at home who would like to have the souvenir. And why can’t I keep what is mine?
When batboys, ballgirls, players and coaches toss a used ball into the stands, have you noticed it’s always to a kid in the first rows whose family could afford to buy balls by the gross? By the way, now when a ball goes out of play but stays on the field, the batboy gives it to an official Major League “authenticator” who notes who hit it, who pitched it and what the count was, and stamps a hologram on the ball so it can be sold by the club after the 4th inning. This not only directly extracts more money from souvenir-hunters fans but also means they are paying indirectly through ticket prices for more balls to replace the marred out-of-play balls that were once used for batting practice.
As annoying as it is to attend a game now, sitting home and watching one on TV is just as irritating. The TV screen, no matter how high-def or wide is covered by multiple logos, game information and news crawling in from other games. The broadcast booths are manned by pre-lingual sub-intelligent babblers who reward us each year with the latest clubhouse clichés invented by baseball players, whom I believe are in the cellar of the professional athletic IQ league. Nats pitcher Ryan Mattheus was only the latest example of critical thinking when he broke his throwing hand by punching a locker.
A batter no longer lets a ball go by, he “spits on it.” A hitter clouts a ball a good distance because he “barreled up on it.” The pitcher’s mound becomes “the bump.” A guy in a slump is “scufflin’.” A player who has no special skills but who plays hard and “gets his uniform dirty” is either “a blue-collar player” who has “grinded” his way to the “show” – and most definitely “a clubhouse guy.” A player so described is always Caucasian. The black or Latino players who excel are always ” excellent athletes.”
Now that Major League Baseball has its own network and one can watch several games a day, I am surprised to learn that each and every one of the 30 teams has “clubhouse chemistry” in which players subordinate their own ego to the overriding goal of “winning a ring.” To twist Rodney King a bit, I maintain that they can’t all get along. In baseball lore, if not fact, the Gashouse Gang of the 1930s, the Oakland A’s of the early 1970s and the Los Angeles Dodgers of the late 1970s had players who hated one another – and won.
What the heck is a “cutter?” It didn’t used to exist, or if it did it was called, charmingly, an “inshoot.” We don’t just have fastballs anymore, we have two-seamers and four-seamers, plus something called the “swingback fastball.” We also can hear announcers yammer about “yakkers” or the blather about the “backup slider” and “front-door breaking ball.”
Voting for the All-Star Teams in April
This is self-evident crazy – “voting” by going online 35 times to pick the best players three weeks after the season starts. This all but guarantees the selection of players from New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and Philadelphia and/or players who are on the disabled list. As part of the Commissioner Bud Selig’s (and isn’t “Bud” a dorky nickname for a kid going on age 79?) subservience to the Pentagon, this year fans can nominate active duty military members to be honored as heroes at the All-Star Game.
Somehow, I don’t expect to see my choice, Pvt. Bradley Manning.