Why Baseball Matters (Again…)

Recently, there has been discussion about the future of baseball. There are people afraid that the game has lost its appeal, especially among younger generations. The main complaint is that it’s “too slow.” People, again mostly younger folks, used to fast-paced video games, hundreds of TV stations, smart phones and non-stop entertainment have lost much of their ability to concentrate for extended periods of time. Although the human brain can process information fairly rapidly, there is a point at which more input is simply nervous energy. We only absorb it. We can’t make sense of it or integrate it. The result is an emotional reaction – much like walking the midway section of a state fair – we feel lots of emotions but are overwhelmed by sensations, not attending to any one particular facet around us for any length of time. 

Into this emotional and psychological scene, critics of baseball contend that the game simply cannot capture young people’s attention. So, they argue, let’s find a way to “speed up” the game. But, why? Do we talk about speeding up a game of golf? American football is often touted as the emotional “power-grabber.” Become as exciting as that game, and you’ll get fans. Yet football is often a one hour game “crammed” into nearly four hours, mostly beer and truck commercials filling the intervening spaces. Meanwhile, a typical baseball game is 3 hours or less – with 50% more actual activity. True, people aren’t crashing into each other. There is finesse in the way balls are thrown to batters. Strategy, timing, running, fielding, throwing and catching are hallmarks of the game. To my mind, that’s a relaxing way to be entertained. I’m just not interested in even more noise and violent stimulation pounding my brain. 

Perhaps shortening the time for commercials every half inning would be a good place to start. Maybe 7 innings is long enough, if the starting pitchers had to put in the first 4 (I bet a lot of fourth innings would fill up a scorebook with hits and runs!). Maybe starting the tenth inning with a runner at second, like in the Minors, would be helpful. In short, there are ways we could look at making the game move along. We added a designated hitter (at least in the American League) and that hasn’t seemed to ruin the enjoyment of fans. In fact, it’s probably saved some pitchers while adding excitement. It probably adds time, however, since most pitchers are dispatched quickly when they come to bat. 

In baseball, like in life – especially in enduring relationships – breaking out of certain ruts is helpful, flexibility is key to maintaining healthy boundaries, some variety adds a certain spice to life. But change for the sake of change or to be “like the Joneses” rarely works out well. Baseball matters precisely BECAUSE it is timeless. There is no clock to the game. It could be a masterful pitching dual and conclude a little over two hours after starting. It could go four hours and fill a book with hits and runs scored. All the while, people catch their breath from the hectic life around them. They visit with each other. They relax. And they cheer, yell, complain like at any other sport when the situation calls for it. If younger people have trouble “staying tuned” perhaps it’s time we focused on why that situation obtains, rather than bending a timeless experience just for the sake of a few minutes.

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