Archive | The American Game

Chris Rock, are you listening?

Urban black kids have drifted away from baseball. Major League Baseball started a foundation to being baseball back to the inner cities, but what’s really needed is a black baseball-loving role model.

This Village Voice writer thinks baseball needs Chris Rock.

chris rock

Describing himself as “an endangered species — a black baseball fan,” Rock argued that the game of baseball has stubbornly alienated African Americans: “Every team is building a bullshit, fake-antique stadium that’s supposed to remind you of the good old days — you know, the good old days with Ruth, DiMaggio, Emmett Till.” Even as the world has sped up, he contends that the sport has slowed down, operating under an outdated unwritten code that discourages the kind of flamboyance exhibited in professional basketball and football, sports that are more popular among blacks.

And blacks are staying away in droves, on the field and in the stands.

“I don’t care about any of this as a black guy, I care about this as a baseball fan,” he said. “We don’t really need baseball, but baseball needs us. The fact is, black America decides what’s hot and what young people get excited about.”

Judging from the social-media shares and the YouTube views — nearly 750,000 of the latter at last count — Rock’s rant scored.

Something about the whole thing troubled me, though. Rock takes the position that baseball needs to change its ways. On that score, I completely agree. At the same time, his argument hinges on the fact that he needs baseball.

Baseball could certainly use him.

So writer Tom Finkel wrote him a letter:
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The church of baseball

Of course it is!

Anyone who has ever been to a religious service is aware that the level of pious intensity occasionally abates; intensity must be relieved. All religious services therefore include what look (and sometimes feel) like intermissions.

Muslims, for example, are instructed about the when and where of the breaks in the sequence of their daily obligatory prayers.

Jews often separate afternoon and evening services (the Mincha and Ma’ariv) with a brief lesson (the Shiur) from an elder or rabbi that frequently discusses the sacred texts just recited in light of experiences in everyday life. In some Conservative congregations, as the Sabbath nears its completion, there is a longer pause to break bread, a chance not only to reflect but also to bond before continuing the prayers.
And Christians reserve time for choral or musical interludes that provide a few moments between rituals. From Christianity’s earliest moments, there has been an imprecise division, imprecise but no less real, between the preparatory part of the service and the part where believers affirm their central faith or take communion or both. And in some liturgies, this transition is marked by the “kiss of peace” or the “holy kiss.” Whatever it’s called, it is another break in the worship, one that most definitely enhances the feeling of fellowship. But the atmosphere is different from the moments of communion with God. The kiss of peace serves, as do the musical interludes, as a pause—meaningful but different, a break in the intensity of the action.

Baseball fans get this. At the midpoint of every seventh inning, we need no announcement, no request, much less a command. We simply rise from our seats. For some ninety years, this collective move has been accompanied by music in most major league cases a very, very familiar song that dates to the early-twentieth-century days of Tin Pan Alley. The Wave may have come and gone, beach balls have bounced into distant memory, but the seventh-inning stretch lives on in every baseball congregation. Possibly the most famous pause in American culture, it is an occasion to salute the game. And it is a break in the intensity of the action.

Van man

Daniel Norris has a 92 MPH fastball and the best strikeout ratio in the minors. Oh, and he lives in a van:

THE FUTURE of the Toronto Blue Jays wakes up in a 1978 Volkswagen camper behind the dumpsters at a Wal-Mart and wonders if he has anything to eat. He rummages through a half-empty cooler until he finds a dozen eggs. “I’m not sure about these,” he says, removing three from the carton, studying them, smelling them and finally deciding it’s safe to eat them. While the eggs cook on a portable stove, he begins the morning ritual of cleaning his van, pulling the contents of his life into the parking lot. Out comes a surfboard. Out comes a subzero sleeping bag. Out comes his only pair of jeans and his handwritten journals. A curious shopper stops to watch. “Hiya,” Daniel Norris says, waving as the customer walks away into the store. Norris turns back to his eggs. “I’ve gotten used to people staring,” he says.

This is where Norris has chosen to live while he tries to win a job in the Blue Jays’ rotation: in a broken-down van parked under the blue fluorescent lights of a Wal-Mart in the Florida suburbs. There, every morning, is one of baseball’s top-ranked prospects, doing pull-ups and resistance exercises on abandoned grocery carts. There he is each evening, making French press coffee and organic stir-fry on his portable stove. There he is at night, wearing a spelunking headlamp to go with his unkempt beard, writing in his “thought journal” or rereading Kerouac.

He has been here at Wal-Mart for long enough that some store employees have given him a nickname — “Van Man” — and begun to question where he’s from and what he might be doing. A few have felt so bad for him that they’ve approached the van with prayers and crumpled bills, assuming he must be homeless. They wonder: Is he a runaway teen? A destitute surfer? A new-age wanderer lost on some spiritual quest?

The truth is even stranger: The Van Man has a consistent 92-mile-an-hour fastball, a $2 million signing bonus, a deal with Nike and a growing fan club, yet he has decided the best way to prepare for the grind of a 162-game season is to live here, in the back of a 1978 Westfalia camper he purchased for $10,000. The van is his escape from the pressures of the major leagues, his way of dropping off the grid before a season in which his every movement will be measured, catalogued and analyzed.

If a baseball life requires notoriety, the van offers seclusion.

If pitching demands repetition and exactitude, the van promises freedom.

“It’s like a yin-and-yang thing for me,” he says. “I’m not going to change who I am just because people think it’s weird. The only way I’m going to have a great season is by starting out happy and balanced and continuing to be me. It might be unconventional, but to feel good about life I need to have some adventure.”

Changing the game

During the Game: Phillies vs. Atlanta Braves Baseball Game, Citizens Bank Ballpark, Philadelphia, PA

It’s a start, I suppose. I love the game, but it has not escaped my attention how few kids watch baseball anymore, and the marathon games have a lot to do with it. If we want a future for the sport, they have to speed things up! They could always start enforcing Rule 8.04, which says if no one’s on base, pitchers must deliver the ball within 15 seconds after they have it in their hands. It’s supposed to be called a ball, but I’ve only read about it, not ever seen it. But I’d much rather see them lower the mound, stop changing pitchers every inning, and enforce a standard strike zone (yes, boys, instant replay):

The verdict from Major League Baseball’s pace-of-game committee is in, and according to Fox Sport’s Ken Rosenthal, tomorrow MLB will announce three rule changes designed to speed up games:

  1. Managers must challenge replays from dugout.
  2. Batters must keep one foot in box unless an established exception occurs.
  3. Play to resume promptly once broadcast returns from commercial break.

If properly enforced, these changes might actually have the desired effect of speeding up the game without measurably altering it otherwise. The first one change probably won’t do much—I can imagine a worst case scenario where managers amble out to argue with an umpire, before returning to the dugout to challenge—but the second two could.


Cuban's heros

I knew this would happen:

NEW YORK (AP) — Major League Baseball has eliminated its requirement that Cuban players obtain a license from the U.S. government before they are eligible to sign with big league teams.

The decision could speed the negotiating process for Yoan Moncada, a well-regarded 19-year-old infielder who left Cuba last year with permission from Cuba’s government.

MLB Executive Vice President Dan Halem sent a memorandum to teams Tuesday, saying the new policy was warranted following changes made last month by the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control to Cuban Assets Control Regulations. That followed President Barack Obama’s announcement in December that the United States and Cuba were re-establishing relations.

A Cuban player previously had to obtain an unblocking license from OFAC before he could sign a contract. Halem told clubs that under the new rules “all Cuban national prospects must provide a sworn statement.”

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