Some thoughts on baseball and context

Baseball is losing its cultural relevancy. Yes, revenues are higher than ever, over 80 million fans went to ballparks this summer, people still watch the games. But baseball as a topic of conversation, as a national news story, as our national past time – most of that is gone. People don’t talk about baseball anymore. Or, at least, adults don’t. Most would rather talk about their fantasy football teams.

And, while this is disappointing, it’s not all that surprising. Football has kept up with the times – it is fast-paced, violent, exciting, and each game has more on the line. The games are events. There are only sixteen of them in the regular season. Twelve in college. You don’t need to know much about the players to enjoy a football game.

Baseball hasn’t changed much. If anything, it’s gotten slower. There are 162 games. The games matter less. The season moves along slowly, taking its time. There is always a game tomorrow. And, in the actual games, pitchers take their time in between pitches, hitters step out of the box, managers make pitching changes. Baseball is mind-achingly slow for most people.

And, I don’t disagree. Baseball is slow most of the time. And, well, most people need to see something happening – there needs to be a constant source of entertainment. No pauses. No delays. We’re conditioned for action – we need to be doing something all of the time*. If we’re not, what’s the point?

*In my freshman year philosophy class, we had an assignment where we had to sit alone for 20 minutes doing absolutely nothing. And then we had to write a paper about the experience. And you know what? It was really hard. Humans have an instinct to always be doing something. I think that’s why we’ve done pretty well for ourselves. It’s hard to go against that instinct.

But that’s one of the reasons I like baseball. The sport takes its time and allows for some thought – it’s a sport that revolves around anti-climax. It’s one of the reasons why the epic moments are so much more epic.

A lot of people who don’t like baseball will say something like, “It’s just a bunch of men hitting a ball with a stick.” But, yeah, you can reduce anything to that. You could say basketball is just “people putting balls in hoops.” You could say running is just “moving your feet in succession for thirty minutes.”  You could say that eating is just “sticking objects in your mouth.” Most things sound boring without context. Most things are.

Put it this way – if I had a choice of watching the Cardinals/Dodgers NLCS game last night, or a Yankees/Royals game in June, I would pick the Yankee game. Does this make me a terrible baseball fan? Maybe. But I don’t have any relationship with the Dodgers or Cardinals. I have no rooting interest. Sure, I will still watch the game, I’ll marvel at Adam Wainwright or Yasiel Puig or Carlos Beltran or Clayton Kershaw, I’ll wax poetic about Vin Scully, I’ll hope for an exciting finish. But I won’t enjoy it the way I enjoy a Yankee game.

So, yeah, I understand why people think baseball is boring. If you’re not a fan, all of that context is stripped away. What they see is so different than what I see – they’re viewing the game as a bare-bones, no-frills game. Guy throws ball, guy takes pitch, guy adjusts batting gloves for ten seconds, manager makes pitching change, commercial.

Baseball relies on context much more than other sports. I’m not sure why that is, but I think it goes back to the pace of the game. There is no clock. It requires much more of a time commitment. The season is the ultimate marathon – and it can be draining. Maybe people just don’t have time for that any more. I don’t know.


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