Americans often trade delayed gratification for the joy of something fast, attention-grabbing, exciting. We live frenetic work lives and much of our recreation is maniacal.
Nowhere is this better demonstrated than at the ballpark, where we seem to have lost our ability to simply watch the game.
It was once part of an unspoken baseball code that fans only got out of their seats to use the restroom or grab food between innings — so as not to block the view of others; so as not to interrupt the game for them. Dawdlers could cause a small riot by those whose view was blocked. They might throw popcorn or Cracker Jacks at the perpetrators.
While sitting and watching a game these days, whether at Fifth Third Field, Comerica Park, or Progressive Field, one cannot help but notice game attendees standing up, shuffling past people in their row, perhaps knocking over a beer or obstructing the view of a great play in progress. And all the while they are talking, talking, talking — and not about the game.
You cannot talk incessantly and watch a game.
The problem: There is nothing in baseball that is shiny, attention-grabbing, and hyper-kinetic. So baseball has had distraction injected into it — announcers babbling trivia and gossip on the tube, free T-shirts and goofy mascots dancing in the park.
And many of the fans present still cannot stay in their seats or watch the game.
The best view of a baseball game today is from a comfy couch in front of a television — with the sound turned off.
Baseball is traditional and gradual. The best plays often develop slowly with a steadily building tension of a growing count at the plate.
Baseball is not a fast-food sport. It is not a passing thing.
It takes a little concentration and patience.
Baseball has two kinds of hard-core fans: The collectors of lore and statistics and those who are moved by its poetry — its special relationship to time, to space, and to myth, as celebrated in many a book and movie.
Football — with its short, intense spurts of play, speed, and let’s face it, violence — is a better fit for our time and culture. And it too, is fading.
Have we lost the capacity to observe, listen, and be still?
The writer Mary McGrory famously once wrote: “Baseball is what we were and football is what we have become.”
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