The opening day of MLB is a reason to celebrate

My daughter sent me a poem this week called The Catch, by Simon Armitage, the UK’s award-winning poet. I haven’t studied poetry in years, so there may be a deeper meaning or symbolism here. But it seemed appropriate enough for the opening day:

Forget it
long, smoldering
in the afternoon. it is

this moment
when the ball jumps
off the edge

of the bat; up,
back, fall
seemingly

beyond it
still reaches
and chooses it

outside
on its contour
such as

apple
from a branch
the first of the season.

This season in Major League Baseball also looked beyond us. For 99 gloomy days, club owners and players quarreled and threatened to take it away. And yet here it is, again, our annual symbol of growth and renewal and a promise of the coming warm days. To quote another Englishman, Sir Paul McCartney: It rises like a flower.

Baseball has its drawbacks. It always has been and always will be. Extremes often happen these days: lots of outs, home runs, and changes in targeting. All of these aspects of the game, by themselves, can be appetizing. At best, however, baseball is a more balanced diet.

The alarmists came to the conclusion that this lack of action doomed the poor old game. But if you study the history of baseball, you will find that people always come up with reasons to criticize the sport. Each generation is considered faster than the last, so baseball, which keeps you waiting for action, is an easy target.

“For a game that should embody America and the American spirit, baseball is pretty slow,” Damon Runnon wrote in 1922. “It’s certainly one of the slowest sports.” The real game is fast enough. Preliminary matches leading to this game are dragging on. 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 in no hurry to avoid the sport: he portrayed it with such honors that he was among the first writers to be honored with honors in the Baseball Hall of Fame.

People just like to complain about baseball. It’s fun and I understand. I want the players to steal more bases. I wish the teams to develop pitchers to work deep in the games. I want baseball cards to be cheaper and World Series games to start earlier and promotional stickers to never be allowed on uniforms. (They’re coming next season.)

But baseball is thriving. In 1975, when Sports Illustrated published covers of The Baseball Boom, more than half of the major league teams (14 out of 24) had an average of less than 14,500 fans per game. In 2019, last season with full capacity crowds allowed all the time, only one of the 30 teams, the Miami Marlins, failed to cross that threshold.

Attendance has declined steadily over the past few seasons; in 2019 it dropped by about 2,000 fans per game compared to five seasons before. Still, baseball still attracts more than 68.5 million fans in 2019, surpassing the combined amounts for the NBA in the 2018-19 season (about 22 million) and the NFL, with full capacity, in 2021 (more than 18 million ).

Baseball has a lot more dates to sell, of course, but that’s the point. No matter what the sports say, the league is popular enough to support an average audience of over 28,000 (in 2019) in 81 regular season home games for each franchise. Many millions enjoy the daily communication that only baseball offers.

“I think for both the people at the club and the people who love the game – who watch it every day – baseball is with you every day,” said Rocco Baldeli, manager of the Minnesota Twins, this spring. “And it’s not just part of what you’re doing, it’s really who you are, in some ways. I like to show up at the stadium every day and I think people like to turn on the TV and play a baseball game to enjoy every day. ”

Baldeli spoke at the Twins Spring Training Complex in Fort Myers, Florida, where the minor league clubhouse features a giant image of Kirby Phuket climbing the World Series catch wall. In 1989, the Twins made Phuket the first major league player with an annual salary of $ 3 million. Now, their new short stop, Carlos Correa, is making $ 35.1 million a year, a record for a player on the spot.

Korea has a waiver clause in its three-year contract worth $ 105.3 million, so it may leave after this season. But the fact that he got his deal from the small Twins market speaks volumes about the health of the industry. The twins fought last season and spent money to recover. Other teams with record losses in 2021 – the Colorado Rockies, Detroit Tigers and Texas Rangers – have also pledged nine-figure contracts with free agents: Chris Bryant for Colorado, Javier Baez for Detroit, Corey Seager and Marcus.

Sailors eager to end the 21-year drought after the season lured 2021 American League Young Cy winner Robbie Ray to Seattle for five years and $ 115 million. Tampa Bay, Cleveland and Pittsburgh have signed franchise agreements with local players: Flight with Wonder Franco, Guardians with Jose Ramirez, Pirates with Ke’Brien Hayes. Even the Miami Marlins signed with the most useful player in the World Series Jorge Soler, far from his rivals in the Atlanta division.

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

There’s almost always an compelling reason to watch: a top-looking debut debut, a veteran from where it all began, an ace returning from injury – and that was right at Kaufman Stadium on Thursday, with Bobby Whit Jr. (rookie Kansas City infielder), Zack Grainke (former royal defender in blue) and Shane Bieber (winner of the Cy Young award for Cleveland in 2020).

There are changes this season: the designated striker in all matches; Lists of 28 people by May 1; in-game announcements for replay reviews by referees; third wild card playoff team in each league; and the introduction of PitchCom, a wearable communication device that allows hunters to send encrypted characters to pitchers and players.

Some innovations, such as larger bases, a change ban and an automated ball-hitting system (let’s just say robot judges, for fun) are not yet here. Some have dropped out, like seven-inning games during double-headers, and some continue, like the second-base automatic runner, to start extra innings.

Watching TV is also evolving as baseball climbs streaming platforms. Two games each Friday will be available only on Apple TV + (starting with the Mets ‘game against the national team and Astros’ game with the Angels this Friday). Another weekly game, starting May 8, will air 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 regular season TV shows, All-Star Game, Field of Dreams and the World Series.

These networks are not stupid. They are attracted to baseball because people are still interested in it. Baseball is easy to love, if you let it – as easy as catching an apple from a branch at the beginning of a new season.

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