Volume 2, Number 4 -- April, 1997
A Little Baseball
By Dean Shutt
Let's get something straight right off the bat. I do not hate sports. As a matter of fact, I am rather fond of sports as a rule. However, I am not psychotic about sports either. I can tell you a thing or two about my favorite team. Beyond that I can't recite the outcomes of the last five championships in any professional league. Actually that isn't entirely true, I can tell you that the New York Rangers won the Stanley Cup in 1994. Of course that's only because they are the only team that I have ever followed that has won a world's championship. That fact alone ought to explain my less than fanatical devotion to professional sports.
I have a friend that can recite the champions of every major sport for the last five years. For all I know he could probably tell you their starting line-ups when they won them. I usually tell him to shut the hell up before he can get that far. I have another friend who has trouble remembering the name of his favorite team, him I usually just smack.
So when we decided to start a section that was dedicated sports here at the 'times and I decided to write a column for it, I wanted something different. We already have two very good sports columnists in Dave Lind and the Professor. I didn't feel the need to compete with that. No, what I want to do is write about things that the casual fan worries about. For instance, what in God's name were the Ravens thinking when they chose those uniforms? It looks as though they held a contest open only to color-blind preschoolers.
The bulk of our first section is going to be about baseball. This is after all the beginning of Spring, and Spring does mean baseball. In the coming months, we hope to have reports on the NHL playoffs, the upcoming Roller Hockey International (RHI) season, minor league baseball and our own in-house fans' organization, the Society to Preserve Minor league Baseball in Northern California (SPMBNC for short). We want to concentrate on the sports that you won't find covered elsewhere. As a fan of the RHI since it's inception a few years back, I know what a pain it is to attempt to keep up with your team in the local paper (even if they are the only team in your area that makes the playoffs on a regular basis). We hope that this section will become a clearinghouse for sports info. If you have news on your favorite team, please forward it to us at firstname.lastname@example.org, and we'll print it. If you are enough of a psychopath that you want to keep the weekly stats for the RHI or Arena Football or whatever, let us know and we will print that as well. In short, we want to provide you with the info that you want to see. That is after all, the reason we go to the trouble of putting this magazine out every month (that and the need to feed our outsized egos).
So without further ado, let's open up the 'times sports section and my inaugural sports column;
I am the fan that baseball wants back in the worst way. I am the fan that discovered during the strike that, not only could I live without baseball, there wasn't a measurable change when I did. Before the strike I had cheered for my own team, bought their paraphernalia, and went out to the park when they played the local boys. In short, I was an average baseball fan. After the strike I had lost interest in my favorite team and baseball in general stopped receiving my share of the proceeds. I wasn't an "angry fan"; I just didn't care anymore. I had found other ways to spend my time while the players and owners had their little pissing match.
With this in mind, I have a suggestion for Major League baseball in regards to winning fans back to the fold. It is this: Remember Spring Training. Remember that even though we want to cheer for a winner, we also want to cheer for people we like. You can't win the Series every year and as long as the Braves have their pitching staff intact you may not win it for a good long time. However, if you are competitive and you work hard, and above all, you treat the fans with actual respect, you will find that they will come out to watch you play.
Baseball is a game, guys. Play it like it is a game, and the fans will be brought along for the ride in spite of themselves. At their core, sports are about escaping from reality. The last thing I want to hear after putting in ten hours at work is a baseball player complaining about having to bat out of position. What I want is to turn on the TV or go out to the park and watch a bunch of grown men playing a child's game and enjoying the hell out of it. My most memorable moments in sports are not when my teams have won championships. For the record I like the Boston Red Sox, the Indianapolis Colts, the New York Rangers and the San Jose Rhinos, so, as you can see, I have had damn few championships to cheer about the last twenty-five or so years. No, my favorite moments are when the athletes and the fans forget about how much anyone is paid. It is when everyone in the park knows that this is the most fun they could be having at that point in time and they run with it.
Spring Training is the closest baseball gets that to anymore (aside from the minors) and it's a shame. It isn't really all that different. The players take a little longer signing autographs, they smile a little more, they can laugh a bit easier at their mistakes (providing they have already won a job). In short, the players are there to have fun and get in shape for the long season ahead. The fans flock there for much the same reason. If you really want to win back the fans, forget about the regular season, and extend Spring Training 'til October. The two teams that sign the most autographs and give out the most baseballs get to play in the World Series. If you really want to make us love you, play the series until your mom calls you in for dinner. I promise you will have at least one lifetime fan.