Tuesday, August 5, 2008

The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball

Several bloggers I read regularly have recently discussed the state of major league baseball. From the sound of things, it's not good: America's erstwhile national pastime, a title now occupied by football, has lost ground to that and other faster-paced sports, and has attempted to keep up by inundating the fans with a cacophony of overstimulation to the senses. Strobe effects on a giant screen dominating the stadium, rock music constantly blaring, certainly don't sound appealing especially when one was hoping to experience the slower, more contemplative game that so captivated pre-ADD-era America. The athletic and gentlemanly nature of the players is said to be gone as well, with many players overweight, scruffy, and unkempt. I had had intimations along these lines for years, but they were all second-hand, as I don't follow sports. That changed last Monday night, when I attended a major league baseball game probably for the first time since high school. I was at Progressive Field in Cleveland where the Indians played against the Detroit Tigers.

Based on what I had read, I braced myself for the worst, but I really thought it wasn't that bad. Yes, the giant screen was new, but it didn't seem obtrusive; in fact, being able to view the current batter's stats, both teams' batting orders, who was pitching, and other tidbits of information made it easier to follow the game. The clips of rock music were mildly annoying, and yes, probably out of place if you are used to the low-tech, old-fashioned game from a simpler era, but they were played only between innings, not when each new batter stepped to the plate, and they were pretty short. None of the players looked particularly grotesque to me, though I am too young to remember the era of Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle or even Hank Aaron.

There were some enjoyable moments which I felt probably hadn't changed that much since the pre-modern age of baseball: the cheering for a home run, for a base hit, for a particularly deft play, for the starting pitcher when he was replaced; the booing when the crowd disagreed with an umpire's call; the crowd getting on its feet for the final inning. As Rick Darby commented, seeing a pop-up fly ball caught in real life is a different experience from seeing it on TV, but so are more mundane events, like merely seeing the players take the field. Being there imparts a different feel to the entire game. The only problem is that crowd participation is somewhat manufactured; at various times the screen displayed exhortations for the crowd to cheer, like an "applause" sign in a TV studio, so you could never quite tell how much cheering would have gone on naturally.

My biggest complaint is unrelated to the game itself: the ridiculous names all the stadiums have now that they are corporate-sponsored. "Progressive Field?" At least it's not the main indoor venue in Cleveland, the Quicken Loans Arena. When I was growing up in Philadelphia, the local sports scene was dominated by Veterans Stadium, the home of both the Phillies and the Eagles. Those teams now play at Citizens Bank Park and Lincoln Financial Field, respectively. One wonders exactly what the change was in our economy that prevented cities from being able to finance their own stadiums and forced them instead to turn to these corporate sponsors who insist on slathering their name all over everything.

I have never been a big sports fan, but after seeing a live game I have to say that I thought the game is still alive and well. Though it has been displaced by football in national prominence, it is still there, running as a current under the surface of American society. Just as I hope traditional America will re-awaken, cast off liberalism and multiculturalism, and return to a distinctly Western European identity, just as that identity still exists under the surface if not in the daily lives of many Americans then at least in their memories, waiting to move into the seat that will be vacated when people abandon the current ruling ideology, so baseball still exists, perhaps waiting to take the reins back from football and basketball when a restored traditional America decides it prefers a more relaxed, contemplative game.

[The title of this entry is a line spoken by James Earl Jones' character in the movie Field of Dreams.]

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