Alicia Keys said it best. I keep on falling in and out of love with you. Sometimes I love you. Sometimes you make me blue. Baseball, this is what you’re doing to me. And I hate it.
I apologize for the journey I’m about to go on, but please stick with me. It’s important to me that you understand the marriage America’s pastime had with my heart. And further, how we got to my watching maybe a total of 10 innings of baseball this year. Buckle up…
Taking the field
As anyone who has ever read anything I’ve written knows, I grew up in the Greater Boston area. My Sox are red. I played Little League in Peabody, MA, and I was…fine. Standing at (probably) a whopping 3’9″, I played mostly middle infield, and by my AAA years (10-12) I was hurling a devastating 32 MPH fastball with impeccable placement.
I’ll never forget the first day I took the mound. Pedro Martinez had just come to Boston and he was an absolute titan. I spent so much time in my back yard with my dad, working on emulating Pedro’s pitching stance and windup. As I typed this I just stood up to make sure I still have it. I know you were wondering. I do.
So I take the mound, go through the motions, and find out I actually have pretty good control. Never was I ever going to blow some high cheese past anyone, but I could put the ball almost anywhere I wanted. My athletic career didn’t last much longer, as I hurt my knee and then found theatre, but man did it fill up my heart and soul while I was out on the mound.
Then, at the plate, I would try to emulate Ken Griffey, Jr. Sure, he didn’t play for the Sox, and I wasn’t a lefty. But Junior was universal. He played the game with such energy everyone wanted to be him. And if you say you didn’t, you’re a stone cold liar and you know it.
Enamored by Fenway
Fenway Park is a temple. Even people who aren’t Sox fans get that. They understand the history. The bats that have clocked balls up over the monster and the Ks that have rocketed from the mound. It is, in short, perfect.
It’s also an absolute gladiator pit if you’re a fan of a rival team. If you’re a Yankees fan, I’m legitimately sorry. Rockies fans, you’re fine. Nobody cares enough about you to spit at, dump an overpriced beer on, or throw a freshly ketchup’d and mustard’d hot dog in your direction with the accuracy of someone’s drunk uncle tossing to first in a family softball game.
All that said, it’s an experience. And I’ll never forget my first time. My 7th birthday. Vaughn Eshelman on the mound. Mo Vaughn at first. Troy O’Leary in right field. Tim Naehring at third. I thought Mike Greenwell bunted a ball off the wall – I guess I didn’t understand what a check swing was yet. But he checked a ball off the monster, which is wild.
I sat in the right field roof seats with my father and grandfather, the only time I can remember all three of us at a game together. But regardless, I was sucked in. It was perfect. And my love ran deep.
Winning it all
As a kid, if you like baseball, you set up scenarios in your back yard or in the street. Scenarios in which you’re stepping up to the plate. It’s that “can’t-eat, can’t-sleep, reach-for-the-stars, over- the-fence, World Series kind of stuff“. Down three runs. Full count. Two outs. Bottom of the ninth. You crack one over the fence (which may or may not break a neighbor’s window), sprint around the bases (which may only be a total of 90 feet), and leap onto home plate (probably someone’s glove), surrounded by your four friends who are living this fantasy with you.
Like I said earlier, that dream ended for me early. But I also envisioned that for the Red Sox. My mom let me skip school the day after Aaron fucking Boone took Tim Wakefield yard to win the 2003 ALCS and send the Yanks to the Series. I cried a lot of tears that night. It was one thing to lose, but to lose like that? Last pitch of the game is a dinger, and by the fucking Yankees? That cuts deep.
Then came 2004. And 2007. Then 2013. And 2018.
A team of cowboys and idiots. My dad and I are watching Game 4. Keith Foulke winds up, dribbler back to the mound. Tosses to first and I ERUPTED. I was screaming, crying, I hit the ground, then heard my dad snoring from the couch. He had spent 46 years of his life without a championship, and he slept through it. That was wild to me.
But you don’t ever forget where you were when you watch your teams win, right? In 2007 I was in my short-lived Salem apartment when Papelbon threw strike three, tossed his glove, and lost his shit. The 2013 win I was in Hennessy’s, or one of the many bars that have turned over on the Union Street strip in Boston, with some work friends. 2018 I was at a wedding on Cape Cod watching after the reception.
So, what went wrong?
Somewhere between the victories in 2004 and 2018 my love of the game started to fizzle out. Part of it may be that I was falling for the beautiful game. Soccer was starting to stamp a space in my heart. But you can love multiple things, and love them hard.
Maybe it was the lack of a player like Junior for me to latch on to. Or maybe not. I honestly can’t pinpoint the moment it started going south for me. But nonetheless, I got tired.
Nowadays I know what it is. And the irony isn’t lost on me.
Being averse to change
Look, I get it. Nobody likes change. In fact, it terrifies me (hence the irony). But change is inevitable. Evolution is necessary. Baseball however flat out refuses to accept that fact.
I keep calling baseball the old white man of sports – both historically stuck in their ways. Stubbornness is pretty common, but come on. Viewership is down. The game got stale. It shouldn’t take four plus hours to complete nine innings.
In today’s society, things move quickly. Tik Tok has become a thing. Quibi somehow took off (or did it?) with 10 minute episodes of original shows. People are on their devices at all times and have all the information they could ask for at their fingertips. So, all this to say, it’s hard to keep people’s attention. That’s a fact.
To its credit, there have been some rule changes that MLB has instated. A pitch clock and a three batter minimum for relief pitchers are a start to speeding things up. However MLB has to start thinking out of the box.
The backlash on these very basic changes is insane. David Price outright protested a pitch clock because that’s “not how things are done”. Managers are angered that they can’t go to their lefty specialist just to send Cody Bellinger back to the dugout.
This is exactly the problem.
There’s no openness to something new and different. Guys are still thrown at for flipping a bat and “excessively” celebrating a home run. Baseball’s unwritten rules are, to me, indicative of the larger problem within this country. If you’re a young kid in the league, you have to adhere to our rules or you’re going to get shut out.
Now, this has been challenged, in a way, by electric players like Mookie Betts, Aaron Judge, and Fernando Tatis, Jr. Before the 2018 World Series, my roller coaster ride of fandom was climbing again. The Sox and Yankees had young, exciting teams that made the game FUN for me again.
In walks 2020…
Look, I know. 2020 has been an impossible time for everyone. It sucks, and it has opened the floodgates of how we interact with, process, and understand virtually every aspect of ours and others’ lives.
However, it has exposed the closed minded thinking of Major League Baseball. In the face of a global pandemic, MLB fought with their Players Association over money. Over the number of games played. And they did not put the safety of their players, managers, and staff first. Period. They poo-poo’d the idea of a bubble, letting teams travel, play in their home ballparks, and go home after games.
The players didn’t come out of those negotiations scot-free. Some of them looked like selfish, whiney bitches.
Why would I want to watch a product, despite how deeply it has been rooted within me, that can’t look at itself and say “we need a facelift”? Then, in the FIRST WEEK of the season, the Miami Marlins played a game against the Philadelphia Phillies. And after the game, we find out there was an outbreak within the team, and they voted to play anyway.
What are we doing here?
Talk about embodying the issue.
The Marlins weren’t the only team to get hit with COVID. St. Louis had to be shut down for a week due to an outbreak. Cleveland needed to discipline players who broke protocol.
We talked at length here, in those moments, about our thoughts on things. But we’re left being the definition of insanity – asking this question over and over again. What are we doing here?
Unfortunately, the World Series once again made me ask.
Now, let me pause for a second. I need to explain something I mentioned in passing earlier. I watched maybe 10 innings of baseball all year. One or two on in the background of a TV in a bar that I couldn’t be inside while drinking in NYC. Maybe five innings of Game 7 of the NCLS, when the Dodgers downed the Braves. And the last three innings of Game 6 of the World Series.
That’s it. My anger and frustration with the game, and how MLB has handled this season in particular, led me to see as many innings as a struggling relief pitcher.
Anyway, in Game 6, Justin Turner was pulled partway through by manager Dave Roberts. Come to find out later, it was due to a positive COVID test. And it was after he had an inconclusive test the day before.
AND THEY LET HIM PLAY THE GAME!
Not only did LA let him play, they insisted upon him playing. Think about that. A player hadn’t definitively tested negative for a deadly virus. He was allowed to play a game. Then was pulled from the game after another test came back positive. But then was able to go out and CELEBRATE THE WIN without even wearing a damn mask the whole time.
So I ask again. What are we doing here?
Before I continue spiraling…
I don’t love baseball anymore. Maybe I’m “in like”, or something. But it doesn’t fill my heart in the way it used to. And it’s because they refuse to adapt with the times.
And that sucks. This feels like a tough breakup for me. We were strong together for so many years. It dissipated, and the game didn’t listen to reason when things needed to change. Now we’re going our separate ways, and I think I’m better off. I still get worked up. But I don’t even know why.
Well, that’s a lie. I know why. It’s because I still care about it. I want it to get better. But baseball has to want to get better. It has to want to change.
And I’ve run out of the energy to stay invested until it does so.