Thoughts on a (Missed) Classic

October 25, 2020
 
This was the first year my kids have gotten slightly interested in watching baseball. They are eight-years old and almost six, and this was the year they started to show an interest in the game. We made a playoff chart where the kids did illustrations of all the team’s logos, and we picked teams to root for (Blue Jays, Rays) and teams to root against (Astros).
 
In the early rounds, I just kept the games on, and they’d watch one or two innings before getting bored and going off to do something else. I was able to turn a couple of the early games into ‘events’, and we'd make popcorn and they'd pick players they liked. The early rounds were nice. It's been a fun postseason.
 
And then the World Series came. My kids decided to root for the Rays, and they made signs for them, and it has been a fantastic series that shows baseball at it’s very best…and my kids are missing it. They’ve watched maybe two or three innings of the World Series this year.
 
My kids go to bed around 8:30, which means we usually have them reading or doing something quiet by 8:15. I am not a doggedly routine-obsessed parent, so I’ve let them stay up for a few of the first innings in the earlier games, but…it hasn’t felt worth it. They know they’re not going to be able to watch a full game, or even a significant portion of the game, and their excitement is limited. And when the first inning ends and the clock is at 8:45 or 9:07, I have to go through the bedtime rituals and they’re grumpy and I’m grumpy because I'm missing a little bit of baseball, and the whole thing ends on a sour note. 
 
If you think this is one of those ‘baseball is ruining it’s future’ articles, well…that’s exactly what this is. By having all of the World Series games start at 8:10 pm on the East Coast, baseball is making the game inaccessible for the very fans who are primed to care.
 
My kids don’t have social media accounts, and despite the current transition to online learning, they aren’t distracted by a host of games and entertainments and distractions available to them on the series of tubes called the internet. They are willing to care, and they have a father who is willing to engender that caring, and baseball is saying: "To hell with you, kid. I got Jim Beam advertising dollars to rake in."
 
A confession: I watched Game 4 last night…until the 8th inning. I missed the end. The whole game, it felt like it was going to be one of those games, an instant classic. Just the tenor of the game felt like both teams were going to keep punching until time expired. It was a classic, and I missed it. At about 11:45 I went to bed.
 
All day today I’ve been pondering why I quit on the game last night. I knew something was coming...as I'm sure all of you baseball obsessives sensed it as the game progressed. It just had that feeling. And I still love baseball: I’ve enjoyed watching the games as much as I ever have. This year baseball has a salvation, a respite from an absolutely crummy year. Baseball’s been great. I’ve enjoyed it immensely.
 
But…I enjoy my kids, and my partner. Very late on a Saturday night, my mind invariably shifts to thinking about what the plan is going to be for us on a Sunday. What are we going to do? Make something good for breakfast, waffles or cinnamon rolls or french toast? A hike or bike ride? What are we going to do?
 
A World Series that starts at 8:10 pm isn’t something we can do: it is something that I am doing alone. It makes an ask on me that is an individual pull
 
On one level, that’s fine. There are many things I care about and enjoy in life that are mine alone. But baseball feels like it should be something I can share with my kids. I am trying not forcing it on them, but they’ve started choosing it, and I’d like to help that along. I’d like for baseball to be something we have together.
 
It’s not, and if things hold, it never will be. There is a crucial window between now and when a whole host of other entertainments and opportunities for connection flood in, a window between when they can stay up late to watch a classic and when they have to stay up late to finish homework, or want to stay up late with someone else. That window is a brief thing, and by not giving younger fans one game that all of them can watch, baseball is losing a generation.
 
I have said this before, but I will say it again: baseball is skipping generations of fans. The number of people who can stay up past midnight night after night for weeks on end following the game is low, and it will get lower. Catering to prime time is going to crater the game’s fan base.
 
I don’t want much. I am asking for a few games that start at 7:00, and perhaps one Saturday World Series game that starts in the afternoon. Give me a chance to watch a game with my kids, before it doesn’t matter.
 
 
David Fleming is a writer living in southwestern Virginia. He welcomes comments, questions, and suggestions here and at dfleming1986@yahoo.com 
 
 

COMMENTS (15 Comments, most recent shown first)

laferrierelouis
Game is so slow I don’t have a lot of incentive to begin watching the games before the 4th or 5th inning. By the 7th inning, it’s 11:30, I saw 3 balls in play, and I have to go to the bed. I had way better experience attending Gulf Coast League or Florida League A-Ball games.
7:53 PM Oct 29th
 
Marc Schneider
8:15 is late, but I think the problem is the length of the games rather than the start times. I remember when I was a kid games started at 8 and ended by 10:30. Granted, in a World Series, you might expect games to go later and the times might still be bad for small kids. (I never went to bed at 8:30 as far as I can remember.)

It makes sense to play some WS games in the day on weekends, but we all know why they don't. Fox isn't going to want to disrupt its more highly-rated NFL schedule on Sundays and Saturday afternoon is not going to get big ratings.

People complain about sports leagues chasing the "almighty dollar" but what are they supposed to do? All sports are dependent on TV revenue. Players aren't going to play for less money. These are not eleemosynary institutions; they are businesses just like Safeway or anything else.

But, to me, the real problem is the way the games are played. They are so long and so slow, I don't think it would matter what time the game was on. Baseball has become an endless theme of walks, strikeouts, homeruns, and foul balls. There is very little action; the players slow to a crawl whenever a runner is on base. When I see a pitcher taking all day getting his sign, I just want to scream "throw the goddam ball, it's not a question of nuclear war here." These games are increasingly unwatchable and even more now when a starter going five innings is considered a successful outing. And this is from someone who has been watching baseball as long as I can remember, and I'm 64. I love baseball, but baseball is making it difficult to love. And the players don't give a damn. It doesn't bother them how long or slow the game is. They want their time to step out of the box and fiddle with their jockstrap or something while they try to decipher the pitcher's next pitch as if they were Kremlinologists. Just play for Christ's sake.

1:36 PM Oct 28th
 
snerze
Bottom line is sports are not broadcast for their key fans but for a least common denominator.
2:18 PM Oct 27th
 
jwilt
I completely agree with the article, and I've been saying this for years. The late start times and the fact that playoff games are routinely 3:30 or longer means me and my kids haven't seen the last 3-4 innings of a postseason game since the O's played one in 2014. My middle school aged boys have seen the end of a regular season weekday game... never? I'm not staying up until midnight for a Rays-Dodgers game, and absolutely not doing it for seven games in a week-plus.

And sure, DVRs are fine. But if I'm not that interested in the teams to begin with I'm certainly not going to sit through a 3-4 hour game the next day when I already know what happened. I might watch 10 minutes of highlights. And 10 minutes of highlights the next day isn't winning over any new fans.
8:49 AM Oct 27th
 
RichEddy44
Yes, sorry to be blunt but as someone below intimated DVRs have been around for awhile. It’s how I watch most of the NFL.
9:19 PM Oct 26th
 
ksclacktc
100%. People have been saying this for years now, and it falls on the deaf ears of MLB.
8:15 AM Oct 26th
 
tkchap
I agree with most everything that’s been said. I’d really like the games to stay earlier.

I think the Three True Outcomes focus is a bigger problem. Last night’s final half inning was so entertaining because it had some BASEBALL in it.
9:00 PM Oct 25th
 
3for3
No doubt this is right. All sports should have *some* afternoon games for just that reason. When I was 8, I was a Mets fan and got to see most of the 1973 World Series. That makes a big difference.

These 4 hour games have got to go. I love being at the park for a long extra inning game, but 4 hours for 9 innings is a buzzkill.

I've thought about the 3 balls is a walk 2 strikes is an out (that is how we played in summer camp). Not sure that would make things better.
8:00 PM Oct 25th
 
evanecurb
Here! here! Bully!

One other thing - Baseball needs to figure out how to show games to millenials. They don’t have cable and are never gonna have it.
5:55 PM Oct 25th
 
bearbyz
I am the mountain states and I live in a lot better time for me. However, if I still had a young kid I would want them in bed before the games end here.

I agree baseball is hurting itself in the long run chasing the almighty dollar and having all night games. I would love a Saturday afternoon World Series game. However, I been recording some of the games and watching them later. You might try that with your kids. That way you can forward between at bats and between inning. You can also show them highlight reels on MLB.com or other sights the next game. I find this fun to watch when I miss a game.


5:33 PM Oct 25th
 
doncoffin
I have no kids; I'm retired; and we're not going out much (for all the obvious reasons). And I [b][u][i]HATE[b][u][i] the 8:15 start time, even though I live on eastern time. I might like it if I were on the west coast or the in mountain states, though. But a 7 PM eastern time start would be inconvenient for the mountain and west coast audiences. And that's the problem. No single start time works well across a country that's 3000 miles across...
4:25 PM Oct 25th
 
stublues
Watched all the playoffs last year (Nats fan) and by the end of it I felt like I'd been through one of those sleep deprivation experiences in a spy novel. As an early riser, typically 5 AM, it's untenable.​
4:17 PM Oct 25th
 
sroney
Even on the west coast, the games end too late for small children. A 7:00 Eastern start time would solve that for the west coast and help it for the east, and there would still be plenty of normal prime time for the ad revenue.
4:10 PM Oct 25th
 
Jack
Agree 100%, Dave. Games are averaging four hours this post-season, meaning they're practically guaranteed to go past midnight Eastern time. Four hours of three-true-outcomes drudgery is not something a lot of fans are going to be willing to adjust their sleep schedule for. It borders on child abuse for young fans.

I love how last night's game ended -- on a ball in play. Baseball needs to find ways to increase speed of play and the percentage of balls in play, to lessen three-true-outcomes and increase the importance of (non-pitching) defense and athleticism. I'm starting to believe the only way the game can be saved is for radical changes, along the lines of pushing back and flattening the mound, starting with a 1-1 count, having the DH only apply to the starting pitcher (i.e., a team loses the DH once the starter is relieved), and mandating a much-increased minimum thickness for bat handles. It would make for a major statistical break within the history of the game, but the alternative, I fear, is watching the game slowly die.
4:06 PM Oct 25th
 
jfenimore
Amen, brother.
3:39 PM Oct 25th
 
 
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