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Saving Baseball.


Axel Kohagen

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Twins Video

Everybody's trying to save baseball from something. Things aren't the way they oughta be. Or they're not the way they were. Baseball purists tilt a windmills and sling arrows at one another with one goal in mind - keep The Game intact for the future. The generational hand-off has to occur, or The Game gets lost.

What's really at stake? What are we fighting for? Real life has enough to engage us. There are plenty of other sports. What makes baseball so noble? Just recently, many denigrated the sport as "just a game" when the owners and players fought for their own visions for the future of the sport. The players get to play a kid's game for a living. The diamond is not real life. So many complaints, and yet many of those incensed will come back to the game with their money in hand.

Baseball, after the first pitch is thrown, runs on its own hourglass. I'm not the first person to notice baseball games take as long as they take. A new pitch clock won't change that. The game lasts until the final out is recorded. And I'd be resorting to a cliche if I mentioned baseball is a marathon, not a sprint. 

The world, however, has moved so very far away from that baseball ethos. Look at where we are. Seriously. We're literally suffering through two of the four horsemen of the Apocalypse. Where are you getting your doom from? It's always in your pocket, waiting on your cell phone. You can take a quick break at work and use that office computer to keep tabs on the spreading darkness. Make sure you only check in with the news agencies that share your point of view. We're always behind and we're sprinting every day.

When a baseball game is being played, your brain has a chance to work through all the angles. Like a chess game, to borrow another cliche. The organist plays along as you ponder coaching decisions under the sky and the stars. The world is shrunk down to one problem, Home versus Away.  Baseball rewards you for paying attention and using your brain. If you miss the plot, you miss a lot. 

When we save baseball, we save ourselves. At least, we save the part of ourselves that has time to sit with a problem and take the time to work on it. When the game is done, we're back to real life. Everything moves fast and if you can't win the first time, don't try. We lack patience.

Fixing baseball is dangerous. If it loses patience and thoughtfulness, it loses its identity. And we can't afford to lose more parts of society that reward patience and thoughtfulness. Take a child to a baseball game the way it is now and, true, they might be bored. But boredom doesn't kill kids. Give that kid some of your time and explain the game. Watch the joy on their face when they start to see the inner cogs of the mental game. Congratulations! You just shared a valuable life skill. You just taught a kid about relationships and strategies.

Because The Game is STILL The Game. It's been The Game since before the Civil War, and it's more important now than ever because the world is broken. Life is fragile - it's even more fragile when the threat of war and more war looms over the world. Baseball isn't the only solution, but I firmly believe it is one solution. The kids will come to baseball and they will learn to be patient and thoughtful and they'll transfer those skills into navigating a treacherous, hostile world. If the kids never learn those skills in this fast-paced, chaotic world, it's not baseball that will be lost.  It's us.

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Part of me is with you. I'm 63, started playing around 5, and still play some vintage base ball (1860 rules; two words; no gloves). Love the game!

But a larger part of me disagrees. Baseball may not have a clock, but it does have finite structures (three outs per side; nine innings), and the modern game is a bloated mess that adds an hour-plus to the same action (or less with the three outcomes approach) that used to take 2-2.5 hours. No extra thought, just an extra hour of watching batters adjust gloves, and watching pitchers/catchers go through five forms of cryptology to call a fastball. Mike Hargrove used to be the 'human rain delay', now MLB is a league of Hargroves.

Fixing the game isn't dangerous or new; the 1860 rules I play don't have called balls or strikes, or even require the umpire to rule players out unless asked. All of those changes, and more like wearing gloves, allowing professionals, pitching overhand, changing pitching positions, then mounds and their height, etc were all added to make the game more exciting and watchable.

And I'm not alone in thinking there are deep problems. One of the reasons I like Twins Daily is I can actually get baseball coverage in a media space where major outlets are turning away from the game. (Seriously; baseball ended its strike, and the Twins made wild moves this weekend, and most of the radio/newpaper talk is about Kirk Cousins, minor FA adds to the Purple, and a team that doesn't play for 5 months.)

So bring on a pitching clock, put that dude on 2b in extra innings, and let's get the game moving again. (But don't ban shifts; bat/bunt them into oblivion. Part of my problem with the modern game is that it is also stupid, but that is another rant...)

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