Thursday, September 11, 2008

The Boy Who Once Bled Baseball

I used to be the biggest fan of baseball in the world. It was my life. I played it, I lived it, I breathed it. It flowed through me like The Force through a Jedi Knight. The Seattle Mariners... that was my team. I would go to every game I had the opportunity to see, which may have not been many, but for a kid growing up in Idaho - 300 miles away - I was able to witness a good share. I watched every other game I could on television. When I couldn't catch the televised games, I'd tune them in on the radio. I was the biggest fan, and I thought that would never change. It was who I was; my childhood destiny. My second skin.

In 2001, the Mariners had an amazing season. Winding up a summer full of club records and fond memories, including the All-Star game that happened to be held in Seattle that July, they ended up breaking the record for most American League wins in a season with 116. I was at Safeco Field the night they tied the record at 114. It was surreal to me. And since I was living in the Seattle area by then, everything seemed to be going according to my teal and navy blue-eyed prophetic ideals.

But by the time 2002 came along, something had changed.

I began to observe everything a little more closely, from a slightly different viewpoint. I began to notice more "family" nights at the stadium. I noticed more women filling the stadium; showing up late, socializing and not watching the game at all, comparing purses, blabbing on cell phones and pointing out the hot guys to each other. I noticed the hyper sensitivity to anything resembling curse words or "inappropriate behavior" from fellow fans. The ballpark foods were gradually morphing into something from a superficial wall-street yuppie bullshit cafe. A gradually increasing crowd claimed to be fellow fans, but only when our team was in the middle of a winning streak. The players seemed to forget the concept of teamwork altogether... caring more about their salaries, their social reputations and their personal statistics than about the game they are so lucky to be able to play for a living. I began noticing the heavy Christian overtones, everything from the players' ponderous God-praising during every post-game interview, to the over-dramatic performances of "God Bless America" during every seventh-inning stretch. I also began to realize that the colors in the stadium were not even that of the home team. They were instead the colors of all the sponsoring companies who have the ongoing compulsion to smear their logo feces into every aspect of the game... the merchandise, the food and drink containers, the free promotions, the tickets, the field itself... even the scoreboard is so heavily soiled in advertisements that it's hard to catch the score at a glance anymore. And the games on television are basically squeezed within four-hour-long commercials. Even in between the commercial breaks, the play-by-play commentators can't seem to stop talking about the sponsors. Ryan says, "This game is brought to you by shut the fuck up and play ball!"

It's not about the game anymore. It's merely a business now. The game of skill and strategy we once loved now lies dormant in the small-town fields and city streets of the world. Until the business is removed from it and the passion is rekindled, baseball will remain one more unfortunate casualty in the world of commercialism.

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