In any given season, over the last 17-18 years, I make it to anywhere between 8-15 games. Almost all of the games I attend are at Safeco Field, seeing as that I live in Seattle. I rarely drink beer at the games anymore, partially due to the cost-prohibitive nature of paying nine dollars for a tall boy of Rainier, but also because I’ve become more and more a student of the game. The longer I have been a fan of baseball, the more I have become what Dan Okrent likes to pronounce as a “serial obsessive” (you can watch Dan expound upon this here). I’ve even taken to teaching myself how to score games on occasion.
As the years amass baseball books on my shelves, overrunning the likes of Cormac McCarthy and Mary Shelley, I become increasingly a purist. When I’m at games, I notice things about the sensual, environmental aesthetic of being at the stadium that I dislike. I understand that change will most certainly occur, sometimes to my liking and others to my disdain. For example, I initially opposed expanded instant replay, but now see its merits outweigh its detriments. In short, I don’t believe it harms the essential nature of the game that should be preserved. Some of the changes upon us, such as a pitch clock and all of its surrounding constituents aimed at increasing scoring, seem misguided. Yes, football has surpassed baseball as the American past time in popularity, but driving up the runs per game is not going to achieve a more equal market share. There are many issues to discuss, but normally, there is a vast disconnect between fans and the administrative offices that run baseball. It is my hope, that by utilizing my newfound position in the media here, with a louder bullhorn to bark through, I can potentially create more of a dialogue with those folks in charge. In particular, the desire is for newly minted Commissioner Rob Manfred to (potentially) hear out some grievances and/or suggestions. It is with that thought in mind that I have decided to pen a series of so-called open letters to the Commissioner with the hopes of further facilitating that potential for dialogue. After this initial letter, I will strive to minimize the lengthiness of my introductions and get right to the letters.
Dear Commissioner Rob Manfred,
The game is too loud. No, sorry, not the game itself, but the stadium atmosphere is too loud. Maybe this makes me sound like all those old guys I used to wax sarcastic about when I was younger with the old adage, “If it’s too loud, you’re too old.” Maybe I’ll never be able to accept certain changes in the culture of attending a baseball game. I think, however, that I have a salient point. There have always been changes implemented to the game, that I understand. The pitcher’s mound was lowered in 1969, possibly to stop Bob Gibson from being so completely dominant. In 1973, the American League-only Designated Hitter Rule was adopted. Change is always debated about as to whether it benefits or hurts the game and, subsequently, baseball’s fan base. I will even comport myself to oblige some of these changes in order to further solidify an opinion through observation and collection of evidence before being altogether dismissive.
What I cannot seem to get past, what my burgeoning inner curmudgeon (coupled with the ‘purist’) cannot allow, is the degradation of the sensual environmental experience of being at the ballpark. I know this is the 21st Century. I’m clear that baseball is no longer truly the rustic, pastoral game it once was, played in much more rural settings as compared to today’s urban-centered space station sized stadiums. But why can’t we achieve some compromise? Why can’t we strive to retain some of the calm, almost mystically transcendental aesthetic of sitting in the stands? Listening to parents teach children about the game, and vice versa. Or the hum of a breeze cutting across thousands of pairs of ears, interrupted only by leather slapping into leather or being pulverized by that otherworldly crack of the bat? Why can’t we let stimuli float slowly to us? Like the knuckleball fluttering odors of hot dogs and popcorn tinting the afternoon sunshine, instead of cramming a year’s worth of clamorous and piercing noise into one afternoon.
Before Opening Day of the 2013 baseball season, Safeco Field was outfitted with a brand new super jumbo tron (pictured above). It looms Kubrickian above the center field bleachers. It is an attention-grabbing 11,425 square feet (let’s assume you know that, as Commissioner, but with your tenure just begun, it would be understandable did you not)! As my aforementioned self-asserted ‘purist’ attitude could lead to irrational dogma, I do think it harms the essential nature of the game. The game, by the way, is what fans should be watching. Not craning their necks around to be hypnotized by the biggest television I could ever imagine. As if the animated hydroplane races during the 6th inning break was really the only reason a Seattle family had to go to the ballpark. Even before this new screen was put in, those races had – pathetically – usually elicited the loudest cheers during a Mariners game over the last 10-plus seasons. Sure, that is partially due to the middling baseball product being put on the field, but bear with me. This is more than just a mere rant. There is a proposal to be made here.
To be fair, I realize that this screen has its merits, as well. First of all, as an all-LED screen replacing an incandescent bulb scoreboard, this jumbo tron has actually contributed to Safeco Field’s overall reduction in energy usage, from 1.2 million kilowatt-hours anually to 130,000 kilowatt-hours. That is a huge reduction and can only be seen as a positive. It also displays instant replay calls, which, in my mind, can only serve to educate fans about some of the minutiae of the game they might not otherwise be able to see. Then again, it often solicits thousands of simultaneous groans when the homer attitude perceives the review call to be in error against the Mariners.
Okay, how about that proposal I hinted at? While the new screen has helped to drastically reduce energy usage at Safeco, I think that we can go one further. In the age of huge energy concerns moving forward for the coming generations, the energy efficiency of Safeco Field is certainly leading the field. However, we could combine the occasional throwback jersey games, which I recall are often on Thursday afternoons, with an even further, more dramatic step in energy conservation. On #ThrowbackThursdays (if that is to be the case), turn it all off. Turn off the at-bat music. Turn off the jumbo tron. Kill the lights, weather and daylight permitting, of course, and anything else that can be deemed “not absolutely necessary” for the safe and legal operation of a baseball game.
Sure, you might be met with criticism and rebukes of “where’s my damn hydroplane races?!?” Yes, you would have to figure out how to negotiate with the daily sponsors to avoid breach of contract litigation or abandonment. But – and this is a big, untested but – I bet, if marketed properly, you could be breaking new ground. New ground in leading businesses in the field of conservation. New ground in re-actuating your fan base’s attention, interest, and knowledge of your product, which is, after all, the game of baseball.
So, as I said above, this is penned with the hopes of opening a dialogue. This is not the finished product rantings of a cranky fan losing interest in going to games (although, I will admit, sometimes, I get more out watching on TV than being at the stadium). I want to help you forge your legacy, possibly as the Commissioner who returned baseball to its bye-gone status as America’s past time, but without attacking it by trying to compete with football. Yes, football is often perceived to bring more action-packed instant gratification to its fans, but with the proper edification of current and potential baseball fans, baseball can be seen in the same light, just through a different lens.
On #ThrowbackThursdays let’s save all that energy used to bombard bleacher creatures with instant gratification and put it into the future. A future with superior energy conservation and usage policies. A future with millions of baseball fans using only the very front of their seats in the anticipation of that rally-killing double play to preserve the home team’s lead. And the sound of their cheers rising up above all else, will be reward enough.
Mr. Commissioner, I thank you for your time and consideration. With all respect,
Mr. Gabriel Bogart