Baseball and the next generation of fans

Edwin Encarnacion connects on an 11th-inning walk-off home run last night.
Edwin Encarnación connects on an 11th-inning walk-off home run last night. *

Here we are in the first week of October, and the Major League Baseball playoffs got under way last night in Toronto, with the Blue Jays defeating the Baltimore Orioles in an exciting win-or-go-home contest. A walk-off homer in the 11th inning decided things.

I’m a huge baseball fan, and to my way of thinking, there’s nothing better than baseball in October, even when my team isn’t in the playoffs, which is frequently the case.

But I didn’t watch last night’s game, and I won’t be watching tonight’s game either, even though it’s sure to be an exciting matchup between two of the sport’s premiere pitchers. Why? Allow me to show you this detail from last night’s box score; I’ve highlighted the relevant information:

box

I realize the length of games is a hot-button issue for some casual fans, but my fandom could in no way be described as casual. Sure, there are a few things they could do to speed up games, but the length of the game doesn’t bother me. What bothers me is the time of the first pitch, which is listed at 8:08 p.m. on the East Coast, which, for those of you who are geographically challenged, includes Baltimore and a fanbase that includes my son-in-law and three grandsons.

The time of the game was 3 hours and 25 minutes, which to my mind isn’t terrible, especially for an extra-innings playoff game. But what that means is that for Baltimore fans facing work or school the next morning, the game ended at an unmanageable 11:33 p.m.

Now Major League Baseball makes a lot of noise about needing to attract the next generation of fans, and I agree. They’ve added all kinds of bells, whistles, and statistical gewgaws that are designed to appeal to a younger crowd with shorter attention spans, who demand more form than substance. Personally, I think all that is a crock of shit, but I put up with it because I’d love for my young grandsons to grow up loving the same sport I love.

But here’s the rub: I’m glad those boys were not awake at 11:30 p.m. on a school night, and I think most responsible parents or grandparents will agree.

For Major League Baseball, It’s really about prime time and money, and all that talk about the next generation of fans is just that — talk. Until baseball recognizes that attracting young fans means having those youngsters actually be able to watch the game, then I don’t care how many bells and whistles they add, their efforts are doomed to failure.

Certainly not every game can be played during daylight hours, but there’s no reason last night’s game and the game tonight couldn’t start at 4 p.m. instead of 8 p.m.

In baseball, heartbreak is best learned young, as it is the province of every fan. My grandsons should have been able to watch the game and have their little hearts broken when Edwin Encarnación sent one over the fence, and the fact that they weren’t awake means there’s that much less to their Orioles DNA. They won’t talk about it, won’t remember it, because they didn’t see it.

So c’mon, baseball, you’ve got a good product that doesn’t need as many tweaks as a lot of people think. But if you want your sport to be relevant to the next generation, then how about making it so they can actually watch!

* Photo by Mark Blinch/Associated Press

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