As an aspiring curmudgeon, I’ve drawn the conclusion that almost none of what people are paying attention to pop culturally I relate to anymore, especially the drumbeat of “baseball is dead”. With no rooting interest at all (I’m an Atlanta Braves fan), I’ve been enthralled with this year’s World Series between the mid-market, absent from the big-time for 29-years Kansas City Royals and the San Francisco Giants, a large market club vying for their 3rd championship in 5 years. According to television ratings, the media that are social and the college and professional football foaming at the mouth rabid dogs of the Deep South of which I reside, I’m in the minority in my passion for baseball.
I have a ridiculous need to be the most punk rock person in a room, real and virtual, so, the notion that not only are my lefty politics, music snob record collection, and now affinity for the game thought to be dead from greed and steroids over the past 20 years, I’m giddy with hipster pride.
I’m not a generally “happy” person, you know, by want or nature. Yet the some of the finest moments of my sarcastically tortured life surround the sport once played by men named Babe, Yogi, and Rube. Days fishing on Lake Chatuge in Towns County, Georgia near the North Carolina line with my late grandfather were punctuated by the wearing of Atlanta Braves caps, eating ham sandwiches and peanut butter crackers, and pumping my fists to homeruns hit by Dale Murphy and Bob Horner while Skip Carey, Pete Van Wieren and Ernie Johnson described their heroics over our transistor radio. This may explain why we didn’t catch a lot of brim, perch or crappe.
I’m not a big fan of sports talk radio. A few years ago it turned into an ugly vaudeville act performed by mostly men who were raised on too much Howard Stern and not a lot of Vin Scully. The way radio is specialized, the only way you can find sports news while you’re in the car is to dial up those stations. I wanted to find out about the upcoming game six between the Royals and Giants. The Giants are up 3 games to 2 after a masterful performance from a good ole boy pitcher from North Carolina named Madison Bumgarner who has wild hair but a precise left arm. Instead of hearing anything about baseball championship, I endured over a half hour of college and pro football talk. This is the section of the country in which I choose to live, enamored with a sport that has huge problems but dominates the pop culture conscience.
To make my frustration grander, I just finished 22 hours over about 8 days, of Ken Burns’ Baseball Documentary covering over 170 years and numerous topics including the last 20 turbulent years of baseball where it tried to kill itself with a labor strike and steroid cheating. I first saw the series twenty years ago, but hadn’t seen the last two-part episode “The Tenth Inning: covering baseball from 1994-2009″. All of it was excellent. Even if you only kind of care about baseball, or maybe your weird uncle was the baseball nut in your family, you’ll find something to love about the documentary because Ken Burns is an artist at storytelling and presentation. Ex-Boston Red Sox pitcher Bill Lee in a CCCP cap is a must watch, so is historian Doris Kearns Goodwin talking about breaking up with an uppity boyfriend who didn’t “get” her family’s love of baseball. Still, there’s few people to talk about this with because all anyone wants to chat up is football.
After dosing on baseball for the past 2 weeks, with the documentary and the World Series, I’ve decided that most of baseball problems are easily solved. Unlike football, which faces generations of players damaged by head trauma, players who get arrested at a higher rate than any other, and pay disparities that extend from pro players who deserve more to college players who deserve something, baseball problems are more surface related.
Everyone has a plan to fix baseball. The games need to be shortened, the marketing is terrible, and the lack of interest from the minority community are all troublesome. I just think baseball needs to show themselves to people, more. They’ve gotten most of the drugs out of the game. The “small ball” play of the Royals and Giants is very exciting to watch and looks like the game I grew up on in the 1970s and 1980s. The biggest thing going for baseball is their very old man for a commissioner just retired a much younger man took over.
The biggest thing is there are memories like those I have fishing on the lake with grandfather. You don’t get those with other sports. Baseball is just like life. It’s everyday, it always endures, and the sense of history is unique and feels right. Tomorrow, the green grass will begin its turn to brown and the World Series will conclude in a couple of days. I’ll miss it. That means something.
Here’s The Jayhawks, they’re Minnesota Twins’ fans.