7/14: Baseball Strikes Back

By John Sparks

The other day I criticized television’s coverage of Major League Baseball — specifically television’s pre-occupation with taking shots and talking about things that have little to do with the strategies and nuances of the game being played on the field.

sparks-caricature-440The dramatic close-up shots of the players, the shots of celebrities in the stands, and announcers talking about things other than the ongoing game are the things that I dislike most.  I would like to see more shots of the entire field so I can see where the defense positions itself against different hitters in different situations.  That doesn’t happen much.

So, what to do?  Go to the ballpark to enjoy the game.  The price of tickets, parking and concessions aside, there is nothing like an evening at the ballpark.  You can see the entire field.  You can enjoy the finer points of the game and the strategy employed by both teams.  The pace is such that you can also enjoy a pleasant conversation with your companions at the same time.  Well almost …

Two weeks ago, I went out to the Ballpark in Arlington to watch the Texas Rangers host the Pittsburgh Pirates.

I got quite a bit more than I had bargained for.  For starters there were the loudspeakers blaring so loud I could not carry on a conversation with the person sitting next to me.  Every batter has his own song which is played each time he makes a plate appearance.  Most of these songs are rap or Tejano.  There was one exception.  Rangers shortstop Elvis Andrus singled, and the speakers started playing “Don’t Be Cruel.” Why, you ask?  Think about it. It’s just another hit by Elvis.

Baseball isn’t the product being sold these days.  The ball clubs will tell you they’re now in the family entertainment business.  The game and its stars are no longer deemed enough to draw us there and hold our attention.

So, there’s the dot race, the kiss cam, the muscle cam, and the wiffle ball home run contest at the adjoining kids’ park. There’s also a contest where kids literally steal a base and get to keep it, a video version of the old shell game where you guess which cap the baseball is hidden under after being shuffled around, the Cotton-eyed Joe, and various other sponsored announcements blasting over the speakers and projected on the giant jumbotron for all to see and hear.

Just as television has determined that it must inject more excitement into a game, major league clubs are doing the same thing at the game itself.

Perhaps, these distractions are designed to make up for the lack of a pennant contender on the field.  For way too many years that has been the case with the Texas Rangers.  So far this season though, there’s something strange going on.  The Rangers find themselves atop the AL West at the All-Star break.  Gimmicks or not, nothing brings the fans out like a winner.  So, besides voting for my All-Star selections, I also vote to cut back on the side shows at the Show.  And, please turn down the volume on the speakers.