They Grow Up So Fast: Why I’m Not Opposed to Pace of Play Changes in Baseball

My son opened the garage door today.

While it’s probably silly to view something so mundane as a signpost of the journey we’re on, that’s exactly how I saw it. I’m pretty sure it was just yesterday that he had to take a running leap from the doorway to the garage just to get the tips of his fingers high enough to depress that illuminated square.

Now he just casually walks out wearing a backpack that no longer richochets off the backs of his ankles with each step and reaches up to let us out into the cold. I often joke with him that we’re not going to celebrate any more of his birthdays in the hopes of keeping him six years old forever. He adamantly disagrees.

Then I look on the shelf in our little-used dining room and I see newborn pictures of both kids, so small that they didn’t even fully cover my hand and forearm as I held them. I think of how peaceful they were and how self-contained our lives were in general at those respective points. Sometimes I want to go back to those simpler times.

But then I remember the sleepless nights, the teething, and the diapers. Oh, the diapers. And what’s more, I see how they’re growing and learning and becoming their own little people and I realize that they belong not just to me, but to the world.

Likewise, baseball isn’t just the game I learned to play out on the farm when my dad would pitch to me using our old barn as a backstop. Of course, since this was rural Indiana, there was also a basketball hoop above me on that same barn. And in case the weather turned bad, there were two more hoops inside the decrepit corn crib just beyond the first-base line.

I would stand in the dirt and grass of the batter’s box like a little lefty version Ryno or Hawk and do my damndest to knock my old man’s pitches into the patch of woods that served as an outfield fence. Given my 20-grade power though, our narrow little ballfield might as well have been the Polo Grounds.

Why am I bothering to take you on this little existential journey down memory lane (which conveniently follows Rural Route 4 in Pulaski County)? I suppose it’s because most of you have some of the same tales to tell. The names and locations might be different, but you’ve all got stories of growing up and developing a love for baseball.

The sport will never be more pure than in those ideal moments of the past that we view in perfect clarity, even through the softly-focused lens of time. We distill the essence from the abstract then bottle and stopper it so as to keep it safe from either dilution or pollution.

But the game moves on. Kids get older. Just as medieval magic has been explained by science, we understand the once-incomparable physics of the cutter and the curve. It’s possible through statistical analysis to categorize the amorphous aspects of the sport into quantifiable metrics. Well, except for “clutch.” Oh, also TWTW.

We want to know the game, to understand it, but do we really want to share it? Many bristled when ESPN’s Buster Olney used ERA as a reference for describing pitchers, decrying his invocation of such a blunt paleolithic tool. But he knows the game isn’t just for him or for us.

Maybe it’s because I’m still a bit of a troglodyte in this increasingly erudite era, but I see no harm in continuing to proselytize to the uneducated masses. Likewise, I take no issue with baseball making an effort to cater to the shorter attention spans of those who have never heard of dot matrix paper and can’t comprehend a life without social media.

I don’t care if they outlaw single-batter pitching changes or even the total number of arm-swaps in a game. Hell, I don’t mind if they install a visible pitch clock in every MLB park. Does it remove a little of the mystery of the game, a little magic? Sure, but no more than xFIP or wRC+ or any of those other measurements; not to me, anyway.

Whether you and I like it or not, baseball is trying to appeal to a broader, younger audience because the sport doesn’t just belong to us; it belongs to the world. It doesn’t need to cater to me because it’s already got me. It now needs to find that new viewer or to recapture one that might have lapsed; I sit with several of them every day at lunch and I hear it all the time.

You and I aren’t going away if they try to speed the game up; we might complain a little, but we’re not leaving. And if it takes a few changes to broaden baseball’s appeal, I’m all for it. Sure, I’d like to have kept the game right where it was when I fell in love with it, but that’s not the way things work.

My kids are going to get older and they’re going to make some decisions that I don’t necessarily like, some of which may be more significant than leaving the interior lights on in my car. I know my parents weren’t pleased when I came home from one vacation with an earring, or from a trip abroad with a tattoo.

Most games are now played under lights, scheduled double-headers are gone, and free agency has created a carousel of players and teams. Ballparks have become shopping malls and beer costs more than an average lunch. Chipmunked lumps of chaw have given way to mouthfuls of seeds.

Some of those changes are organic, but nearly all have been catalyzed by the almighty dollar. But rather than bemoan the increased capitalization of the game, I just take it in stride and understand that it’s not a kid anymore and it doesn’t need my approval. What it needs is to find more kids to fall in love with it just like I once did.

Maybe speeding up the pace will help to meet that end, maybe it won’t. All I can tell you is that I’m not going to stand in the way of the game doing what it feels it must to gain new fans. I am, however, still considering a way to freeze my son at his current age. I’ll be sure to keep you posted.

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