- Faith and Fear in Flushing - http://www.faithandfearinflushing.com -

Neither Playing Nor Watching

It’s a great day [1] to be a Red Sox player or fan. It’s a slightly less great day to be a Cardinals player or fan, but, all things considered, it’s not so bad. Both teams have at least one more game scheduled and a world championship remains possible for either. For Mets fans who are paying attention, it’s as good a day as you want it to be in terms of a World Series transpiring without our players. You can root for or against one of these collectives depending on your tastes. Or you can stay neutral but keep an eye on what happens next. There is still a little “next” left to baseball in 2013, praise Selig.

If you choose to, you could be in that plurality of TV viewers [2] who are enjoying a reasonably absorbing if not quite exhilarating Fall Classic. You’re also free to be in that vast majority of Americans who aren’t tuned in and are thus the subjects of the annual spate of articles examining why you don’t tune in. I’ve been reading these stories for more than twenty years. The theories don’t much change [3], but they do deepen, boiling down to the basic facts that: a) baseball doesn’t maintain the hold on the public imagination it once did; and b) things have changed too much in too many ways to expect that it would.

I suppose I still pine for a mythic world that hangs on every pitch and discusses each of them the next day [4], but I’ve probably never actually lived in that world (and, to be fair, I’m not quite hanging on every pitch). I came along when the World Series was played in daylight, the television dial was severely limited by modern standards and whatever thing you’re reading this on didn’t exist. It wasn’t necessarily a better world, but baseball was a bigger part of it.

Then again, no matter how overwhelming one assumes the World Series at the height of its powers — in the prime time era, at least — there were always dissenters. The afternoon prior to Game One of the 1986 edition, we had a visit from a couple of relatives on my mother’s side, a cultured, elderly couple who lived practically across the street from Lincoln Center. They were with it. They knew what was going on. Nevertheless when I mentioned my immediate priority was to watch the Mets in the World Series that Saturday night, I got a blank stare on the order of “What’s that?” Maybe that was just New York being New York, I figured. We have too many people interested in too many things to notice every little or big thing.

Subtract the participation of a beloved local team and multiply the blank stares exponentially, and you have the World Series as national non-phenomenon today. It used to bother me quite a bit. It bothers me much less this year. The Series still gets solid if not spectacular ratings, they’ll continue to televise it and it will continue to be covered and talked about. The conversation might not be universal, but it will range far and wide enough. Part of me thinks there’s something terribly wrong with a country that doesn’t drop everything to see how the baseball season concludes — and something incredibly off about baseball fans who seem proud of their lack of interest as October rolls on — but as with any given Mets game, if it’s being shown, I’m watching, and I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one. That will have to do.

What somehow surprises me is that major leaguers not on the Red Sox or Cardinals don’t necessarily watch. I’ve ascertained this dirty little secret quite incidentally, now and again noticing a tweet from a 2013 Met who is off to some concert or on safari or perhaps fixing that loose step he keeps promising the wife he’ll get to. There’s nothing wrong with any of it. It’s none of my business, actually, except I keep learning what they’re up to because I followed them on Twitter while they were playing and they insist on telling me.

I get that it’s their hard-earned vacation time [5] and I admit I don’t know how often they’re checking their devices for scores and highlights as they pursue their various non-baseball adventures. Maybe they’re DVRing every game. They probably have that package that records ten shows at once and thus don’t have to conk one another over the head with a bat [6] as they decide what shows to tape. They’re professional ballplayers. They can afford it.

They’re professional ballplayers is more the point, though. I would think that as a member of this highly exclusive fraternity they would have a proprietary interest in seeing how the World Series turns out. It’s their craft being performed for the highest stakes at (though not every play is flawless [7]) the highest level. Just from an aficionado standpoint, you’d think they’d be into it. And from an aspirational standpoint, too. Isn’t the World Series where these guys want to be? Couldn’t have they flown to South America [8] next week or caught up with the Zak Brown Band at a later stop? Shouldn’t have their schedules been clear through the beginning of November anyway, just in case?

I think I’m only about a quarter-serious in being disappointed to realize players don’t automatically watch other players play the World Series, but it does strike me as a little sad. My sister long ago asked me how it would work if a Met wanted to go to a baseball game that didn’t involve the Mets. After explaining that the Mets are usually playing at the same time as other teams, I guessed it wouldn’t be too hard for, say, Tom Seaver to get a ticket if the Mets were off and a game was being played in some other city. I grew up and learned that players get tickets — probably really good ones — to pretty much whatever they want [9] just because they’re players. It’s known as a perk.

Then I got older and had it confirmed baseball players don’t much care if other baseball players are playing for a championship that long ago evaded their own grasp. You learn something new every year.