I have many obsessions. But I have only one addiction, baseball. Well, two if you count coffee. Baseball is certainly an obsession of mine, but like anything you are fascinated with you can put it away for a while. I call baseball an addiction because I cannot put it away for the winter. The first embers of the hot stove are heating up. My twitter feed is filled with teams, networks, writers, leagues, anything that will feed my need. I surf websites regularly to keep up on the trade rumors, free agent news, history of the game, or any other nugget of information that will satisfy me. I am a Seamhead.
Baseball people have a unique way of looking at their sport. You have camps. In other sports, the measuring sticks are the same throughout most of their history. Yes, stats evolve, but the arguments remain the same. Baseball has old school traditionalists and new age Sabermatricians. I find myself somewhere in the middle. I understand and find value in the cold hard numbers, but I believe there is more to the sport than just stats. I see value in the intangibles a player brings to a team. But intangibles do not win championships. I favor a healthy blend of both worlds. This approach comes in handy when watching the sport at other levels.
As a devotee of the sport, I love more than just Major League Baseball, and I am endlessly enthralled by every level of the game. I pay close attention to both the Little League and College World Series. I am very happy now that the MLB Network carries the Caribbean Series and I am looking forward to the return of the World Baseball Classic this Spring. I constantly read about the history of the game reaching as far back as the true early days in the late nineteenth century. I feel great joy in seeing where the game is going. Australia and Europe are experiencing a surge in the popularity of baseball. New players are introduced to the game at the youth level. The game is as strong as ever in Latin America and East Asia. I would love to see games on MLB from here also.
As for me, I spent my youth playing America’s pastime. When I went as far as my talent would allow, I coached Little League in the Senior division for six years. Then I moved into umpiring. I called thousands of games. I started at the Little League level and worked my way up through high school and then into college. I became pretty good. I was asked to work in a summer wooden bat league for talented college players. I also tried my hand at administration for several years. I was the umpire consultant for my local league and was on the district board as the administrator for the Big-League level (16-18-year-old players).
All of this background was to establish a foundation for the point of my essay. I, like most other fans have hopes and wishes for the game we love. I want to share a few of mine with you. You may not agree with my suggestions. That is perfectly okay with me. This is just how I feel.
- Start games earlier. This is a popular battle cry. I happen to agree, especially when it comes to the post season. Isn’t it better for the west coast to miss the beginning of a game than the east coast to miss the end? The arguments are plentiful on this one, so I will leave it at that.
- Let the All-Star Game be what it is supposed to be. The All-Star Game was meant to be an exhibition to showcase the best players in the league. Because we had one tie, we lost our collective minds. I still believe, as I did when it happened, Commissioner Selig made the right call. But let’s get our heads back on straight. We stopped that game to prevent player injuries that could impact the remainder of the season. So, in reaction, we said “This time it counts”. Now we have ruined the Mid-Summer Classic to affect change to the Fall Classic. Stop already. Leave the All-Star game as a fun, fan friendly exhibition and find a better way to determine home field advantage. I have heard many good suggestions. Among them; simply use the best record, best inter-league record (either for the individual team or the league as a whole), or just go back to alternating.
- Figure out the designated hitter. I must admit I struggle a bit with this one, but we need to figure it out so fans will not have to endure hours of announcers, commentators and reporters droning on about the differences between the leagues. Personally, I love pitchers that hit. I love the strategy involved and managers having to think innings ahead. Teams also get a big boost with a pitcher who can handle a bat. I feel if you only want to see balls mashed over the fence, go watch beer league softball. Even in the American League, small ball still works. Thank you, Tito! I know the DH will never go away, but let’s find common ground so we can talk about more interesting things.
- It is time for MLB to move into new territory. I fully realize this is years, maybe even decades away, but I would love to see teams in Puerto Rico, Cuba, Mexico and eventually Japan. Yes, I know there are economic and political barriers to overcome. Why can’t baseball help pave the way? Looking past those barriers, I do have a concern that this could, in turn, hurt the existing leagues that have been thriving in those countries for the better part of a century. I think it is worth exploring.
- Hall of Fame, figure it out already. I think the Hall has made progress in the election of new members. However, we still face the inevitable steroid discussion every winter and at the ceremony when Hall talk is in the news. My personal feeling is, it happened, move on. Put Bonds, Clemens, Palmeiro and anyone else deemed worthy in the hall. Let’s face it, with the number of reprobates currently in the Hall, are we truly hurting the aura of membership? Bob Costas suggested putting a sign at the entrance stating essentially that the era happened and you can make up your own mind. I agree.
- It is time to help the Umpires out. As I mentioned above, I was an umpire. I understand how good they are. I was also privileged to have been mentored by a former Major League Umpire, so I have insight. Knowing how difficult it is to call a 90-something mile per hour pitch on the corner of the plate, I can tell you they do an amazing job. If you have not seen a baseball moving in the mid-80s break about two feet, you should try it. I could not have more respect for what these men do. That said, they face constant scrutiny over every pitch. I have seen a number of systems and I think they could be close to helping on balls and strikes without slowing down the game. I know the men in blue don’t want to give up the control, but we have proven that replay works and your reputations are only helped, not hurt. Let’s give it a try. Side note to the fans at every level, give them a break. Most umpires do it for the love of the game, not to sway an outcome. Mistakes happen.
- College Baseball deserves more respect. College baseball is gaining popularity and MLB teams are now looking at top players differently than they had several decades ago. We should too. I am glued to ESPN every June to watch the sport’s pinnacle in Omaha. There are future Major Leaguers on almost every team. The games are beautiful to watch. For a baseball fan, this is every bit as great as March Madness. If all you know of the college game is the piercing “ping” of the bats, times have changed. While the bats are still aluminum, new technology has reduced the flight of the ball and dampened the sound considerably. Gone are the slugfests. The game now closely resembles the pros. If you have not watched a college game, I encourage you to try one. I am sure you will love it.
- The Majors should take a page from the minors. Have you been to a minor league baseball game any time, ever? It is one big party. In between watching the game’s rising stars, most all minor league games feature mid inning games, entertainment and just plain silliness. Let’s keep in mind, it is still a game. Now, a few major league teams get it to a lesser extent, but why can’t we have more fan participation at the highest level of the game? No sport anywhere appreciates their fans more than baseball. I believe that. We have interactive fun throughout the minors. Games in Latin America feature constant music, live music, during the games. Japanese games are more fan inclusive. But when we get to the highest level of the sport we want fans to watch and be entertained. Forget that, let’s have fun! (Just not the wave. I hate the wave.)
- Patience is a virtue, ask a Cubs fan. Indians fans, just wait, it will come. I can say this as a lifelong fan of a team that waited 97 years (76 if you only count the modern game) for their first championship and another 28 for the second. I am watching the rebuilding process now in hopes of number three. Keep in mind you do have a pennant to look at in the outfield. There are eight teams led by the Rangers who have not won their first series. Washington as a city is now on their third team with no championship since 1924. While no team should have to wait 108 years, with 30 teams, a drought is inevitable.
- To casual fans and Seamheads alike, I say expand your horizons. I am not going to go into great detail here. I will instead give you something to explore if you wish. Here is a list of teams who have won championships this year. If you want to grow your love of the game, google some of these teams to discover where they are from and what they are about.
- Chicago Cubs
- Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters
- Venados de Mazatlan
- Brisbane Bandits
- Doosan Bears
- Coastal Carolina University
- McGill University
- Pericos de Puebla
- Ciego de Avila
- Leones de Escogido
- Tigres de Aragua
- EDA Rhinos
I would love to hear from all baseball fans no matter your level of interest. I would like to know what you love about our game.