Doug Wolter: Baseball like chess? Let me rephrase that
Hey, did you guys notice that the major league baseball season began last week? Wednesday, March 20, to be exact. It started in Tokyo, Japan, with a series between the Oakland Athletics and the Seattle Mariners. If you missed it, don't worry. The...
Hey, did you guys notice that the major league baseball season began last week?
Wednesday, March 20, to be exact. It started in Tokyo, Japan, with a series between the Oakland Athletics and the Seattle Mariners.
If you missed it, don’t worry. The U.S. “Opening Day” will feature all 30 MLB teams, and it will happen tomorrow -- Thursday. The Minnesota Twins are set to open at home against Cleveland in a 3:10 p.m. start, so don’t miss it.
I must confess that I’m barely prepared for the season myself. I’ve been wasting my time conjuring up NFL draft scenarios, and now that the NCAA men’s basketball tournament is going strong, that’s got my attention, too. The times are a’ changing, even for a hardcore baseball fan like myself only slightly past his baseball-loving prime.
According to people who are supposed to know these things, the average fan age of baseball rooters is now 57 years old. This is scary news for true fans, who worry that unless more young people pick up the sport, it will sink in general popularity to levels only slightly above that of beach volleyball.
I read something a few days ago that said the answer is not to speed up the game, or to devise new and radical rules -- changes that may especially appeal to younger sports fans -- but for older baseball fans like myself to step up efforts to pass on their love of the game to the younger generation.
Frankly, I don’t think that’s going to be enough. Not in this day and age, where attention spans are shorter, where video games provide instant and mind-numbing gratification, and where the “pastoral game” can increasingly seem irrelevant to a generation that is always on the go.
There was a time in my life when I patiently explained to young people that the beauty of baseball resides in its leisurely pace, but a leisurely pace offset by the fact that there’s excitement in every pitch.
Yeah, every single pitch. It’s so much more than home runs, double steals and collisions at home plate. Even when there isn’t action, there’s drama. So the count is 3 and 2 and the potential winning run is on second. What’s the pitcher going to throw? A curve down and away? Should he challenge him with a fastball up and in? Who’s the batter, anyway? Is he a good fastball hitter? What’s he expecting? If he walks, how dangerous is the batter on deck?
Get it? There really is drama in every pitch. It’s a game of chess, a thinking man’s game. And it’s a thing of beauty, isn’t it?
It was difficult, then, to get my young person to understand the excitement imbedded in every pitch. It’s even more difficult now.
To describe baseball as a chess game probably isn’t advisable, actually. Chess is an acquired taste -- interesting to some, but boring to most.
The future of baseball, in fact, may be a Catch-22 proposition. Unless millions more young people become attracted to it from listening to my generation rave about its importance, there will need to be some serious rule-tinkering.
That doesn’t encourage me, either. I agree that the game should move at a faster pace, but I don’t know what new tweaks can be made without ruining its charm.
I wouldn’t like it if baseball sinks further into the background of our nation’s consciousness. It’s meant too much for this country for the last 100 or more years. But if it means turning it into something I barely recognize, I’d rather keep it as it is.
Enjoy the openers. I hope it’s an especially exciting year with great pennant races.
And yes, I still say those pitcher-batter matchups are exciting.