Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

March 28, 2009

Bring on the sun: Much-anticipated baseball season has begun

By BRIAN WOODSON

It might be hard to believe if you glance outdoors, but spring has officially arrived.

Eventually the rain will stop (it has to, doesn’t it), the sun will come out (it’s still up there, isn’t it) and we can get on with the best sport of all.

I know I’m in the minority, especially in Four Seasons Country and probably in most other places where the only sport people seem to care about is football.

Just turn on the radio. I did on the way to work on Saturday. March Madness has reached the Elite Eight, Major League baseball starts in a week, the NBA and NHL seasons are winding down to their never-ending postseasons and the Tiger love-fest at the Masters is two weeks away.

Yet, who’s on the dial? Mel Kiper, and he’s talking about Larry English, a linebacker out of Northern Illinois, who is his sleeper in the NFL Draft, which won’t be held until the end of April.

Please, let football wait. Believe it or not, it is spring. That means it’s time for baseball season to begin.

There was a time when baseball was king. Sitting in the sunshine, relaxing at a ball game, what could be better? The crack (or ping) of the bat, the perfectly turned double play, a triple completed with a head-first slide, the bang-bang play at first or the diving catch in the outfield.

I love it all. I still do. The game itself is still great. What’s happening to the game is not.

Growing up as a huge baseball fan, there was no other sport as far as I was concerned. I wasn’t a good athlete — or athlete at all — but I loved to the play the game.

I’d love to still play, but I settle for watching it and covering it. There are simple little pleasures in life that we all enjoy. For me it’s a simple walk (with my cat), a chocolate ice cream cone, my girlfriend’s smile, and keeping score at a baseball game.

Whatever happened to my favorite game? Oh, how it has changed, and not for the better. There was a time when baseball was so important in this country that Theodore Roosevelt told baseball commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis that baseball should continue on during World War II.

Today, I’m not sure if the majority of Americans would care if it continued or not.

Baseball has simply lost its appeal in America. Maybe not in New York and Boston or Chicago or St. Louis or Philadelphia where they live for the game, but in many places, baseball is far behind football, basketball, NASCAR and even golf, thanks to Tiger Woods.

All the evidence you need is the World Baseball Classic. What is that, you are probably saying? It came to end early last week with Japan defeating Korea in extra innings to claim a second straight WBC title.

Would it have been any different if the USA Team had made it to the finals. Who knows, but the American team — comprised of major leaguers — did reach the semifinals. Yet ask most Americans and they not only didn’t seem to care, but most didn’t even know it was going on.

Kevin Youkilis, the first baseman for the Red Sox, even made the comment that it seemed strange to be the visiting team in their own country.

Too often, the venues in Miami and San Diego and Toronto were far short of capacity, and the fans that were there were supporting their own country, and it wasn’t the good old USA.

The Major League baseball season opens in a week. It might be the area that we live in which is largely apathetic about anything other than football, but does anyone out there even care?

Baseball began this backward slide in 1994, the same year that the World Series was canceled. The Fall Classic survived the 1919 Black Sox, the Great Depression, several wars, the dominance of the Yankees and earthquakes, but the final straw came when billionaires and millionaires couldn’t decide how to divide up millions more.

They ignored the fans and the game, and simply thought about filling their wallets. Since then, led by Bud Selig — who is no friend of baseball or the fans — we’ve seen numerous changes, from interleague play to wild card playoffs and realignment, but he chose to ignore the biggest problems.

There are too many to list, but it starts with steroids. No records in any sports are more cherished than those in baseball. Yet, many have been broken...by cheaters.

Who knows what is real any more? What is real is the lack of interest among younger fans. Who can blame them? On the game’s grandest stage, baseball has allowed TV to dictate late starting times that mean much of today’s youth never actually see a World Series game.

If the Super Bowl can be started during the day and end by 10, why can’t the World Series do the same at least with a few of its games?

I grew to love baseball for many reasons, partly because I had an opportunity to see the Big Red Machine win the 1975 World Series when I was 11, or watching Reggie Jackson hit three home runs in a game to beat the Dodgers only two years later.

Too often today, our youth never see a World Series game. They’re in bed since they’ve got school the next day. Right there, baseball has lost a fan.

Baseball has another “problem” that neither Selig nor anyone else can change. Baseball is slow. They’ve tried to limit the time pitchers take between pitches, they’ve tried to keep batters from stepping out of the box, and they’ve tried to cut down on trips to the mound.

What they haven’t done is cut down on the commercials.

Too often in our world today, everyone wants instant gratification. People simply don’t have patience. They don’t want to wait in line at a stop light or wait on hold for a few seconds, much less simply relax and watch a baseball game.

I love baseball, and part of the reason is it is slow. What is wrong with going to be a ball park and simply relaxing for a two or three hours and watching a baseball game? Baseball has no clock, and I’m glad it doesn’t.

Now I admit, I have a hard time sitting at home and watching an entire game all the way through on the tube. Baseball simply isn’t a TV sport.

Being there is so much better. It’s easy for me to talk since I have don’t have a family with kids that I’ve got to entertain. Kids are easily bored, they want their video games or Wii or Blackberry or cell phone or whatever the newest technology is out there.

We’re raising a generation of couch potatoes, and they’re going to do the same when they have families.

Thank goodness that didn’t happen to me. My family couldn’t afford a lot of trips to ball games, but the efforts they made — such as a 13-inning Reds-Dodgers game that got us to our ultimate destination in Indiana at the crack of dawn — placed a love in my heart for a game that has never died.

It only continues to grow. To me, baseball will always be the best sport.

Heck, I’ve been working on my fantasy draft since January. That’s another reason to love the game. It’s almost like having your own team, without having to pay the millions.

Baseball starts in a week. I’m sure Larry English will be a fine football player, and I’m like all the other Tide fans out there who can’t wait to watch Alabama beat Virginia Tech when the college football season starts in the fall.

But it’s now time for baseball. Now if only the weather would cooperate. Enough rain. Bring on sunshine and the greatest game ever invented.

Even if many of you out there are missing it.

Play ball!!!

Brian Woodson is sports editor of the Bluefield Daily Telegraph. Contact him at bwoodson @ bdtonline.com.