Baseball: 'The American Pastime.' (Ed note: Ben, your spelling of 'Pastime' was incorrect. If we're making it more British, you need to shoehorn a U in there somewhere.)
I think of baseball and it conjures up images of my youth playing for the pee wee Pirates and the first time I ever got on base. I remember that I had a strategy of "never swing the bat" because since it was kids my age pitching, and they sucked at it, I would have a better chance of getting on base if I never swung the bat. And what do you know? It worked. I also became really good at stealing bases. Like, disgustingly good at it. Ty Cobb didn't have shit on me.
It also conjures up thoughts of being at the ball parks of America as a spectator. A summer afternoon, lazy noon turning into a red evening. I remember watching the New Haven Ravens, the Colorado Rockies, the Minnesota Twins, and the Saint Paul Saints (far and away my favorite of the bunch) while gorging on hot dogs, popped corn, and drinking lots of beer. For me, baseball has always been a backdrop for a perfect afternoon with family and friends.
But as that familiar season is starting up again, I am faced with a quandary: Nobody else cares about baseball but some Americans. To most of the rest of the world, say "baseball" and they will draw the kind of blank expression on their faces that usually attends something like a loud fart in a crowded elevator: somewhat amused, somewhat disgusted, and completely uncomfortable.
There are a lot of other sports in the world which offer us, I think, some striking insights as to how to improve the game of baseball here in the United States so that we can make sure the rest of the world shares the love of the game that we do. Let's first start with the colonial sensation, cricket:
For one thing, the ball needs to be much larger, as does the bat.
The current bat-and-ball combination produces far too few hits, and thus far too few opportunities for the players to run and do exciting things like put their foot on a leather bag. This is evidenced from the poor physical condition of the baseball players in comparison to other athletes. If we increased the bat to about the size of a cricket bat, and then increase the ball to the size of a cricket ball, I think we could get the game played to a point where we see scores of hundreds of runs or more.
Another thing we could do, to improve the game, is time it. Americans are busy people, as are people in the rest of the world, so why don't we respect each-other's time and have the game over with in just about, oh... say 90 minutes? Each team has to try to get the most amount of runs within 90 minutes. Now we're talking! No more whole afternoons spent down at the ball park. Heck, you could go see a game on a long lunch break and be back talking about the result with your clients by the time it gets out. That's something I think we could all be happy with. Because who wants to sit around all day looking at guys swing a thing at another thing? Not me, and not most of the world. So let's get on with it. You've got 90 minutes.
What's great about basketball is how small the court is. You could really score from anywhere, and that's what makes it so exciting! And people love home runs.... I know! We should also make baseball fields much smaller so that nearly every bunt has a chance of being a home run. That way, everyone leave happy saying that they saw a guy hit a ton of home runs. Even Europeans couldn't say no to that!
And towards that end, who doesn't love seeing these guys run to get their foot on a bag full of sand? I know I sure do. Instead of a diamond, let's take a cue from good old football and have it be one long straight line, and each of the bags is guarded by guys who are trying to tackle the runner. And if they tackle him to the ground while holding the ball, then he's out. But if the runner can somehow loose the ball from the tackler's hands before he's pinned to the ground, he still has a chance to keep running! Now that's exciting. I think some of the NFL crowd will definitely be on board with that.
And finally, an innovation from our soccer loving friends: let's just have one big table where everyone is ranked, and multiple divisions where teams can play up to get to the Major Leagues, and then if they don't do well, they get demoted down to the Minor Leagues until they can secure a spot back up at the top. It's always struck me as profoundly Unamerican that teams are just rewarded for being terrible by getting first pick at the Draft. Are you kidding me? No. Let's get a single table in there, multiple divisions of baseball teams all battling it out to see who is the cream of the crop.
All of these ideas would really, I think, take baseball to the next level and make it truly a game that not only is deeply American, but also appeals to the international audience.
Or, you know, we could just shut the fuck up and enjoy a baseball game for exactly what it is: a perfect backdrop to your summer, or a lifetime obsession, or America's Pastime. Just leave it the fuck alone and let it be what it is.
Kind of like soccer.