Our old pal Joe Henderson had an interesting column in yesterday’s Trib. He opined, based on an email he got
from a reader named James Ramirez, that watching ballgames in high definition is more fun than watching them live.
(Before responding to James and Joe, I should note, in the interest of full disclosure, that I am the last person on earth that does not own a high-definition television. That is mostly because I don’t get all the hubbub over it. Does that make me a dinosaur? I don’t know. I know my soon-to-be-brother-in-law, who claims that anything not in high definition gives him a headache, certainly thinks it does.)
At first blush, I can sympathize with Ramirez, especially with his complaints about the in-stadium atmosphere at Raymond James. But, thinking deeper, I think his critique raises a larger issue, at least when it comes to baseball.
The biggest flaw in Ramirez’s email and Henderson’s column, is the idea that attending a baseball game is the same experience as attending a hockey game or a football game. I actually don’t blame Ramirez or Henderson, I think that misperception is one of the biggest crimes Commissioner Selig has committed against the game during his tenure.
Baseball is not football or hockey or basketball. Football, hockey, and basketball all involve spurts of energy and are built on fan emotion. Baseball is a pastime. Baseball was designed as a way to pass hot summer afternoons and evenings. The pace of baseball — which is the thing casual fans misunderstand more than anything else — is intended to allow the fans a chance to sit, and talk, and argue.
The rise of sports highlights and the popularity of football on television motivated the Commissioner to hide baseball’s most distinguishing characteristic and pretend that baseball was like football. That led to baseball highlights that made you think the only important events in a game were home runs, and crowds sitting on their hands waiting for home runs while being screamed at by PA announcers straight out of pro wrestling. (Baseball PA announcing is the only endeavor on earth where every practitioner devotes incredible energy trying to be the exact opposite of the greatest practitioner in their field. How can you hear Bob Shepperd and think, ‘he is great, if I want to be great, I should yell and scream and act like a lunatic.’)
The forthcoming NFL work stoppage has opened the door for baseball to reintroduce America to its national pastime. It is the perfect moment to get all the fans, including James Ramirez, back out to the ballpark and give them the experience they should have been enjoying all these years. Who cares about definitive replay? The best part of baseball is spending 20 minutes debating whether or not a pitch was a strike or a runner was safe. It is the lack of replay that makes it great.
In an era when technology has made it possible to stay in contact with family and friends without ever talking to anyone, baseball gives us three hours to sit and talk. It is like the anti-second life. (Does that make it first life?).
James, I am extending an open invitation to you. Pick a date and we’ll head to the yard together. We’ll sit, drink cold beer, argue about Mays vs. Mantle, try to figure out why Joe has different players in different spots in the order, and have a good, old-fashioned, pastime.
If anyone knows James, or knows how to reach him, send this along.
(By the way, the idea that you can get the same “crowd experience” at a sports bar made me think of this clip from Good Will Hunting. No one at a sports bar can tell me what it smells like in the Sistine Chapel Fenway Park.)