One of the many pleasures of being an usher for a Major League Baseball team is you get a really great feel for the state of the game, something that no sportswriter can because they don’t get a good look at nor talk to the people who pay for their seats.
We’re only a month into the season and yet it’s hard to ignore the troubling signs for the game’s future.
Samantha Power, a Harvard professor, writes in the Washington Post today that baseball need only keep doing what it’s doing, and stop trying to cater to the distraction generation. The game needs to embrace “the very qualities that those in a hurry often shun: patience, concentration, and the alluring sense of possibility bounded not by a clock but simply by performance (and getting that last out).”
She’s not wrong. Putting a clock on pitchers or limiting trips to the mound might make the game seem shorter, but that’s all being undone — at least with the local nine — by poor pitching, bumbling fielding and feeble hitting. Nothing can make bad baseball feel satisfying.
I try to catch batting practice before the gates open and grab a ball or two to give to kids and I had one yesterday (courtesy of a smooth as silk catch of a bomb into the bleachers, which I snagged in one motion with my hat, without unimpressing the players who watched by letting on that it hit my thumb first. And it hurt).
Last night, only one kid with a baseball glove stepped in the elevator I was in charge of.
“If you don’t get a ball tonight,” I said on the way to the Terrace Level, “come see me after the game.” I didn’t see him again. I took the ball home. Maybe there’ll be more opportunities tonight.
Clearly, not every kid takes the elevator to the upper deck. But on Sunday, while working the thirdbase dugout seats, a woman lamented that her son was disinterested in the view from the second row. And, sure enough, there he was, under a blanket in the bright sunshine, the better to see the smartphone. He was 11.
A walk around the ballpark last night yielded a man — I’d guess in his 20s — sitting against a wall, the phone plugged into an outlet, the attempted comeback by the local heroes underway nearby to his disinterest.
To be sure, there are still plenty of kids at the park looking for autographs before gametime, so it wasn’t a great help to the future of the game when not a single Cincinnati Red bothered to accommodate them on Sunday.
Sportswriters and columnists have led the call for speeding up the game, but they view it from a different lens. They’re at work; they want to go home.
Perhaps Power is right and the anecdotes of the distracted generation are mere outliers. Those who demand instant gratification need not be coddled by a sport where “triumph and heartbreak do not announce themselves” ahead of time.
Her barometer on the game’s future is her son — age 8 — who she said was filled with rage when she told him earlier this year that a split-squad, spring training game didn’t matter.
“It is baseball,” he said. “Everything matters.”
Especially 8-year-old kids.