June 18, 2010

On Baseball and Life ...

After stops in Florida, Colorado, and beautiful Southern California, the Toronto Blue Jays are back home. Thanks to the convenient and wildly popular G20 conference our fine city will soon be hosting, a nine-game homestand is now only six-games long.

While we're no longer being subjected to "OMG NO ONE IS GOING TO THE JAYS GAMES!!!1" stories, attendance remains low. After 31 games at the SkyDome, Toronto is averaging 17,596 fans a game, good for 28th in Major League Baseball. Only the Cleveland Indians and Florida Marlins average fewer.

There are no simple solutions. It's perplexing, considering the Blue Jays are only 5.5 games out of first place in the ultra-competitive American League East. It's easy to say: "Hey, get your ass down to the ballpark." But it's not that simple; life is never that simple. And I was reminded of that very fact while on my baseball road trip of a lifetime, thanks to an email from baseball stranger Jay. He sent me an email about life, baseball, family, and getting down to the ballpark for a game, and I'd like to take the opportunity to share it with you. I found it to be a fantastic read, and I think you will too.

Thanks Jay.



Navin:

I hope you don’t mind, but today is the day that I have decided to use part of your inbox, mostly to encourage you on your journey and to say thanks.

Perhaps it is the passing of Ernie [Harwell], or perhaps the secret pleasure I enjoyed yesterday of leaving the office to attend a business meeting and catching Lind’s ninth-inning homer on the radio while I drove (screaming like a kid), but these things when woven with your daily entries have compelled this baseball nut to sit down and pen a few thoughts.

I am no one to you - just a “baseball stranger” - yet here I write. And you may be at the other end wondering who is this quack and simply hit delete. And I will be ok with that, because for me this is kind of cathartic anyways. However I hope you care to read on so that I can help fill up a small part of your next long bus ride.

I want to let you know that you are doing both yourself and the baseball fans of Southern Ontario and great service. So, thanks for sharing. We all get to enjoy a piece of your trip and I suspect there are legions of bygone baseball fans who wish they could be along for the ride with you. See deep down, I think there is still plenty of baseball fandom in Ontario.

You are absolutely correct in what you say; it has become tiring to read about the low attendance numbers, etc. As we know, the Toronto sports fan (sans Leafs) is a fickle one. We must hope for Alex Anthopoulos’s master plan to come to fruition, for that will be the day that the casual fan returns to the Skydome to see just what all the fuss is about.

But oddly, those of us who count the game as a passion are often consumed by it in different ways which sometimes preclude attending games at the Skydome. (I’ve just realized that I am finding myself feeling apologetic. I have not been down to the concrete coffin at all this year. Not once. Yet.) Let me explain.

See, I have a perspective that is maybe not unique but perhaps indicative of part of the problem. As I near the mid-life crisis age of 40, life gets in the way a bit more. I have two sons, both of whom love the concept of baseball but are not quite ripened yet to the point where they truly love it for what it is. I’m working on that. I help coach my 11-year-old, and my 6-year-old will start to play next year (if he so chooses). I still play the game myself, desperately hanging on to whatever scraps I can of a once quite-capable baseball skill set. And since Dad can still play the game a bit, they come to the ballpark to watch. So as you see, baseball is very much alive and well in our house.

When spring arrives and we sit as a family to fill in the Milk calendar with all of the baseball games, practices, and tournaments dates (not to mention the soccer, flag football, family cottage weekends, and other commitments) we suddenly find ourselves booked solid (especially the weekends!), yet without any dates set aside to go see our beloved Jays.

And how can a family with two young ones travel downtown on a school night from Burlington to goto a Jays game that most assuredly will last 3 hours?

Trust me, we WANT to. But it is just not practical. Does this make me one the fickles? I pray not. Because I love baseball with my whole heart. And I sneak lots of TV time in the evenings after the kids are in bed. I am a true fan. But does it make me a bad person or a fairweather fan because I don’t goto the ballpark? How much of a hypocrite does it make me to state that I am passionate but won’t consider travelling the QEW on a weeknight?

Yet, I can tell you about similar life experiences of many of my baseball-playing suburb-living brethren. And thus my point: there are many of us who love the game so much, and our time devoted to it in so many different ways, that the priority of dropping everything for a day to go downtown becomes a monumental task. There are lots of us out here just like me. I play with or against them twice a week. They all know the game inside out just like me. They understand the fact that Cito should be pinch running for his backup catcher when behind by one in the late innings. They get it that lefties don’t hit lefties well - and not just because the stats say so, but because many of us have tried to do it and it is hard to do! And they too coach their sons’ teams and still play themselves a bit and try to keep the wife happy around the house and make their mortgage payments on time. And yet very few of the brothers tell of making trips downtown much anymore. Who has the time or the money?

I carry a certain burden of guilt for not making the trip more often, because they need our support. And my kids need to be there more often so that it becomes part of their fabric also. I want them to learn to love it just like me. I harken back to my formative years which were spent cutting class to get to opening day at the Ex, and waiting out long rain delays huddled under a blanket just so I could see my heroes play. Even one of my first dates (then with my now wife of almost 15 years) was mostly to go and see George Brett play live. Sometimes as kids our parents would take us on Saturdays and sit in the left field bleachers on Dominion Days. Staring at George Bell’s “purple butt.” Was there the day Junior Felix hit a home run on the first pitch of his career. Was there in ’87 (for every game) when we folded against the Tigers. Big Jim Clancy. Talking to pitchers in those crappy bullpens while they warmed up. All of it. It is my duty to ensure that my kids have these same memories in their vaults.

Is my perspective a “normal” one? I don’t know, but I think that the common theme might be time. Or lack of it in the lives of many people. Unfortunately, the bitter irony of that is that baseball has no clock. No two-minute warning. Not 140 characters at a time. Not guided by the next reminder popup on the BlackBerry.

The game is referred to as “America’s Pastime”. Yet nowadays, there is no need for common folk to “pass time;” time passes much too quickly as it is. And it seems that going to the baseball game just doesn’t align with the overloaded schedules of suburbia.

Anyways Navin, I find myself rambling on and should sign off now. But I feel better that I cleared my head a bit of the whole attendance question, because I think deep down I feel like I “own” a piece of the problem. No clear answers perhaps, but at least maybe some clarity and a renewed sense of need to push the day at the ballpark higher up on the honey-do list at the house. Hopefully your pilgrimage will continue to inspire and awaken baseball fans from their long naps and they too will recollect the memories that made them fall in love with the game.

Yours in Baseball,

Jay

5 comments:

Ian H. said...

What a cool story, thanks for sharing! Personally, I think this whole attendance thing has been blown totally out of proportion. Even if Roy Halladay is still playing for the Blue Jays this year, I'm almost certain the attendance numbers would be the exact same.

Like Jay said above, right now it's just not convenient for families to come down to the ballpark during the school year. I mean, I'll swing down for the occasional night game and sometimes that's inconvenient as is ... let alone trying to bring 2-3 kids along. Give it until after the All-Star break and things should be back to usual.

eyebleaf said...

I think it comes down to expectations. Is 20,000 a reasonable number to expect right now? 30,000? I'm not sure. But it's understandably difficult for many to get out to the ballpark on a regular basis.

LJ said...

To me, though, the question would be "why the sudden drop this year?" These factors that get in the way - school, busy family life, distance, cost - they have always been there.

Archi said...

"I am no one to you - just a “baseball stranger” - yet here I write. And you may be at the other end wondering who is this quack and simply hit delete."

Clearly this gentleman underrates how glorious a human being you are, Nav.

Extremely well written. As a twenty-something who lives on the subway line, I have much less excuse for only being to 4 games this year. As he mentioned, though, there is only so much time for a family to get to the 'dome.

I know that as a kid, growing up in Hanover, ON, over 3 hours away from the city, my Dad made it a mission to get me to the Dome at least twice a year. I remember him haggling with a scalper outside one of the gates, trying to get a family of 5 inside for a reasonable price. "I've only got $100 for tickets" he'd say, and try to tug at the heartstrings of the seedy scalper. I'll never forget the tone of the voice of the scalper when he said "Heyyy, you've got kids?" and finally gave up his end of the arguement, seeing as though Juan Guzman had already worked his way through the top of the 1st.

I was the only kid in grade 1 who knew the batting order and numbers for the 1992 Jays off by heart without having to write anything down, and I have my father to thank for that for putting aside 12 hours of his time and countless dollars to drive all the way to Toronto to watch a game for 3 hours.

What a game, this baseball.

eyebleaf said...

@ LJ: Here are the averages since 2000:

21,058
23,690
20,209
22,215
23,457
24,724
28,422
29,143
29,626
23,162

The team did well at the gate in 06, 07 and 08, when Doc was doing his thing, and the team was pretty damn competitive.

The novelty of the Dome has clearly worn off, and I think it's completely wrong to expect that the Jays might consistently have 49,000/50,000 a night at the Dome, as was the case from 89-94. That was the perfect storm: a new bitching park, and one fantastic team, and one winnable division. Sadly, none of those three exist today. Those years were outliers. Do I think Toronto could average 30K a night? Probably. Especially considering how much the city has grown.

I think there's a lot of apathy towards the Jays now, as they approach 20 years without a playoff spot. And knowing that they play in the AL East doesn't help. There's so little hope. They need to make a run in the next couple of years, I think that's important to getting butts back in the seats.

@ Archi: I don't think four games is so bad, dude. And thanks for sharing your story about making it down to the Dome as a kid. Your Dad sounds like a fantastic human being, and I'm sure you told him as much yesterday. Cheers, bro.