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Plenty of cheers for return of baseball

Commentary

With a bit of luck, the 2020 MLB season begins this afternoon. The Yankees begin play this evening playing the Nationals in Washington and my team the New York Mets begins play against the Atlanta Braves tomorrow afternoon at Citi Field in Flushing.

I would love to be at Citi Field on Friday afternoon as fans stream to their seats in one of the best ballparks in the Majors. Ballpark smells will fill the air; the aroma of buttered popcorn mixing with the smell of Nathan’s Famous all beef hotdogs on the grills at a multitude of stands on all level of the ballpark.

Overall, will be the familiar aroma of Budweiser on tap.

Children and adults dressed in Mets T-shirts and New Era caps will all have big smiles on their faces as they settle in for what they have been waiting for since last September. Baseball is finally back and all is right with the world.

Oh, wait, wait a moment. I’m really sorry but as I wrote those first paragraphs, I guess I was living in a dream world as my fingers typed those words. Yes, baseball is back but fans will have to watch or listen from our homes or cars. The only persons in the ballpark will be the players, coaches, managers, broadcasters, members of the press, the umpiring crew, equipment managers, batboys, groundcrews, and assorted front office and clubhouse employees.

The only way you or I might get to see a game live at Citi Field would be from an aircraft landing or taking off from LaGuardia Airport depending on which way the wind is blowing and what side of the cabin your seat is on.

It’s going to be eerily quiet at Major League parks across America this summer with no fans cheering, shouting, or even booing. The only sounds we will hear will be the ballplayers talking to each other and umpires making calls. However, I’ve often wondered what opposing ballplayers talk about on the bases and what umpires and ballplayers talk about between pitches. Maybe this year I’ll find out.

I’m not too sure about some of the rule changes for 2020 like the universal designated hitter. I understand that the National and Americans leagues aren’t really separate entities anymore but, “shame on you National League for using the DH even if it’s only for 2020.” Further, the 2020 rule to put an end to long extra-inning games by having each half inning after the ninth inning start with a runner on second base is a bad idea.

Here are the facts: in 2019 73% of games that went into extra innings and 97.7% of all games ended in the 11th inning or earlier. Frankly the game needs to be speeded up. Back in 1949 the average game was 2 hours and 19 minutes long but by 2019 the average game ran 3 hours, 5 minutes and 35 seconds in length so there seems like lot of room for improvement without messing with the rules.

We have Major League baseball albeit without fans and an abbreviated schedule. However, this year Sahlen Field home of the Buffalo Bisons is not only silent but empty, unless the Toronto Blue Jays decide to play their home games there because of Canada’s unbending stand on a 14-day quarantine. What is sad is that when minor league ball gets going next spring, as I pray it will, there will be 42 fewer minor league teams taking the field.

This is a move by Major League owners to save money. They tell us that the use of computers, analytics, and video, at spring training facilities can more effectively prepare players for the majors than playing in minor league games.

That could be true, but if the majors are the peak of pro ball isn’t it better for “fan development” to have future stars develop in the minors so that current fan interest can be built and new fans made along the way. If baseball is to retain its place as the “National Past Time” new fans have to be generated and the interest of old fans like me retained and minor league baseball played in big and small towns does a lot to advance those goals.

And remember fan interest in the game is falling as evidenced by the falling ratings of television broadcasts of the World Series over the last forty years. So, let’s not tinker with the minors where both players and fans of the future are made.

Finally, no matter what, baseball is back!

Thomas Kirkpatrick Sr. is a Silver Creek resident. Send comments to editorial@observertoday.com

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