Just Say No

Is baseball in trouble? On the youth participatory level it has lost ground, as kids gravitate towards faster moving sports such as lacrosse and ice hockey, and the inner city has just about abandoned our national pastime, with more race-relatable and ubiquitous stars such as Michael Jordan and LeBron James accelerating the pull of “the City Game,” basketball, for which all you need is a pair of (admittedly outrageously expensive) sneakers, a ball and a local playground.

Meanwhile, baseball remains rooted in America’s rural past and the once unbridled joy of watching a lazy afternoon contest (not to mention scheduled Sunday and holiday doubleheaders) has receded into nostalgia with the rise of our chaotic and frenetic modern cosmopolitan society.

Much of the blame for the loss of interest has to be laid upon the length of the games. Constant pitching changes, batters stepping in and out of the box, pitchers doing likewise off the rubber and the current emphasis on all or nothing ball: strikeouts or home runs being the all too common result of each at bat. These are the most obvious reasons that the length of games now average more than three hours, as opposed to the two+ hours of the 1960s. The chief exemplars of this trend are the game’s fiercest and best rivals, the Yankees and the Red Sox, whose Sunday night ESPN games can start at 8 pm and end well after midnight (not exactly kid friendly, but, to be fair, the number and lengths of ads on national networks don’t help).

To fill the empty time and boredom, baseball has converted its ballparks into virtual Disneylands, with loud and irritating music, scoreboards constantly flashing bright colors and silly participatory games (subway races!) and exhorting the fans to awake from their beer guzzling stupor and clap (GET LOUD !!!!). But the most desperate attempt at entertainment is the posed marriage proposal. While the origins of this odd ritual are not clear, the sight of a lovelorn would-be Romeo bending his knee in front of his long-suffering girlfriend, Juliet, on the Jumbotron was once regarded as “cute.” She always said “yes,” usually amidst her cascading tears of joy.

Well cute would be once or twice, but these occurrences happen with increasing frequency, and baseball, with its languid pace, is all too susceptible to this idiocy. And, while these events may happen in other sports, it is much harder to break from Tom Brady in the huddle during the Super Bowl to witness Dido bursting into tears as Aeneas decides not to leave her and found Rome, but to make a life of it with his sweetheart and rule over Carthage.

Now I am as much of a romantic as anyone, but I applaud one courageous woman who decided to take matters into her own hands to counter this inane ritual. At the snappy new Polar Park in Worcester, Mass, the $157 million home of the Red Sox Triple A affiliate WooSox, an unidentified woman fled out of the ballpark as her abashed boyfriend was left kneeling on the top of the dugout after his proposal apparently fell flat. Although some claimed the video was faked, the woman’s parting words, “I have to go,” seemed to add credibility to the public jilting.

Well I hardly think that this is the beginning of a trend. And I also doubt that ridding baseball of the posed marriage proposal will help save the game from itself. But it’s a start. Who knows? Maybe they will also make the hitters get in the batter’s box and actually try to hit the ball. Now that would be something.

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