By Matt Gordon
Baseball is boring. Ask my kids. Or better yet, let them ask you. Anything about baseball. This week I swooped my boys up for a surprise St. Louis Cardinals day game. After five-innings in the stadium playground, I dragged them back to our seats. They watched about 13 seconds of the game before asking to leave. This conversation got put in play:
“Can we go home, Dada?”
“Fine. We’ll leave after this inning.”
“What is an inning?”
“Well, it is after both teams get three outs apiece. We’ll actually just stay for this half-inning.”
“What’s a half-ending?”
“Inning. It is just three outs. We already have two, so just one more out.”
“What is an out?”
“It is when a guy swings and misses or hits the ball in the air to our fielder or hits it on the ground and doesn’t get to that base over there before the ball does or when the runner gets tagged by a person with the ball . . .”
“Do you understand?”
“Yes. Can we go home now, Dada?”
“After this hitter. He’s already got two strikes. We just need one more.”
“What’s a strike?”
“It is a pitch in the zone.”
“What’s a zone?”
“It is the area deemed by the rules to be an arbitrary range of hittability.”
“We’ll leave when this guy gets one more strike or hits the ball.”
Of course, the guy then proceeded to hit the ball foul about 14 times, which led to another haphazard explanation of why we weren’t leaving when he hit the ball when I said we’d leave when he hit the ball.
Eventually we left.
I thought about how much easier it is to explain many other sports.
The teams are trying to get the ball into the area that is painted differently. If they do, everyone will dance.
They are trying to kick that ball in that big rectangle.
They are using their sticks to harm one another en route to getting that little black thing in that red box.
The horse that runs the fastest wins.
The bean bag goes in the hole.
The bull wants that person off his back. The person wants to keep riding.
I could go on. I could likely explain chess far easier than I could the rules around the designated hitter, an infield fly rule, or the double-switch.
Which now brings us to the point where I am supposed to attempt to fix baseball by having shorter games, more clocks in play, trampolines in the outfield, more home runs, increased technology, and other innovations. Anything that will make it less of an outdated slog.
But the longer I live, the more I realize that I like a good outdated slog.
My family used to go floating. I remember when my wife, who is from a city, joined us for the first time on one of these annual trips. She had heard lore about float trips, but the whole idea seemed exotic to her, some strange fiction. We drove a couple hours and then paid to get our tubes. Then we took a “bus” downriver on “roads.” It was more like a hillbilly time-machine traversing dirty paths to some janky parallel universe. We unloaded, grabbed our tubes, and got in the river.
“Okay, now what?” my wife asked.
“Um, this. Just this.”
That would be the point where we added engines to the tube or found ways to speed up the current. Or we could shut up and float. We could meander. We could take the current as it came, and let it take us slowly, gently where it would.
Baseball is like this. It is painstakingly slow. Meander would be a generous word to ascribe to it. But maybe that is a good thing?
I don’t watch every pitch—I don’t have to. I can spend a handful of innings at the playground with my kids, return to my seat, and a glance at a box score will tell me all I need to know. At the game, I found myself focused more on my sons, the action we had come to see becoming beauteous background noise—the crack-of-the bat alerting us to break from our stupor of togetherness and direct our attention field-ward. And then a play is made—or not—the ball is returned to the pitcher and tedium transpires once more. We float on toward an eventual outcome and a return to zipping cars, buzzing phones, touchdown dances, apps, and all the rest.
In a world of frenetic activity, we spent three hours as spectators of mostly inactivity. We were hot and tired and bored together. We clapped a few times and talked and spilled water and took walks. We got lost in thoughts because what else was there to do? We left life for a moment for nothing worth remembering and a memory we’d never forget.
Things will come and things will go, but baseball will be there plodding along as it has since the time of the first telephone and before planes hummed through the sky. In those times, a skyward glance might find only empty sky, pierced, perhaps, by a meaningless foul ball. The game meanders on—outdated and boring. Hopefully, no one ever comes along to fix it.