It was a summertime game where every town had a team and lineups rarely changed.
It was our game, in a day before air conditioning. We went to the park to cool off because that’s where the fans were.
In those days, Babe and Mickey and Yogi and Moose and Peewee defined our identity. They reflected our national culture and pride.
Llittle boys could fill a glass jar with dirt from the infield and grass from the outfield and a dozen or so lightning bugs to make a night light. It was a field of dreams in a jar.
Baseball was a link to our past. It was a comfort sport. The rules rarely, if ever, changed. Games were played in parks rather than stadiums.
It was a game of statistics. Too many of them perhaps, but that didn’t matter because they were the fuel for endless arguments over which team was best and who was greatest player. When October arrived the shadows lengthened across carpets of grass because the World Series was played in daylight.
In those days, afternoons at school were holidays during the Series because everything stopped so we could watch it on television.
It was the National League against the American League. There was great anticipation and speculation because the leagues never mingled until the Series came around. There was an element of mystery. Comparisons could only be made by referring to those mindboggling statistics.
Baseball is played on a human scale. Basketball is a game for skyscrapers. Football is for earth movers. But when steroids changed the game of baseball and its players, the fans and media rebelled.
When baseball was played in equi-dimensional cathedrals on artificial turf, it lost its character. We went back to those parks of yesteryear. Fenway with its Monster and Wrigley with its ivy are beloved enduring reminders that progress doesn’t always make things better.
Some say that baseball is too slow. Perhaps. But so is modern day football. The average play on the gridiron lasts about 7 seconds. Total playing time in a 60 minute game is roughly 15 minutes. Timeouts for television and lengthy replay reviews leave players standing around on the field for what seems like an eternity as they desperately try to maintain their momentum.
Was his foot in or out? Did he break the plane? Did his knee hit the ground first? On and on and on with replays from every direction.
Even golf has been affected by technology where viewers at home can call in to a tournament to report a rule infraction.
Stock car racing is so married to technology that it is not uncommon to change the rules in the middle of a season.
For the most part, baseball remained constant for more than a century. Then it all changed with something called the designated hitter. Now one league plays with one set of rules, and the other league plays with another.
Baseball is a far better game when the pitcher hits. It’s a chess match on a diamond. It is a game of strategy and decisions. It reflects our daily lives from the perspective of sport. So what if it is slow? It’s part of the fabric of the game and another source of debate.
But sadly, if baseball unifies to a single set of rules, the DH will survive and a part of American heritage will be lost because pitchers will no longer hit and much of the strategy will disappear.
Now technology will infringe once again. Replays and challenges are coming to baseball. We must get it right so they say. Over the course of 162 games will those reviews really make a difference in the outcome of a season? Do we really want to eliminate those delicious arguments with the umpires? Must we forfeit tradition and heritage for the sake of technology that will ultimately have little overall impact on an entire season?
American sports may seem the same on the surface, but they are evolving from within and not necessarily for the better. Our games are becoming the NSA of our leisure and it isn’t pretty.
Sports in general and baseball in particular represent hot dogs, fireworks and the Fourth of July. They are a metaphor for who we are as Americans. Bring back the October shadows rather than allowing the chill of November decide the champion of a warm weather sport.
Change is a good thing when it has a useful practical purpose. Change for the sake of change that alters tradition and redefines our national character and personality is not.
We can learn much from baseball about our past and the direction of our future.
Bob Taylor has been traveling the world for more than 30 years as a writer and award winning television producer focusing on international events, people and cultures around the globe.
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