Sunday, August 2, 2015

Why I Still Love Baseball

I was born in Baltimore, and have followed the Orioles ever since I was about eight years old.  I moved to New York in January of 1979, and adopted the Mets as well (then as well as now, they looked like they could use all of the support they could get).  By the time I was a grown-up, free-agency had begun to radically transform the game I had fallen in love with.  What had once been working-class entertainment for the masses was, as a consequence of the astronomical contracts being handed out to players, slowly turning into an amusement largely for the expense-account crowd and other well-heeled types.  Tickets were more expensive.  Concessions were more expensive.  And even the notion of enjoying the game for free on TV was dying a slow death; today, that death is complete.

And it wasn't just the price tag for enjoying the game.  What was once almost exclusively a sport had begun its slow-motion devolution into stories of a different sort.  Players using drugs, either recreational or performance enhancing.  Players ending up on the police blotter for various misdemeanors and occasional felonies (spousal abuse and drinking while driving being frequent examples).  Owners gambling away their team's finances (here's looking at you, Mr. and Mr. Wilpon of the Mets).  Owners threatening to move from one city to another unless hundreds of millions of state and municipal dollars were given to them.  Players AND owners both being guilty of the worst sorts of bigotry, blotting the history of a game that has done so much to fight bigotry (here's looking at you, Mr. Robinson and Mr. Reese).

Who in their right mind would or could love a sport like that?  In this century in particular, all of these trends seem, if anything, to have accelerated.  After a while, it becomes easy to find recreation in less vexing ways, and limit one's exposure to the sport to books about the "good old days."  That can be a trap as well; not all of those days were good.  But at least, for the most part, the game was about the game.

And then, there comes a week like this past week.

A week in which the Mets "almost" made a trade that sent Wilmer Flores, a young shortstop, and Zach Wheeler, a young pitcher currently recovering from Tommy John surgery, to the Minnesota Twins for a former Mets prospect, Carlos Gomez, in an effort to jump-start the Mets' offense.  Ordinarily, players involved in a trade under discussion are pulled from the lineup and the dugout, to protect them against injury and media scrutiny. 

Not in the case of Flores and his crackerjack bosses, who sometimes have run their team with less care than they would give a box of Cracker Jacks.  They left him on the field in a game, while news about the trade was available to fans in the stands via their smart phones.  And to Flores as well, who burst into tears.  As well he should.  His employer should have protected him, and didn't.  Flores' experience in the majors with the Mets has been up-and-down, literally and figuratively, and this must have felt like this humiliation was the proverbial last straw.

But then, the trade fell apart, for reasons that are still not clear.  And Flores, to his immense credit, pulled himself together.  And merely did this.

And that's why I still love baseball.  Because all it takes is a moment like this to forget all of the garbage that has attached itself to the game, and make you realize that it's a game in which anything can still happen.  Even magic.  I've watched this video over and over again; somehow, it makes me feel like I'm watching baseball for the first time.

Which, if you're not watching it, for any reason, I agree with Whitey Herzog:  you're missing a great game.

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