Play Ball

It’s Opening Day. The first day of the rest of our 162-game season.

I love baseball. I probably watch or listen to 75% of the Brewers’ games, most from the opening pitch to the final out. My favorite way to enjoy the games is on my screened porch on Duck Lake while working on a jigsaw puzzle. If that creates the image of a doddering old guy, well, yeah, okay, so what’s your point?

There are big changes in the game this year and, as a doddering old guy who likes baseball and jigsaw puzzles, I am officially opposed to all of them, not because they’re necessarily bad, but because I’m just reflexively opposed to all change. You don’t want to hear the bitter vitriol that spews out of me when some website makes me change my password.

Well, sports fans, let’s run through the changes and I’ll offer my objections.

What is time? Pitchers will now have to release the ball within 15 seconds, though they’ll get another five seconds with a runner on base. There are more details, but that’s basically it. I object because the beautiful thing about baseball is that, unlike the three other major American sports of football, basketball and hockey, baseball since time immemorial has had no clock. (Soccer has a clock too, though that’s not a major American sport and it never will be, and anyway it only nominally has a clock since at some point a referee just decides to pick up the ball and end the game because he just feels like it.) Baseball proceeds at its own pace which — don’t let the critics get away with this — is, in fact, faster than the rusting process on an old Chevy pickup. Ok, I concede that the game is somewhat slower than the paint drying process, but that really depends on what kind of paint we’re talking about. I think the games come in a little faster than latex, but a bit slower than oil-based. Then there’s the economic development argument. Won’t less fan boredom result in fewer trips to the concession stands? This all sounds well and good until you consider the people who sell hotdogs in order to be able to afford hotdogs, though not at ballparks.

Shiftless. For the first 1000 years of baseball you had two infielders to the left of second base and two to the right of second base. Then some MIT number cruncher linked together dozens of the world’s most powerful computers, analyzed reams of data, and concluded that if you moved an infielder to a spot where a hitter often hit the ball, that infielder would be there to catch the ball and throw it to first base, resulting in an out. For laymen this meant that hitting ’em where they ain’t became more difficult because they took away some of the ain’t. Now, MLB has banned the shift. My objection is that this is socialism. It’s socialism because the answer to the shift was the free market. When prices go up consumers stop buying and so prices come back down. Same sort of thing here. Hitters (mostly lefties) should have simply learned to hit against the shift because when you reduce the ain’t on one side of the diamond you open up a whole lot of ain’t on the other side. You’re going to make it more costly for me to hit to the right side of the infield? Fine. I’ll just take my business to the left side. People who watch the games, like me, find this easy to say while people who play the game point out that it is hard to do. Something about pitchers throwing 100 mile-per-hour fastballs grazing a batter’s chin. Whatever.

The Big Bag Theory. The bags have been increased in size from 15 square inches to 18. This means that the distance between bases has been reduced by 4.5 inches. May not seem like a lot, but it will result in more close plays at first going to the runner and more stolen bases. But why stop there? Why not increase the size of the ball and reduce the size of the ballparks? Why not allow outfielders to cradle a beer? In fact, why not have a keg behind home plate? Maybe we could even get taverns to sponsor teams and they could have the players wear T-shirts that said stuff like, Finished With That One? Get a “Relief Pitcher” at O’Leary’s Bar.

The old bag sits atop the new bag.

Disengaging. For my money there is no more exciting sequence in all of sports than watching a pitcher throw over to first base about 20 times because he wants to hold the runner on or because he just doesn’t feel like facing the guy at the plate who is batting .600 against him. This is made all the more captivating when it’s 90 degrees and humid in the ballpark, there hasn’t been a run scored since yesterday and watching the 300-pound bald guy wearing a tank top in front of you eat nachos is no longer as interesting as it had been earlier in the inning. And now MLB wants to take this away from us. The new rule is that a pitcher can “disengage” only twice while facing a batter. Stepping off the mound and throwing to first count as “disengagements.” I object because, not only does it rob fans of much of the disengagement experience, but it takes away freedom of choice for the pitcher. If a pitcher wants to step off the mound for awhile, catch his breath, talk into his glove and look up to the sky to ask Jesus for strength to carry on, well, who is Rob Manfred to deny him that right? What’s next? Prohibiting players from carrying concealed weapons outside of the dugout? It’s a slippery slope people. Do you care about your Second Amendment rights or not?

Based on experience during spring training it appears that these rules could shorten your average game by 20 minutes or so. I object to that too. It means less time to work on my jigsaw puzzles.

Anyway, I predict the Brewers will finish the season about, oh say, 86-76 in second place behind the Cardinals but up around $290 million from the taxpayers.

Play ball!

If you vote in Madison please consider Badri Lankella for school board. He would be a voice of reason to counter the current board majority.


Published by dave cieslewicz

Madison/Upper Peninsula based writer. Mayor of Madison, WI from 2003 to 2011.

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