It was October of 1986, the fall classic was in full swing, and there I was, a young and impressionable boy of only eight, who lived, breathed and dreamed baseball. I was lucky to have grown up in a middle class suburb of Hartford, Connecticut that was infested with like minded kids my age. This allowed for summers of sun up to sun down games of home-run derby at the local field. These were the days when our parents would tell us not to come home until it was dark and we did not look at this as punishment. No, no, this was reason to make sure our beds were made and rooms cleaned (or at least all the mess stowed tightly under the bed and out of sight of adult vision). When I finally succumbed to the day’s activities, there were no sugarplums dancing in my head; I was dreaming of taking the large sweeping practice swings like my favorite player, Daryl Strawberry, just before I took the pitcher yard, winning the adulation of my friends for the day. Unfortunately for me, I was the youngest kid in my group of friends and my physical stature did nothing to hide this fact either. In short, I hit for average, which was certainly not as sexy as taking it to the deepest depths of the park (200 ft.) and reveling in the sight of your buddy tearing his sweatpants on an exposed link as he hopped over the fence to recover your base clearing bomb and seeing the annoyance in his face as he navigated pricker bushes and Mr. bob’s imposing mutt that seemed never to rest his jaw.
Now, as we migrated from summer to the return of school and homework and other general distractions from our derbies and general merriment, we were left with only after school and weekend marathons to satisfy our insatiable appetite for the game that was the only thing we cared about. I remember this year as a profoundly impressionable year in my baseball life. It is the year that I distinctly remember thoroughly enjoying watching an entire game, opposed to having the attention of a gypsy moth like most children of this age and changing activities from what probably was one batter to the next.At this point, I sat on the floor of our living room and watched baseball from first to last pitch, bedtime permitting. I mention that, because I was allowed to stay up late and watch the World Series. It is a memory that is vividly etched into my memory and solidified my love for the game, for what I felt, would be forever.
It is now twenty-eight years later and it has been well over eight years since I have watched the entirety of a baseball game and I have not been able to get any of my three sons to sit down and do the same. In a time of corporate ballparks and false heroes, baseball has chartered a course to disrepair. It is not, in my modestly educated estimation, a result of length of game, which has increased by nearly thirty minutes. It is not commercials and it is not replay, the expansion or narrowing of it.
It is a systemic problem. It has latched onto a model that is outmoded It’s a sushi problem. It’s a what? When sushi became readily available at the ballpark, the fabric of the fan who wove the fabric of the game began to unravel. “..Buy me some peanuts and cali-forn-ia roll…” is probably being recorded in some snazzy L.A. studio pepped up with auto tune to keep in line with the times. The hot dog was simple, but so was baseball, and it was accessible to everyone and with that, solidified its place in the annals of Americana. Sushi is only one, and not the largest bone on the diagram. The largest is that the greatest contingent of people that identify themselves with Americana, or the America Greil Marcus has widely written about, is that of the middle and lower middle classes and downward.
Baseball has priced out the largest contingent of its fans and the slippery slope has begun. As a father of three sons, I have only taken them to a game when the tickets were gifted and the cost to get to the gate was tough to absorb itself. Save me the comparison to football and the associative costs. Football is more sustainable because it is more translatable to television. That argument is simply that easy.
The totality of the argument, though, is not, or maybe it is…
It is not a wheel reinvention tale of woe that will challenge the minds of today’s greatest thinkers and that may just be the point. The point may just be that we want our hot dog back. I do. I also want to hand over a five dollar bill for that hot dog and have the vendor return me some change. Above all else, though, what I really want is for my boys to develop the memories like I had from those summers of playing home-run derby from dawn till dusk. I remember those summers with the same affection that Richard Dreyfuss’ character reflected of his summer with friends in ‘Stand by Me’. “I never had any friends later on, like the ones I had when I was twelve”. Well, in my case, eight.