The opening day of MLB is a reason to celebrate

My daughter sent me a song this week called “Catch”, by Simon Armitage, a poet laureate of the United Kingdom. I haven’t studied poetry in years, so there could be deeper meaning or symbolism. But it seemed appropriate enough for the opening day:

Forget it
long, smoldering
in the afternoon. IT IS

this moment
when the ball takes off
from the edge

bat; upwards,
backwards, falls

past him
yet it arrives
and chooses

his loops

on the branch,
first of the season.

And this baseball season in the Major League was seemingly beyond us. For 99 gloomy days the club owners and players quarreled and held on and threatened to take it away. Yet here it is, again, our annual symbol of growth and renewal and the promise of warm days ahead. To quote another Englishman, Sir Paul McCartney: It rises, like a flower.

Baseball has flaws. It always has been and always will be. These days, it’s often about extremes: lots of strikeouts, home runs, and throwing changes. All of these aspects of the game, by themselves, can be appealing. Still, at best, a baseball game is a more balanced meal.

Alarmists concluded that this lack of action condemned the poor old game. But if you study the history of baseball, you will find that people always invoke reasons to criticize sports. Each generation considers itself faster than the previous one, so baseball, because of which you are waiting for action, is an easy target.

“For a game that should portray America and the American spirit, baseball is pretty slow,” Damon Runyon wrote in 1922. “It’s certainly one of the slowest sports.” The real game is fast enough. Preliminary matches leading up to that game are being withdrawn. It takes an average of two hours to play a baseball game. ”

A century later, it takes a little over three hours. In any case, Runyon was not in such a hurry to avoid the sport: he covered it with such a margin that he was among the first writers to be awarded at the Baseball Hall of Fame.

People just like to complain about baseball. It’s a separate party and I understand. I wish the players stole more bases. I wish the teams had developed pitchers to work deep in the games. I wish baseball tickets were cheaper and World Series matches started earlier and commercial patches would never be allowed on uniforms. (They’re coming next season.)

But baseball is making progress. In 1975, when Sports Illustrated published the cover story of “The Baseball Boom,” more than half of the major league teams (14 of 24) had an average of less than 14,500 fans per game. In 2019, last season with full audience capacity, only one of the 30 teams, the Miami Marlins, failed to cross that threshold.

Attendance has been steadily declining over the past few seasons; in 2019 it dropped by about 2,000 fans per game compared to five seasons before. However, baseball continued to attract more than 68.5 million fans in 2019, which is lower than the total number for the NBA in the 2018-19 season (about 22 million) and the NFL, with full capacity, in 2021 (more than 18 million).

Of course, baseball has many more terms to sell, but that’s the point. Whatever spoilsports says, the league is popular enough to withstand an average audience of more than 28,000 (2019) in 81 home games of the regular season for each franchise. Many millions enjoy everyday socializing offered only by baseball.

“I think baseball is with you every day for both the people at the clubhouse and the people who love the game – who follow it on a daily basis,” said Rocco Baldelli, manager of the Minnesota Twins, this spring. “And it’s not just part of what you’re doing, it’s really what you are, in a way. I like to show up at the stadium every day, and I think people like to turn on the television and play a baseball game that they enjoy every day. ”

Baldeli spoke at the Twins Spring Training Complex in Fort Myers, Florida, where the lower league clubhouse features a huge picture of the Kirby Package climbing a wall in search of a World Series catch. In 1989, the Twins made Puckett the first Premier League player with an annual salary of $ 3 million. Now, their new shortstop, Carlos Correa, earns $ 35.1 million a year, a record for an infielder.

Correa has an opt-out clause in his three-year contract of $ 105.3 million, so he could leave after this season. But the fact that he got the contract from Twins in a small market speaks volumes about the health of the industry. The twins struggled last season and spent money to get better. Other teams that had record losses in 2021 – the Colorado Rockies, Detroit Tigers and Texas Rangers – have also committed to a nine-figure contract with free agents: Kris Bryant for Colorado, Javier Báez for Detroit, Corey Seager and Marcus Semien for Texas.

The Mariners, eager to weather a 21-year post-season drought, lured Cy Young’s 2021 American League winner Robbie Ray to Seattle for five years and $ 115 million. Tampa Bay, Cleveland and Pittsburgh have signed franchise record deals with domestic players: the Rays with Wander Frank, the Guardians with José Ramírez, the Pirates with Ke’Bryan Hayes. Even the Miami Marlins have signed a contract with the most valuable player of the World Series, Jorge Soler, far from the rival in the division in Atlanta.

That is how the market should work. Some teams, such as the Cincinnati Reds and Oakland Athletics, have made several cost-cutting replacements. The Baltimore Orioles and Arizona Diamondbacks have done little to improve their list with 110 defeats. But almost any team can reasonably expect to compete – right now.

There’s almost always a compelling reason to watch: a top potential player who makes his debut, a veteran who’s back to where it all began, and an ace who returns after injury – and that was right at Kauffman Stadium on Thursday, with Bobby Witt Jr. (Kansas City Beginner Infielder), Zack Greinke (former Royal Back in Blue) and Shane Bieber (Cy Young Award winner for Cleveland 2020).

There are changes this season: named hitter in all games; List of 28 players by May 1; announcements of revisions of in-game replays by referees; the third wild-card playoff team in each league; and the introduction of PitchCom, a portable communication device that allows catchers to send encrypted signals to the pitcher and field players.

Some innovations, such as larger bases, a ban on shifts and an automated system of hitting the ball (say only robotic judges, for fun) are not yet there. Some are discarded, like seven-innings games during doubles, and some still remain, such as the runner-up at second base to start additional changes.

Watching television is also evolving, as baseball climbs to streaming platforms. Two games each Friday will only be available on Apple TV + (starting with the Mets ’game against the Nationals and the Astros’ match with the Angels this Friday). Another Sunday game, starting May 8, will be shown exclusively on Peacock, NBC’s streaming service, on Sunday mornings, sometimes as early as 11:30 a.m. Eastern Time.

TBS will broadcast the game every Tuesday night, ESPN every Sunday night. Fox will broadcast its usual buffet, including television shows in the regular season, All-Star Game, Field of Dreams Game and World Series.

Those networks are not stupid. They are attracted to baseball because people still care about it. It’s easy to love baseball, if you let it – it’s as easy as catching an apple from a branch at the beginning of a new season.

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