Feinstein: Baseball Is "Ubiquitous" – And I'm Thankful It Is

Baseball isn't perfect, but it's (almost) back – and John Feinstein couldn't be happier

John Feinstein
March 27, 2019 - 10:24 am
Jacob deGrom New York Mets

USA Today Images

Categories: 

Years ago, when my two older kids were little, we were driving home from summer vacation—about a seven-hour trip from the eastern end of Long Island to our home outside Washington, D.C.
         
The kids were asleep and my wife (now my ex-wife) was dozing. It was a Sunday and, at 1 o’clock, I said to her, “You mind if I turn on the ballgame?”
         
The Mets, who were not in contention for anything except expanding the roster to 40 players the next day, were playing the Pirates, who were contending in exactly the same way.
         
My wife sighed and said, “Doesn’t baseball ever take a day off? It’s so ubiquitous.”
         
She meant it as a complaint: as in, why can’t I ever escape baseball? Every night, there was a baseball game to watch. If I wasn’t sitting home watching it on TV, I was going to the ballpark—sometimes to work on a story; sometimes just to sit in the press box and keep score. Always, I keep score.
         
Now, here she was on a seven-hour drive, the kids were sleeping and I wanted to listen to a meaningless game.
         
Perhaps this explains why we’re no longer married: To me, the ubiquity of baseball is a blessing, an important part of my life from March to October. To her, it was constant noise she could never seem to escape.
         
To be honest, my relationship with baseball isn’t quite the same as it used to be. I once threw a radio against the wall when the Mets blew a ninth-inning lead to the Cardinals—in the first exhibition game. Seriously. Now, I might catch an inning or two of spring training here and there, but I don’t make a point of sitting down to watch nine innings of exhibition baseball.
         
I don’t keep score of games anymore when I’m at home—I’m too addicted to flipping from one game to another since I have the baseball package, something that wasn’t available to me when I was young—but I do still do it in the ballpark. I think I’d start to twitch if I didn’t have a scorecard in front of me.
         
But I still love baseball. I DO love the ubiquity of it and I love the IDEA of it. The four days of summer I like the least are the All-Star break, and it annoys the hell out of me that it’s now been stretched to four days. Three was plenty.
         
Thursday is Opening Day. It is worth noting that in baseball, Opening Day is always in capital letters; it is something quite official, a holiday to all of us who still value every minute of every season.
         
Look, there’s plenty wrong with baseball. No, not the player salaries—they don’t bother me at all. In any profession, you get paid what the market will bear. My guess is that Mike Trout will be worth a lot more than $430 million to the Angels in the next 12 years and the same will be true of Manny Machado in San Diego and Bryce Harper in Philadelphia.
         
Jacob deGrom and the Mets—five years $137.5 million? That’s less of a certainty because pitchers are so fragile and because, as I can attest as a lifelong fan, the Mets are the Mets. This is, after all, the team that is STILL paying Bobby Bonilla.
         
My issues are more about the pace-of-play, the late starting times of most postseason games and the death of the doubleheader.       
        
When I was a kid growing up in New York, I went to Sunday doubleheaders almost every week: one week at Shea Stadium; one week at Yankee Stadium. It was a question of whether to get on the number 7 train to Flushing or the D train to the Bronx. They started at 1 p.m. and, since it was a school night, my parents required that I be home by 7 p.m. Most of the time I didn’t have to leave early. Imagine that today, two games—with a 20-minute break in-between—in five-and-a-half hours.
         
Back then, about the only consolation of the three-day All-Star break was that the first day back was almost always filled with Twi-Nite doubleheaders. I loved doubleheaders. Again, in those days I could see two games at Shea Stadium for $1.30. Yankee Stadium, which had one less deck, was $1.50
         
I know, this was hundreds of years ago. I get that. But now when teams are forced by weather to play two games on the same day, they almost always play “day-night” doubleheaders—separate admission for the two games because God forbid the owners should give up a gate, even if the afternoon game will draw almost no one. A buck is a buck.
         
And people call the players greedy.
         
So, yes, I miss doubleheaders and I miss games that moved along at a reasonable pace. I can still hear Lindsey Nelson’s voice screaming, “At 9:07 on September 24th, the New York Mets are the champions of the National League East!”
         
That was almost 50 years ago and it was the first step in the Miracle Mets run to the World Series title. I wasn’t there because it was a school night, but the game ended, as Nelson pointed out, at 9:07, just a little more than two hours after it started.
         
For the record: I miss Shea Stadium. It was a dump, but it was MY dump, the place where I grew up.
         
Thursday, it all starts again, and, to its credit, Major League Baseball has stopped stretching Opening Day over three or four days. No Sunday night game to make ESPN happy. In fact, no night games at all—all 15 openers will be played in the afternoon. THAT is cool.
         
Yes, there were two games last week in Japan, but that’s okay; all 30 teams will play Thursday. It is a true Opening DAY.
         
Everyone—except the Mariners and A’s--will be 0-0 when the starting lineups are introduced. The Mets, having signed deGrom to a long-term extension, have hope. At least for a while.
         
In Philadelphia, the arrival of Harper, has sparked real excitement around a team that’s been moribund for the last half-dozen seasons. In Washington, the local media is convinced that not re-signing Harper was a brilliant move and the Nats will go undefeated. (Seriously, if you read and listen, that’s what you’d believe).
         
In the meantime, the defending NL East champions are the Braves.
         
Here’s the thing, though: by mid-summer, there will be teams buried in the basement with no chance of making postseason. Still, we’ll all wonder what moves they might make at the trading deadline—which really IS July 31 now after the rule allowing waiver deals in August was banished this spring.
         
And, even on those nights when the Mets and Pirates are playing a meaningless game in August, I’ll watch because that’s what you do during baseball season. Or, if I’m in the car, I’ll listen. Same thing.
         
Some of it is certainly because of my hazy boyhood memories of the subway rides and the $1.30 tickets and paying 25 cents for a scorecard—which always had an extra card stuck in the middle on doubleheader days. And some of it, certainly this time of year, is because hope does spring eternal. The Mets started 11-1 last April before losing something like 99 of their next 100.
         
But most of it is because of what my ex-wife said all those years ago: Baseball IS ubiquitous. And I thank God for that.
 
 
John Feinstein’s most recent work of fiction is, “The Prodigy,” a novel set at the Masters about a 17-year-old who has a chance to win the tournament but has to deal with people who want to turn him into a human ATM machine including agents, club rep and apparel reps and, most of all, his father. His latest non-fiction is, “Quarterback—Inside The Most Important Position in the National Football League,”—a New York Times bestseller. John’s website is: JFeinsteinbooks.com.