For The Love Of The… Game?
Baseball is a wonderful sport and I know that everyone who reads this blog agrees on that (well, maybe it’s questionable whether a few of you like anything, but I digress). This offseason has been long and unforgiving, and depending on your involvement in the happenings (or non-happenings) of the Theo and Jed regime, you have probably experienced a lot of angst as well.
The idea of feeling angst about baseball in the offseason is something that is relatively new to me. You see, before sabermetrics were the trend, before prospects were analyzed to death, and before the rooftops had seats on them, before Twitter was a thing, baseball was just… baseball. It was an escape from the real world – a place where a person could go to get wrapped up in chalk lines, the popping sounds of bats hitting balls, and the snap of the catcher’s mitt when it received 95 MPH fastball.
If a minor-leaguer made his debut people got excited, but poring over his stats in AA against lefties on Sundays versus his AAA stats against a 12-6 curve on Wednesdays was left to the scouts and player development people. Sure, some regular fans my have had a vested interest in prospects, but what mattered to most was the experience of the game. Baseball was heaven on a plot of grass or sand.
The pure, unadulterated love of baseball ran through the veins of fans. They heckled the players they disliked, they lauded the players they loved. People didn’t pick favorites based on WAR, wRC+, UZR, etc, etc. They picked their favorites based on players which helped the team win; because, you know, baseball was a team sport. It took all 9 guys working together to win a game.
But somewhere between then and now the pure love for baseball has been lost in the controversy of the Steroid Era, the recent surfacing of sabermetrics as the “end-all be-all” for a player, the enormous contracts and no-trade clauses, and the growing impatience of the Cubs’ fan base. Arguing with strangers on the internet about frivolous details strips joy out of the sport and makes enemies of people who would normally have been friends (Thanks, Twitter. You jerk!). Civil discussions about have turned into personal attacks.
When baseball season rolls around, everyone needs to attend a local Little League game, and I’m not talking Little League World Series craziness. I’m talking about local kids playing a game. Watch the passion on the boys’ (and sometimes girls’! You go, girls!) faces. Observe the effort they put into every play they make, how they encourage and cheer for each other, how they hustle on and off the field in anticipation of how they can contribute to their team in the next half-inning.
Those kids don’t get paid. They don’t know what WAR or UZR mean. They just play baseball.
That is what baseball should be – pure desire to play a game they love.
What’s so bad about loving baseball without all the extra stuff?