On a muggy, rainy day, gazing out over the Atlantic Ocean, I find myself, not for the first time, wistfully wishing for an earlier, less complicated time. I'm reflecting on the radical realignment being proposed for Major League Baseball. I just finished reading a column in USA Today in which their baseball writer says this huge change in the game, placing, for example, the Phillies, Yankees, Mets, and Red Sox in the same league, obliterating, for all intents and purposes, the American and National Leagues as they've been known for a hundred years, is a good thing, something needed to "move into the 21st century." I don't know, maybe so. I understand the intellectual part of this: Travel is easier, new, more practical rivalries will be created, playoff formats become more workable, so on and so forth, but still... Tossing out a century of form kind of leaves me feeling a little empty. It's true, I'm not a big baseball fan anymore, though I still follow it out of the side of my eye. It's not, I think, entirely -- or even mostly -- the game's fault that onetime fans like me have fallen by the wayside. It's not really the strikes, or the management bumbling, though they're a convenient excuse. No, I think it's not the game at all, for really, the game's basically the same. No, it's the times we live in that have changed.
I grew up in a big league city where baseball was easily accessible. It's a game greatly helped by first person exposure. Cub and White Sox broadcasters were as familiar to me as the voices of my family. In Chicago, then, as is true today, baseball was the only democratic sport, accessible to anyone. Everybody I knew, friends and generations of family, went to ballgames. If I lived in Dallas, I think I'd follow the game more, because I could go and see them play. But, I rabidly follow teams in other sports, though I rarely see them play, so what makes baseball different?
I'm a pretty hyper person. I always have to be doing something, i.e. keeping busy. Partially, this is my nature, but partly it's the over-stimulated way we live today. Easy access to an endless, mindless array of diversions: cars, movies, VCRs, travel, hobbies, computers, and the staggering proliferation of television channels -- as a kid in Chicago, there were only four television stations to choose from -- makes it hard to sit still. This is bad for baseball, which requires its fans to be still and relaxed.
I fear baseball is barking up an unclimbable tree in its quest to rekindle national fan interest, so it can "enter the 21st century." Maybe baseball needs to come to grips with the fact that bells and whistles (inter-division play, the DH, etc.), in the end, won't restore the game to its once-lofty place. The game can still draw well (attendance levels are rising) from its established bases, but who sits on a porch anymore, in central Nebraska, wheat rustling on a hot night in July, listening to a distant, static-filled broadcast of a baseball game from St. Louis or Chicago on a tiny radio? Not very many people, I suspect.
We all have way too much to do today. Baseball is, at its heart, a rural game, played at a leisurely pace where time isn't so important, where a family, with nothing else to do, might gather on a porch and listen to a ballgame. A game for a time before CD players or tape decks, when you got in the car and turned on the ballgame. In the Age of Television, baseball is a game uniquely suited for radio. Who ever listens to the radio anymore?
Still, gazing out this window on a sultry day in South Carolina, it's a time I find myself yearning for, as I think of an old friend... a game... a friend I don't think about much anymore.
A modern day heresy: I could sleep quite contentedly never knowing, for sure, who has the best college football team in the country. I'll survive if Texas and Penn State are both 11-0 and a group of portly sports writers decide Penn State is Number One. I don't have to see them play.
Yes, I understand, "The Public" seems to want to see a National Champion crowned. If you asked me the question I'd say, "Yeah, that sounds nice." It's like these online polls asking, "Are you for or against a sunny day?" A sunny day would be good, why not? Do people really care about a college champ?
I don't care, and that's the truth. The complicated playoff format (I barely understand the Alliance Bowl deal as it is) to get to a championship game benefits no one except the already overflowing coffers of the schools: just another way to make money.
I understood bowls were important when the games were named after a flower, a fruit, or a breakfast condiment: A Rose. An Orange. A Sugar. A Cotton. All the teams were worthy. I lost no brain cells then wondering who was The Best. I can still do that.