Oligarchs vs the Dollar Dog

I stumbled across a genuinely interesting baseball game while channel-surfing.

It was a college game pitting top-ranked Texas against a UCLA team who lost ten players to the professional draft last year. This game was part of a weekend event; the Shriners Hospital for Children College Classic played in the Houston Astros’ major league ballpark.

Normally, in early March, if I stumbled across a game on the tube, it would be a major league spring training game, featuring players of whom I’ve never heard, wearing numbers on their branded, recognizable major league uniforms in the 80-99 range…numbers you’ll never see in the regular season. The same could be said of the players themselves.

But tonight, I’m watching players of whom I’ve never heard, wearing uniforms of unusual colors and logos — colors and logos you’ll never see in the major leagues. The same could be said of most of the players themselves.

Normally, the teams I’m watching this time of year would be playing in the dry sunshine and sere landscapes of Arizona, or amongst the palms of muggy Florida, on green fields, the geometry of which have been pretty much set for over a hundred years.

Tonight, they’re playing in a major league ballpark, the geometry of which was set over a hundred years ago.

Tonight, I watched a tiny batter with a tiny strike zone receive an unsurprising base on balls, steal second base, steal third base on the next pitch, and score on the subsequent sacrifice fly. To see two stolen bases in today’s major league season, I might have to watch two dozen games. Instead I would most likely be watching six strikeouts and a home run every three innings.

Be still my beating heart.

Why am I watching an interesting (and non-exhibition – it really counts) college game being played passionately before a crowd of about 20,000 instead of a meaningless spring training major league game?

Well, it’s because the billionaire owners and the millionaire players of major league baseball have decided to not play their game…their GAME…a pastime…once upon a time, the national pastime.

It’s probably good that I’m not the czar of baseball.

If I were, I would cap it all.

It’s the national pastime. It’s a game.

There would still be $1,000 tickets, but there would be many more $10 tickets.

There could be champagne and caviar (non-Russian, thank you very much), but the hot dogs and beer would be a dollar.

The oligarchs of baseball, the owners and the players, could still compete for bigger shares of broadcast money, but they couldn’t double-dip on the fans in the stands.

If this radical stance drove current baseball players from the game…well, I just watched that same tiny baserunner score on a beautifully executed squeeze bunt. I’d pay ten bucks to see him do it in person.

If this radical stance drove current baseball owners from the game…well, as I was growing up, watching Curt Gowdy and Tony Kubek call the Saturday Game of the Week, and listening to Waite Hoyt and Claude Sullivan call the Reds games on radio, my dreams of the perfect career were to be an astronaut until I was thirty, and then become the owner of a baseball team. I suspect I’m not alone in those aspirations.

It’s merely baseball, whether it’s played in Dodger Stadium, or Castlewood Park.

It’s sublimely baseball, whether it’s played in Dodger Stadium, or Castlewood Park.

It’s not baseball if it’s not played.

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