Forgive me a moment while I turn into my grandfather.
In the old days, I loved baseball. My heart pounded the first time I saw a major league game. I diligently took pencil to scorecard and filled in every play, every ground out and fly ball. In those days, I knew all the players on my team — and it wasn’t hard, since they were pretty much the same players from last year.
At night, I went to bed with radio baseball. I almost always heard the final inning, and my bedtime was pretty early. When my team won, I fell asleep happy and dreamed of being on the mound for that final out, blowing the last pitch past that batter, getting slapped on the back by teammates.
This is how children fall in love with the game. Baseball is a slow oozing addiction, a needle into the arm, but once injected, you are hooked forever.
And it isn’t happening anymore.
The World Series ended last week. It was a monumental event because, for the first time in more than 40 years, two New York teams squared off. One was the Yankees, the Rockefellers of baseball, with more stars than the next four cities combined. The other was the Mets, upstarts with a penchant for late-inning heroics.
All the makings of a Fall Classic …
Except “Fall” now means “Fall Asleep.”
What about the kids?
Who can sit through baseball anymore? Not a child. No way. Every World Series game starts at night, close to 8:30, when 6-year-olds — who are old enough to begin a love affair with the game — are instead pulling on pajamas and saying nighty-night.
And that’s the first pitch. You want to know the final out times during the five games of this Subway Series? Here you go: 1:04, 11:35, 12:16, 11:51, midnight.
Forget the kids. I don’t know many adults who can handle that.
If you don’t see it, you don’t remember it. That’s pretty simple, right? But baseball, in its greed for prime-time TV ad revenue, continues to act as if the world will follow it into deep REM cycle. This is haughty. This is foolish. And it ultimately will cripple the game. The kids who are too sleepy to watch today won’t bother to watch when they’re grown up. Why should they? Who would sit through the slowest- moving game in major sports unless there’s a sentimental attachment?
Let me give you a close-to-home example. I used to cover the World Series. Religiously. After all, I work as a sportswriter.
But over time, as these games got later and later, it became pointless. We couldn’t make enough newspapers with the final stories. If a game ends at 12:30 a.m., by the time you get to the locker room, by the time the players saunter out of their showers, by the time they deign to offer a few quotes to give your story some weight and authenticity — it is already 1:15 in the morning.
Even if I filed a story immediately, with our deadlines, I’d likely miss three-quarters of the audience.
Now. I point this out not to complain. It doesn’t hurt me. It hurts baseball. For when kids and adults leaf through the newspapers the next morning, looking for in-depth stories about their heroes, all many of them get — maybe — is the final score and a stitched-together running account.
They shrug and move on.
What about football?
Find me a 9-year-old who loves baseball these days. It used to be impossible to find one who didn’t.
Now our children are in love with pro wrestling and Sony PlayStation. If they sit and watch a game, it’s football — which, in my opinion, is now the real national pastime — and there is a reason for that: The games are played on Sunday afternoons. As in daytime. As in leisure time. As in time enough to see the beginning and the end.
If you don’t see it, you don’t remember it. If you don’t remember it, you can’t cherish it. It is sad that people my age recall the 1968 World Series more vividly than the one just played. But here is the sad truth:
During the final inning of the Yankees-Mets Thursday night, I was in bed, struggling to keep my eyes open. I saw Mariano Rivera — I think — throw a fastball past a guy, then my eyelids fell. I heard a noise, woke up and saw a group of Yankees jumping into a celebratory pile.
The noise was me snoring.
And that’s my memory of baseball this year.
Contact MITCH ALBOM at 313-223-4581 or email@example.com. Catch “Albom in the Afternoon” 3-6 weekdays on WJR-AM (760).